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Blair will leave Brown to pick up the pieces in broken Iraq


War Hero
IT WAS his last visit to Iraq as Prime Minister and it was as eventful as any that had gone before.

Tony Blair and his team were helicoptered into central Baghdad in a fleet of US Black Hawk gunships. Moments before his entourage set foot in the Green Zone, the heavily fortified area was rocked by three explosions.

Undaunted, Blair smiled incessantly, insisted progress was being made and promised ongoing support for the people of Iraq.

The Prime Minister's critics might argue that is an easy promise to make for a man about to leave office but Gordon Brown, his successor, has to deliver. And just how he heals the domestic political wounds caused by Iraq while helping to protect that country from even more bloodshed is one of the great challenges facing Brown.

"The muscular moralism of Tony Blair will be quietly shunted into the sidings," said Toby Dodge, consulting senior fellow for the Middle East at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"Brown has been deeply involved in foreign policy but he is no crusader. But when he sees a failing government he prefers to work with it to improve it - not to rush in and overthrow it."

There could hardly be a more concise explanation of the distinction between Brown and Blair when it comes to their approach to matters beyond Britain's shores - and particularly in their assessment of how to work with President George Bush, and his eventual successor.

Brown has consistently been condemned for failing to back Blair during his darkest days, which were typically caused by the Prime Minister's international expeditions. Yet in their attitudes to the most pressing foreign policy matters of the day, the two men were remarkably in tune: apart from the behind-closed-doors agreements in Cabinet, Brown supported incursions in the Balkans, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, and publicly voted in favour of the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

From his position somewhere behind Blair's shoulder, however, Brown has watched this series of foreign crises effectively destroy Blair's reputation for competence and integrity. Above all, the combination of Iraq and the perception of Blair as the Bush 'poodle' has been lethal.

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