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5 March 2010

Brown the neocon!

No doubt: he believed it was right to invade Iraq.

By James Macintyre

The Chilcot inquiry into Britain’s role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq has just paused for a break after a fascinating session with Gordon Brown, then chancellor and now Prime Minister.

As I said yesterday, the key question for Brown is not about funding, but about whether, as a leading member of the cabinet and prime-minister-in-waiting, he backed the war. After this morning’s performance, no one can be in any doubt that he did, passionately.

Sir John took the unprecedented decision to ask a direct question at the start (he may or, um, may not have read my blog yesterday on “the key question”): Was the war the right thing to do? Brown: “It was the right thing to do and done for the right reasons.”

Here was another early statement: “In my view, the international community was justified in taking action . . . where international obligations were not being honoured.”

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But later came a lyrical defence of the broader idea of removing bad regimes. Iraq, he said, posed a “test” for the international community in a “post-cold-war world”. This was a formula he repeated.

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Brown has tried to maintain that until the “last moment” — and he says he spoke at length to “Tony Blair” (note the distance) during “the last weekend” before war — the “diplomatic route” was being pursued, and indeed would have been preferable. He also claimed the cabinet was trying to work out “how we could do more to move forward the diplomatic route”.

But Brown, who confirmed he requested and received full Joint Intelligence Committee briefings on the supposed threat from Saddam Hussein, also repeatedly used the “French canard”, speaking again and again of his regret that some countries supposedly said they would not support military action “in any circumstances”.

On the crucial question of whether Blair made a commitment to President George W Bush in 2002 that the UK would back “regime change”, Brown appeared to confirm this by revealing that he was talking to the then defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, about military resources from June of that year.

Overall, Brown has shown that he was a true believer in the Iraq invasion. This was surely honest; he had no choice but to admit it. But whether the electorate will appreciate it is less clear. Voters are surely crying out for a post-Iraq prime minister.