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.
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. At the time, therefore, I had as much and as little access to security and intelligence information as most other cabinet ministers.
Nevertheless, I did make a number of requests for information. At my insistence, I was shown more of the up-to-date British intelligence which seemed to prove that Iraq had WMDs. Indeed, I had a number of private conversations with Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6. His officials reported chapter and verse the evidence against Saddam and impressed upon me that it was well founded.
I was told they knew where the weapons were housed. I remember thinking at the time that it was almost as if they could give me the street name and number where they were located.
Having reviewed all of the information now available –not just that revealed by the Hutton, Butler and Chilcot Inquiries but in America too – I feel I now understand how we were all misled on the existence of WMDs.
He goes on to cite evidence of a “crucial” set of papers held by the US Defence Department and based on work by their intelligence service commissioned by then Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
In these months before the war, I had no idea that key decision makers in America were already aware that the evidence on the existence of WMDs was weak, even negligible and in key areas non existent.We now know from classified American documents, that in the first days of September, 2002 a report prepared by the US Joint Chief of Staff’s director for intelligence landed on the desk of the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.
“Please take a look at this material as to what we don’t know about WMD”, Rumsfeld then wrote to Air Force General Richard Myers. ‘It is big’, he added.
Some in the US had evidence which doubted even Iraq’s capabilities. In public, the administration said something different. In October, 2002, one month after the report to Rumsfeld, President Bush went on record for the first time with the assertion that Iraq “possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons” and was “seeking nuclear weapons”.
Instead of investigating further the evidence held by the Joint Chiefs, the American administration produced a 92-page National
Given that Iraq had no usable chemical, biological or nuclear weapons that it could deploy and was not about to attack the coalition, then two tests of a just war were not met: war could not be justified as a last resort and invasion cannot now be seen as a proportionate response.
Brown goes on to describe how as PM he ensured British troops left Iraq. While the Americans finally left in December, 2011, Britain had left in April, 2009 – two years and eight months earlier. The British decision to leave was made in 2007
When I became prime minister, I was of the view that we should end our four-year military presence in Iraq. Privately, I thought we should do so as soon as possible and set myself the task of leaving by the end of 2008.
In my Camp David meeting with George Bush in July, 2007 he pressed me to stay longer and raise troop levels. I told him I was not willing to see an endless British occupation and I was clear that while we would not leave until security was improved, our deployments would have to be made in the British interest. Our plan was to scale down and withdraw. In the end, we left only 16 weeks later than I had planned – on 30 April, 2009.
In fact, for some time in Basra, we had started to do things differently from the Americans.
In essence, we tended to favour a more rapid transition to Iraqi control than the US did, not least as a means of forcing the Iraqis to step up to the plate. ‘Iraqification’, an ugly term, best explained our objective: while the US led their surge, we planned to transfer control back to the Iraqis, province by province.
General Petraeus thought our position should be “in together, out together”, but I told him that autumn that the British task would be limited to creating enough stability to allow us to depart.Nevertheless, I would not explicitly position our departure as a break with the US and refused to convey the impression that we were distancing ourselves from America even at a time when the Iraq intervention was becoming more and more unpopular. There was never, I told my colleagues, going to be any public or private self-satisfaction in our leaving Iraq.
At this time I made another decision: not to use our future departure from Iraq as an occasion to draw a contrast with Tony or score points against him either.
We know that even a just war does not necessarily deliver a just peace. When we left Iraq in 2009 it was still one country, with one government and one Parliament but in the last few years Iraq has again been torn apart by deep sectarian divisions.
There is a good reason why it was more difficult to sustain a peace than win a war. Nation-building from the outside is fine in theory but hard in practice.
Not every world problem can be solved by America or, for that matter, the West. It was a lesson that was to be impressed upon us with equal force in Afghanistan.