This is depressing reading.
Let's take a closer look...this is not a fisking, but rather a reverse fisking.
Last week Gordon Brown announced a date for Britain's withdrawal from Iraq. Most troops will be back in time for a spring general election. The prime minister posed with soldiers and expressed his sorrow over yet more fatal casualties in Afghanistan. He did not dwell on Britain's humiliation in Basra, nor mention that this is the most inglorious withdrawal since Sir Anthony Eden ordered the boys back from Suez.
And indeed this is inglorious: the British experience in Iraq has been thoroughly mucked-up. Not the soldiers, but rather the politicos who have no concept of what it is that they have squandered.
The fundamental cause of the British failure was political.
We could stop right there: that is everything. As Clausewitz said, fighting a war is nothing but politics with other means.
Tony Blair wanted to join the United States in its toppling of Saddam Hussein because if Britain does not back America it is hard to know what our role in the world is: certainly not a seat at the top table. But, for all his persuasiveness, Blair could not hold public opinion over the medium term and so he cut troop numbers fast and sought to avoid casualties. As a result, British forces lost control of Basra and left the population at the mercy of fundamentalist thugs and warring militias, in particular Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.
This wasn't merely wrong, it was a mistake. Not the involvement, but leaving the population you are there to defend at the mercy of evil men.
The secondary cause of failure was a misplaced British disdain for America, shared by our politicians and senior military. In the early days in Iraq we bragged that our forces could deploy in berets and soft-sided vehicles while US forces roared through Baghdad in heavily armoured convoys. British leaders sneered at the Americans' failure to win hearts and minds because of their lack of experience in counterinsurgency.
Oh yes. This isn't merely a British thing: it's part and parcel of many European countries, who simply have lost their way since the end of the Cold War. By this I mean that they quite literally ceased thinking about strategy and the military, of what role their country had in the world, because doing that means taking a stance on something that can't make you careers.
Pride has certainly come before a fall. British commanders underestimated both the enemy's effectiveness and the Americans' ability to adapt. Some apparently failed even to observe how much had changed. At a meeting in August 2007 an American described Major-General Jonathan Shaw, then British commander, as "insufferable", lecturing everyone in the room about lessons learnt in Northern Ireland, which apparently set eyeballs rolling: "It would be okay if he was best in class, but now he's worst in class."
As the saying goes, generals excel at fighting the last war and not the current one. Northern Ireland is at best an example of how to do things, but scarcely the book on counter-insurgency warfare.
If a fair-minded account of the Iraq war is written, credit should go to President Bush for rejecting two years ago the report by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that called for force reductions. He defied conventional wisdom and ordered a troop surge instead. It has been an extraordinary success and, unlike Britain, the Americans will not withdraw in defeat. During debates in Washington, British forces' ignominious withdrawal to barracks was cited to argue that the United States could not contemplate being humbled in a similar way. In the end Bush was not a quitter. Blair "cut and ran".
What a lovely turn of phrase, and I can't agree more: "if a fair-minded account ... is written", which of course points out the elementary fact that there haven't been any such things written, but rather the usual pontificating by those who were, for whatever reasons, opposed to the war and who are either morally or ideologically blind to their own biases and hold unsubstantiated opinions for iron-clad facts. The man vilified is the upright one; the other cut and ran, and that is not a legacy to enjoy.
Britain's shaming was completed in March 2008 when Iraqi forces, backed by the US, moved decisively against the Mahdi Army, inflicting huge casualties and removing them from Basra. Operation Charge of the Knights was supervised by Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, exasperated that Iraq's second city was controlled not by Britain but by an Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia.
The shaming is because the Iraqis did what was the Brit's job: the British forces were so poorly equipped and working under such onerous rules of engagement that they were unable to do their job: more fundamentally, the British forces were set up to fail.
Trust in the British had fallen so low that neither the Iraqi nor the US government was willing to give us much notice of the operation. General Mohammed Jawad Humeidi remarked that his forces battled for a week before receiving British support. He rubbed salt in the wound by noting that for five years the Mahdi Army had "ruled Basra without being punished or held to account", and had during that time controlled ports, oil, electricity and government agencies, whose funds bought them weapons.
Ouch. It is one thing to give it your best, give your all, and if you fail, to pick yourself up and keep on going: it is something completely else to be viewed as so completely untrustworthy that your erstwhile allies don't inform you of their actions because you are considered a security risk...
It cannot be a defence of British policy that the war was unpopular at home. Our mission was to provide security for the Iraqi people, and in that the US and Maliki's government have recently had marked success and we have failed. The fault does not lie with our fighters. They have been extremely brave and as effective as their orders and their equipment would allow.
This is key: it's not the soldiers who failed.
It raises questions about the stamina of our nation and the resolve of our political class. It is an uncomfortable conclusion that Britain, with nuclear weapons, cruise missiles, aircraft carriers and the latest generation of fighter-bombers, is incapable of securing a medium-size conurbation. Making Basra safe was an essential part of the overall strategy; having committed ourselves to our allies we let them down.
Ouch. This is about the worst sin that a military can be charged with, especially a military that needs to work within a group of other countries - NATO - that relies on allies pulling through. It is basically charging that the UK can no longer field a functioning military. Period.
The extent of Britain's fiasco has been masked by the media's relief that we are at last leaving Iraq. Those who have been urging Britain to quit are not in a strong position to criticise the government's lack of staying power. Reporting of Basra has mainly focused on British casualties and the prospect for withdrawal. The British media and public have shown scant regard for our failure to protect Iraqis, so the British nation, not just its government, has attracted distrust. We should reflect on what sort of country we have become. We may enjoy patronising Americans but they demonstrate a fibre that we now lack.
Exactly: the never-ending negativity of the British press has aimed at making the costs as clear as possible. SkyNews adds to the tally every time a British soldier dies in a morbid counting exercise.
This is despicable on the part of the press. Counting like that went out with body counts after the conflict in Vietnam. It is the sign of the small-minded accountant, the man who cannot comprehend the larger picture. The idea that the modern-day military will accept heavy casualties - or more exactly, that the publication of casualty figures will keep the bloody-minded officers from spending their men's lives for personal glory - reflects a mind set of the 1950s, and fails to understand that the Generalcy of today is not the Generalcy of the Fields of Flanders, that the modern military, with its highly trained volunteer force, trains to avoid these casualties. Instead of leading with stories of how goals were achieved with minimal losses, the press leads off with those losses, as if they were the only thing that mattered.This isn't the press being stupid, or even venal, it is exactly what the press wants to tell you: that the Western casualties are the only things that matter. Changing the Middle East and putting it on the right path for its people: that's irrelevant, since Trooper Jones lost his life and Subaltern Fleming lost his leg.
The United States will have drawn its conclusions about our reliability in future and British policy-makers, too, will need to recognise that we lack the troops, wealth and stomach for anything more than the briefest conflict. How long will we remain in Afghanistan? There, in contrast to our past two years in Basra, our forces engage the enemy robustly. But as a result the attrition rate is high. We look, rightly, for more help from Nato allies such as Germany, although humility should temper that criticism, given our own performance in Iraq.
This is key, and this is where the writer of the article in the Times should be mentioned: Michael Portillo. Former Defense Minister. The British Empire is doing their soldiers the greatest disservice possible: starving them of the tools they need, and abandoning them in order to score political points. All done in the name of the greater good, of course, the greater good being the well-being of the members of the political class. Rare have so few done so much for so many undeserving of their sacrifice.
The mood in the Ministry of Defence is said to be despondent. The government, having used our forces in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, has been unwilling to increase the budget. Having announced that he would fight the recession by bringing forward public spending, Brown has pushed back the date of two new aircraft carriers. The Conservatives are too cautious about public spending to make promises. The recession is likely to bring further cuts because neither party sees votes in defence. Nor is either willing to talk of reducing commitments or of specialising in particular defence roles.
This is the failure in the UK: it is not merely a failure of Labor, the Liberals or the Conservatives. All have failed their soldiers. There is little worse. Denying the military in this way and manner is equivalent to slapping them publicly, for daring to request monies to do their jobs.
Prestige apart, it is hard to explain why we have nuclear weapons, and what price prestige, if it is clear to the world that we could not protect the civilians of a single city in Iraq?
Double ouch. This reflects the fallacy of nuclear weapons: that their possession implies that one doesn't need the regular military any more, since the threat of total destruction should be enough to keep the peace. This fallacy - and it is one - falls apart when an enemy realizes that nuclear weapons face massive barriers to their use and hence can do largely what they so desire as long as their is no overt cause for the UK (or any other nuclear power) to use them. The fallacy of nuclear weapons is that they do not keep the peace if their usage appears impossible or highly improbable: a country with no nuclear weapons but with a large conventional military can beat a country with nuclear weapons but only a small conventional military by making it impossible to use nuclear weapons without breaking the rules of war: get your troops into the enemy's cities, and he won't be able to use them; keep your troops on his territory in countryside he doesn't want to destroy, and he won't be able to use them.
Perhaps we will not be alone in having to downsize our ambitions after the chastening experience of Iraq. The rhetoric about Afghanistan is changing. All-out victory is rarely mentioned. There is talk of securing Kabul and doing deals with the Taliban. It is tough luck if you are a woman in the Afghan countryside, but international attention is turning to Pakistan and Somalia. The allies cannot hope to control the vast terrain within failed states where Al-Qaeda may set up its camps, and the attempt to do so may help the terrorist cause more than incapacitate it.
This is the conventional wisdom in Afghanistan: that no one has ever won a war against the Afghans. This is wrong because the war there is not about some sort of all-out victory (since this would entail cleaning out the tribal lands in Pakistan), but rather the war there is about enticing an enemy out into the killing fields by letting him believe he can compete, that he can fight and inflict casualties in such a way as to drive the infidels from his lands. That is the military option in the political conflict: this is the Lesson of Clausewitz, that military actions are always and foremost political actions.
The election of Barack Obama opens new policy options for America. His administration will use his charisma and other elements of "soft power" to forge alliances and reduce tensions. He may still look to Britain for a larger contribution to forces in Afghanistan. If Albion proves unreliable he may not be surprised. It seems that British forces tortured his Kenyan grandfather.Cringe. I can't imagine anything more embarrassing for the British than this.
The way that the British military is being treated, the way that the war is being reported, the way that the politicians have acted, points out that pacifism, modern-day pacifism, with its simplistic view of the world and its nonsensical demands such as "No War For Oil" (no one did that: it's a straw man argument), has more impact on British strategy, which defines how Britain will interact with the rest of the world (and not merely Wales and Scotland), than actual British interests.
Or, alternatively: if current British strategy is accurately reflected in British strategy as it is shown, then God Help The Queen. She will need all the help she can get. It's a sad, sad end to the British Empire, and if it something that you think is a good idea, then Britain has indeed sunk to the level of a nation of shopkeepers, which is what the Germans thought the Brits were. Could the UK today rise to the standard of their grandfathers?