Brown aide admits errors in fight against Islamist terror

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The Government should have done more to win the "hearts and minds" of the Muslim community at home and abroad after the September 11 attacks, according to one of Gordon Brown's closest allies.

Ed Balls, the economic secretary to the Treasury, said that Britain should have made greater efforts during the past five years to promote the values of democracy and freedom in the fight against Islamist terrorism.

His comments were seen as a foretaste of Mr Brown's approach to the Middle East after he becomes Prime Minister and as a side-swipe at Tony Blair's proximity to the President George Bush since September 11.

Mr Balls compared the West's position to the Cold War challenge it faced with the spread of Communism after the end of the Second World War. At that time, he said, a political and cultural war was fought through broadcasters, magazines and even novels to promote the values of liberal democracy.

He told the BBC's The World This Weekend: "In the same way you can't fight against Islamic extremism simply by security.

"We have got to win the battle of hearts and minds and persuade people in communities in Britain and around the world that values of fairness, stability and opportunity and turning away from extremism is the way to go."

Mr Balls, who has visited the Middle East several times, went on: "I think since 2001 we have been coming to terms with what is a huge change in the international security situation and we have been learning lessons from it as we have gone along.

"And probably one of the lessons is that we should have done more at an earlier stage to fight the cultural war - which isn't to say that you would have done less on military and security but you would have had that stronger cultural dimension too."

The Chancellor has already indicated he is determined to break with Mr Blair by forging a foreign policy more independent of the White House. He said last week: "Obviously, people who know me know that I will speak my mind. I will be very frank. The British national interest is what I and my colleagues are about."

Mr Brown has said he accepts his full share of the responsibility for the decision to invade Iraq. But he has acknowledged that mistakes were made, particularly after Saddam Hussein was toppled, and has signalled his hope that thousands fewer British troops will be in the country by the end of 2007. He appears to be determined, after his expected election as leader in the summer, to draw a line under the foreign policies pursued by his predecessor that proved highly unpopular in Labour ranks.

But Mr Blair issued a coded warning to the Chancellor on the issue last week in a wide-ranging speech to defence chiefs. The Prime Minister said there was a risk here, and in the United States, that politicians decided the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq was "all too difficult" and slipped almost unconsciously into doing "the easy thing" - pulling troops out prematurely.

He also sought to turn the blame for disastrous military campaigns in the Middle East on anti-war dissidents and the media and dismissed critics who argued that the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath had fuelled the insurgency and terrorism.

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