LONDON – It’s a political memoir with celebrity trappings – secrecy, security, a multimillion-dollar deal and, crucially, controversy.
Tony Blair’s “A Journey” was stirring political passions even before it hits bookstores today, with excerpts revealing that the former British prime minister has cried for soldiers and civilians killed in Iraq, but still thinks it was right to invade and topple Saddam Hussein.
The decision to go to war remains Blair’s most divisive legacy. In excerpts from the book released by the publisher late Tuesday, Blair says “I … regret with every fiber of my being the loss of those who died.”
“Tears, though there have been many, do not encompass it,” he says.
But, he says, “on the basis of what we do know now, I still believe that leaving Saddam in power was a bigger risk to our security than removing him and that, terrible though the aftermath was, the reality of Saddam and his sons in charge of Iraq would at least arguably be much worse.”
“I can’t regret the decision to go to war,” he says.
Blair also reopens domestic political wounds, saying he found his rival and successor Gordon Brown difficult and maddening.
British booksellers are reporting heavy interest in the book, for which Blair was paid an estimated $7.5 million. He’s donating the proceeds to a charity for injured troops.
Billed by publisher Random House as a “frank, open” account of life at the top, “A Journey” is being published in a dozen countries, alongside an e-book and an audio version read by Blair himself. It’s in the top 10 on Amazon’s British best-seller list – though it’s only 4,000 on the retailer’s U.S. site.
“A Journey” promises to give readers behind-the-curtain insights into major world events from the death of Princess Diana to the Sept. 11 attacks and the invasion of Iraq.
It is unlikely to resolve the conflicting views and emotions Blair evokes.
For many Americans, he remains a well-regarded ally who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the U.S. in the fight against international terrorism.
At home, he is a more polarizing figure. Swept to power in 1997 on a wave of popular enthusiasm, Blair left office a decade later reviled by many for taking Britain into the U.S.-led Iraq war, and viewed as a liability by much of his own Labour Party.
Anti-war groups say they will picket Blair’s book signings in Dublin on Saturday and in London on Sept. 8.