Matthew Norman: Nobody threw shoes at Brown – but his guilt is still undeniable

The Prime Minister shares in the responsibility for the crime that is Iraq

Thursday 18 December 2008 01:00

At least this time there was no ballistic footwear. The last time Gordon Brown made a surprise visit to Iraq to announce troop withdrawals, he was whacked so hard on the head by the giant DM attached to his own left leg – and if nothing else, you had to admire his Nadia Comanecian elasticity of movement – that it took this unfolding economic catastrophe to rouse him from the ensuing psephological coma.

That was in October 2007 when he torpedoed a reputation for straightness, as skillfully nurtured as it was ill deserved, with an act of political opportunism so cretinously transparent that it beggared all belief. The chump flew to Basra and announced troop reduction figures that proved, after 0.37 seconds of the barely numerate's inspection, what is known to professors of political science as a whopper, but which I guess, in honour of the week's hilarious shoe theme, we should know as arrant cobblers.

That suicidal nonsense, allied to the inheritance tax bribe George Osborne delivered at the Tory conference it was designed to overshadow, led to the abandonment of the snap election. "Oh my God," yelped my wife as the penny dropped – like many, she had developed quite a crush on the old bruiser in his first months in power. "I thought the whole point to Brown was that he didn't play stupid games like Blair." Well, I said gently as she sniffled in sombre acceptance that the light of love had forever been extinguished, he's never exactly been a stranger to spin himself.

The only gymnastics the Prime Minister will perform this time will be verbal. This time, the fact that Britain will withdraw her remaining troops from Basra early next summer is the simple truth, and all the gyroscopic action – albeit no more opaque than those October 2007 fake figures – will concern why. Indeed he's started already.

"It is important to remember we have been engaged in the most difficult and challenging of work," he said yesterday in Baghdad.

"The tasks of overthrowing a dictatorship, the task of building a democracy for the future and defending it against terrorism. We have made a huge contribution and of course given people an economic stake in the future of Iraq. I am proud of the contribution British forces have made. They are the pride of Britain and the best in the world."

Are they though? I never understand that latter claim, regardless of what inspires it. Growing up in the 1970s, we often heard that our police, Royal Family, health service, system of justice and our Parliament were the best in the world too, but you don't hear so much of that fading post imperial power-in-denial smugness any more.

Our army, on the other hand, retains the reverence it has always inspired. How you directly compare its performance with the armies of other nations, in the absence of an official ranking system like the one used for tennis, is beyond me.

But those who understand these things and are reliable judges assure us that the British Army is still top drawer, and given that its senior officers tend to be a million times more eloquent, sensible, clever and humane than the politicians who manipulate them for personal advantage, I suspect that's the truth.

Lions they may well be, but that they have been led by prize asses is not in doubt. Those donkeys, led now by Eeyore Brown and supported by his auxiliary army of useful idiots at The Sun, will mercilessly bray forth the fiction that the mission in Iraq ends in triumph.

In fact, the few military personnel still hunkered down behind barbed wire at the airport will leave defeated, if not humiliated, having luminously failed to crush the counter-insurgency in Basra and having been obliged to sit back and watch in the spring when the Americans showed how it was done.

It's not the soldiers' fault, but then it never is. The blame belongs in its entirety to a Cabinet that sent a grotesquely inadequate compliment of poorly equipped troops to the city, and as a powerhouse figure in that obnoxious group, Gordon Brown, despite reprising his much loved party turn as McCavity back then, takes a full and indivisible share.

There is, needless to say, a much larger slice of infamy that belongs to him, and we can only pray that history takes vengeance because only history now can. The war soon to end for Britain was as shocking an act of international criminality as we have seen from western democracies in at least a generation.

Throwing footwear at the front man for the perpetrator-in-chief, the limitlessly disgusting Dick Cheney, is a splendid way to express revulsion and let off steam. Next to sticking Messrs Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Mr Tony Blair in a dock at The Hague, however, and banging them up for the rest of their days, it doesn't quite cut it.

In that naive but heartwarming fantasy, Gordon Brown would be in Holland with them. Any sane reading of collective responsibility, not to mention what Nuremberg decided about the efficacy of obedience to orders as a war crimes defence, would ensure that he and everyone else who rubber-stamped this neo-imperial adventurism take equal responsibility for the crime itself and for the horrors that stemmed from it.

"We leave Iraq a better place," our Prime Minister declared yesterday, doubtless sending his good eye on a search mission for incoming loafers. Yet while he rightly paid tribute to the 178 British dead whose lives he could so easily have saved, by resigning before the invasion and ousting Mr Blair, he had nothing to add about Iraqi fatalities. No one knows precisely how many there have been, but a recent estimate of 650,000 seems far from outlandish.

I know it's tedious to rehash so fatigued a line, and if you're already fingering the corner of the page I understand. But it seems to me a moral imperative to carry on railing against the absence of any properly independent public enquiry – a monumental scandal in itself – into how Mr Blair and his poisonous little cabal of sofa-dwelling hoodlums kidded Parliament and the country into this invasion; and how Mr Brown and the other pliantly, cravenly gave their imprimatur.

To allow overfamiliarity with these arguments to inure us into a shoulder-shrugging, c'est la vie accommodation with the wickedness is to dishonour the casualties of whatever nationality, and their loved ones, with the apathy of the faux sophisticate. To avoid the clodhoppingly simplistic conclusion that Gordon Brown's collusion should automatically have debarred him from the office to which he clings is to betray our most deeply held convictions about the minimum requirements of any society that affects to regard itself as civilised.

If the mild embarrassment of restating the bleeding obvious ad infinitum is the cost of sustaining the righteous fury that is Mr Brown's due for supporting the war back then, and for spinning such poisonously mendacious gibberish about victory now – and possibly in the future, if and when increased troop numbers leave Afghanistan defeated – so be it. It is the tiniest price to pay when numbers literally beyond counting have already paid, and a myriad more have yet to pay, with their lives.

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