Brown met candidates for the 2008 presidential race during his visit [AFP]


The war in Iraq remains one of the great fault lines in Britain.

 

Tony Blair's premiership came to an end because of it, and his former chancellor, Gordon Brown, became the new Labour Party leader and premier, largely because many expected him to change course and extricate Britain from a hugely unpopular war.

 

In truth, Brown may have had reservations about the war at the outset - I know this because at the time of the war I was an elected member of the Labour Party's ruling National Executive Committee, and had been to see Brown to voice my opposition to it.

 

Brown made it pretty clear to me that he was not going to even try and persuade me - and others - that the coming war would be anything but a disaster.

 

But in the end, Brown did give his political support in cabinet to Tony Blair, and as chancellor, provided the funds for the British war effort.

 

Iraq withdrawal

 

However, one of his first acts as prime minister was to announce the withdrawal of British forces from the centre of Basra to the airfield.

 

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's force contribution was not large, but its withdrawal was hugely symbolic, both to the British public and to the Bush administration.

 

The Bush administration privately made plain that it felt let down by Brown's action.

 

And Brown's first visit to Camp David shortly after assuming office as prime minister further suggested a break with the Blair years.

 

Brown often appeared uncomfortable in the presence of President Bush, his advisers briefed that Brown was pioneering a new relationship, and Lord Malloch Brown, his new foreign office minister and former deputy general secretary of the UN, told journalists that Britain and America "would no longer be joined at the hip".

 

'Special relationship'

 

Much is made of a so-called "special relationship" between the United States and Britain.

 

However, few in the United States ever mention it, and many in Britain believe that under Tony Blair the relationship became abusive.

 

Brown does believe in the 'special relationship', and this is partly based on his own personal ties with leading figures in the US Democratic Party

However, Brown does believe in the "special relationship", and this is partly based on his own personal ties with leading figures in the US Democratic Party that go back at least quarter of a century.

 

The Browns tend to holiday in Cape Cod, and Brown - more than Blair - modeled the UK Labour Party on the US Democratic Party.

 

Bill Clinton's New Democrats became Blair's New Labour - largely at the suggestion of Brown.

 

So, what was the point of Brown's visit to the United States?

 

In part, the visit will be judged a success by the British because of Brown's forthright condemnation of what he believes is a naked election steal in Zimbabwe by President Robert Mugabe.

 

It was also an opportunity for Brown to be pictured not only as international statesman, but as the meeter and greeter of America's presidential hopefuls.

 

Domestic agenda

 

And then there is the domestic agenda.

 

Brown faces potentially bruising local elections on May 1. He wants the British public to see that he is in charge - his visit to Wall Street underlining his serious intent to tackle the global and British credit crunch.

 

And more than that, he doesn't want his main domestic political opponent, David Cameron, to be seen shaking hands with American leaders.

 

Despite all of the rhetoric, the facts remain: Bush will shortly be leaving office. Tony Blair has already gone.

 

Brown is barely known in the wider America, but he will not be unhappy that the British public has seen him striding the world stage - even if Robert Mugabe believes he is an insignificant "dot".

Source: Al Jazeera