Gordon Brown, the former British prime minister who took over from Tony Blair in 2007, made headlines earlier this month when he claimed that Britain had been hoodwinked by the Americans about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and thus duped into joining the war on that country.
The Independent, for example, ran the headline: ‘US hid intelligence from Britain about Saddam Hussein’s WMDs before Iraq War, Gordon Brown claims’.
Several other British news outlets ran similar headlines along the line that “Britain had been deceived” into joining the American war plan on Iraq, which the George W Bush administration launched in March 2003.
Brown’s claim comes out of the publication this month of his autobiography which is grandly titled: ‘My Life, Our Times’.
Given his attempt to re-write the history of Britain’s despicable involvement in the destruction of Iraq, a more appropriate title for Brown’s book would have been: ‘My Life, My Excuses’.
From an excerpt of Brown’s memoir, the former British premier writes: “When I consider the rush to war in March 2003 – especially in light of what we now know about the absence of weapons of mass destruction – I ask myself over and over whether I could have made more of a difference before that fateful decision was taken.”
This sounds like a man who is racked by guilt over what the American-British war in Iraq and nearly a decade of military occupation unleashed. Such guilt would be understandable given the horrific results of that war: over one million Iraqi civilians killed; up to four million Iraqi children orphaned; millions displaced; a society reduced to rubble; and the scourge of sectarian terrorism that has blighted the entire region, inflicting hundreds of thousands more deaths, especially in Syria.
At the time of the Iraq War, Brown was serving as the Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) in the British government, with Tony Blair as prime minister. He writes in his memoir: “Chancellors have seldom been at the centre of decision-making in matters of war and peace. My official role leading up to the conflict was to find the funds for it.”
Again, this sounds like someone trying to minimize their culpability in the disastrous, not to say criminal, decision by the British government to go to war in Iraq.
Central to Brown’s claims is that the US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld deliberately with-held crucial American intelligence from the British in the run-up to the war.
It was only years later that Brown says he became aware of this secret US intelligence which casted doubt on claims over Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Brown writes: “Having reviewed all of the information now available… I feel I now understand how we were all misled on the existence of WMDs.”
What he is implying is that his government would not have embarked on the Iraq War disaster if it had access to the intelligence report which Rumsfeld with-held from Downing Street back in early 2003, during the “rush to war”, as he puts it.
This smacks of dubious excuse-making by Brown. Of course, the British media would lap that retrospective claim up because the whole Iraq disgrace can then be conveniently offloaded as the fault of the Americans.
The Bush administration no doubt were playing fast and loose with dodgy intelligence on Iraq’s alleged WMD in prepping a war that Washington wanted. But so too were the British, including a pliant mass media which shamefully did to challenge the official claims being made at the time.
It was after all the British government that produced its own “Iraq dossier” based on its Joint Intelligence Committee. From that document, Britain’s premier Tony Blair made the notorious claim that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had the capability to launch WMDs “within 45 minutes”. The British cabinet also finessed its dossier to fit with US claims that Saddam could build nuclear weapons within one year.
The British intelligence services and Blair’s cabinet – including Brown as finance minister – were all to varying degrees guilty of “sexing up” the Iraq dossier to make intelligence fit with policy. That policy was to join with the Americans in a war on Iraq, despite the actual paucity of evidence for WMDs that were supposed to be the pretext for war.
One notable dissenting voice was that of Dr David Kelly who worked as a senior weapons inspector at the British Ministry of Defense. Kelly had been deployed to Iraq during the 1990s following the First Gulf War involving the US and Britain. He had close knowledge of Iraq’s weapons systems. When the US and Britain were busy making the case for justifying the Second Gulf War in 2003 (to finish the job against Saddam), Kelly anonymously voiced his concerns to British media that the intelligence was being manipulated. He was later “outed” as the source for a BBC report which accused Blair’s government of “sexing up” the claims over Iraq’s WMDs. The 59-year-old British weapons expert was subsequently found dead in July 2003, in a lonely wooded area in Oxfordshire, from presumed suicide. A subsequent government-led judicial inquiry in 2004 – the Hutton Inquiry – cleared the British government of wrongdoing. However, a large section of the British public and several expert doctors continue to dispute the conclusion that Kelly took his own life. Murder has been claimed as part of a British intelligence cover-up.
Britain’s seven-year public inquiry – the Chilcot Inquiry – published last year issued a damning conclusion that the British government had gone to war based on insufficient and faulty evidence. Many members of the British public, including war veterans, believe that Tony Blair should be prosecuted as a war criminal for his role in starting the Iraq War along with George W Bush. Other members of Blair’s “war cabinet” could also be indicted, including Gordon Brown. He sheepishly claims in his memoir that his task was only “to find the funds for the war”. That task, however, still makes Brown complicit in the instigation and furnishing of an illegal war.
Looking back, the now 66-year-old Brown’s political career has hardly been a shining success.
Admittedly, he was part of Tony Blair’s historic three-time election victories for Labour in 1997, 2001 and 2005. He was part of the “New Labour” phenomenon that ended the reign of Tory governments initiated by Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979.
But Brown was often a bitter second lieutenant to Blair, engaged in media back-biting and sniping over his chagrin at not being made prime minister sooner. Eventually, Brown got his much-coveted place in 10 Downing Street when Blair resigned in 2007. He gained the prime ministership in an uncontested Labour party internal election. When Brown finally did go before the electorate in the general election of 2010, Labour was routed by the Conservatives led by David Cameron. The British public had grown weary of New Labour “Tory-Lite” neoliberal economics that Brown had largely overseen. No doubt too the legacy of Britain’s role in the Iraq War was part of the stunning public repudiation. In the 2010 general election, Labour lost more parliamentary seats than at any time since 1931. The party had become a burnt-out ruins. It is only now rebuilding itself under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and his return to traditional socialist policies – policies which Brown and the Blairites had abandoned.
Brown’s political legacy is, in truth, a rather dull affair, more in the shadows of the times that surrounded his time in government. With so little to acclaim, it’s therefore not surprising that Brown should now seek to whitewash Britain’s – and his own personal – responsibility in the illegal war on Iraq. With so little achievement, it is understandable that he should try to bury the one outstanding legacy.