Brown takes a different tack on Iraq
Tony Blair said he had no regrets about removing Saddam Hussein when he ended his session before the Chilcot inquiry in January. Gordon Brown, not surprisingly, took a different approach.
Perhaps mindful of the anger that Blair’s words had reignited, Brown topped and tailed his appearance by acknowledging the cost in human lives among British soldiers and Iraqi civilians of the conflict.
Brown was ready to admit to mistakes in reconstruction efforts but portrayed himself as a loyal cabinet member who had left the heavy diplomatic arguments to Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in the run-up to March 2003.
On the most contentious issue of funding, Brown said he had never short-changed the military, funding operations in Iraq to the tune of eight billion pounds.
With an election only a couple of months away, Brown will clearly be hoping to avoid any damaging political fall-out.
While Blair focused darkly on the parallels he saw between Iraq in 2003 and Iran in 2010, Brown had a more positive message. Discussing the concept of a “just peace”, he said lessons learned on post-war rebuilding were being applied in Afghanistan where the coalition is trying to train a local police force and offer local people the prospect of a better economic future.
Brown will doubtless be relieved that his appearance lacked the drama of Blair’s. Only a handful of protesters gathered outside the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in Westminster and Brown came in through the front door — unlike Blair who was driven in under cover of semi-darkness in a cloak and dagger operation.
The ballot for 60 seats in the cramped conference room where Brown was speaking attracted just over 300 applications. For Blair the figure was more than 3,000.
When Brown left, he nodded and smiled towards the public. There was no sound of the angry heckling that marked Blair’s departure.
Iraq — and Afghanistan — are difficult issues for Brown but they are unlikely to define his destiny in the way the ousting of Saddam does for Blair.