Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently appeared before the Iraq Inquiry (the Chilcot inquiry) in London. Unlike Tony Blair, he did not enter by the back door to evade protesters; unlike his predecessor, he expressed regret for the deaths of Iraqi civilians. As The Observer's chief political correspondent, Andrew Rawnsley, notes, Mr. Brown had no objection in principle to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. To Chilcot, he defended the action, saying it amounted to the right decision for the right reasons, which he contended were Iraq's “serial” violations of 14 U.N. resolutions. He added that he had gone by the intelligence given to him at the time. He theorised that democracy could not be created overnight “at the barrel of a gun,” thereby distancing himself from neoconservative ideologues who claimed they were bringing democracy to Iraq. New Labour's unpopular helmsman, who faces a general election within weeks, evidently wanted to limit the damage to his reputation. But his responses to Chilcot raise questions about the domestic element in the invasion decision. That included fears that the Tories could hurt the government by claiming it was soft on terrorism; these fears were baseless considering that British voters had given Labour a majority of 167 seats in the 2001 general election.
It is bad enough that party-political concerns were among the reasons for the invasion, and even worse that Mr. Brown evaded more important issues. First, none of the U.N. resolutions at the time legitimated the invasion. Secondly, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Thirdly, it had no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Furthermore, the British security services had voiced reservations on the so-called intelligence on Iraq's alleged store of WMDs, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had expressed doubts about the legality of an invasion. In addition, Mr. Brown confirmed that he was unaware of Mr. Blair's letters to George W. Bush explicitly committing the U.K. to war; that he had not seen relevant FCO papers prepared in 2002; and that he did not know of Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith's initial legal doubts about an invasion. This ignorance might help Mr. Brown to avoid taking responsibility for his part in the invasion, but that is not his greatest failure. The U.S. has confirmed that it could not have invaded Iraq without British support. The British government could certainly not have participated without the support of the powerful Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr. Brown's opposition would have put an end to the proposed monstrous crime. His failure to oppose it will define his political career.