Sunday, October 15, 2006


Dannatt's Risk Just Comes Off

Sir Richard Dannatt's intervention in the field of politics was unprecedented and far reaching. He suggested the idea of installing a liberal democracy in Iraq as a means of encouraging reforms in the Middle East likely to make it more congenial to the west, was too ambitious and ought now to be redefined. He also, of course, suggested our unsuccessful presence had itself devolved into a reason for the present chaos, whereby, according to one disturbing calculation, one on 40 Iraqis have died since the war began. In addition the devout Christian commented on Islamic extremism in Britain and other matters as the Observer comments today. He was clearly 'out of order' in a country where the military are supposed to stay well clear of politics and merely do the bidding of the elected government. As Samuel Huntingdon defines this basic rule of western democratic government:

'If the statesman decides upon war which the soldier knows can only lead to national catastrophe, then the soldier, after presenting his opinion, must fall in and make the best of a bad situation'

The alternative is to resign or be sacked. Some people, Mathew Parris, for example, on BBC television this morning, insist he should indeed have been sacked. Sir Richard airily suggests he had no idea his interview with the Mail's Sarah Hands would cause such a 'hoo-haa'. This is rubbish; as the Radio 4 profile on the soldier makes clear, this is one of the outstandingly clever military men of his day. He would never have thrown his knapsack full of political grenades into the later part of his interview without thinking through the consequences with the upmost care.

My view is that he took a calculated risk, as military men have to in the course of their profession. He feels strongly that Iraq is not a winnable conflict and needs to be either redefined or even abandoned. Afghanistan, on the other hand, he thinks is both justified and potentially winnable, given the redeployment of resources currently tied up in the Iraq theatre. His intervention was designed to defend his men by shifting this emphasis. It may have been unconstitutional, it may have opened up chasms both between the military and the political and UK and the USA, but it will have some kind of effect in the desired direction. Dannant knew he could be sacked, accepted the risk, and made his brave intervention. Almost certainly it was the current limpness of Blair's hold on the controls of government which both encouraged him to take the risk and enabled him to get away with it.

But is the war in Afghanistan any more "winnable" than the war in Iraq? What would "winning" mean? Is it any more reasonable to imagine that an army of occupation can impose liberal-democracy by force upon Afghanistan than upon Iraq? So far as I can gather - I claim no special expertise - Washington's tame Afghan (Karzai) fronts a government made up of obscurantist Northern Alliance warlords and opium magnates (including the notorious General Dostum).
I wholly agree; I doubt if Afghanistan can be 'won' either but maybe it is less of a disaster than Iraq.
I greatly appreciate your citation from Huntington:

'If the statesman decides upon war which the soldier knows can only lead to national catastrophe, then the soldier, after presenting his opinion, must fall in and make the best of a bad situation'

However, it seems to me that part of the contract of civilian control over the military implies also civilian proprietary care for the armed forces. I don't see that. What I see is an attitude that (a) this is a professional army, (b) they get paid to do what they're doing, (c) they should get on with it and quit their complaining, (d) we support them - see, we got our ribbons up on our cars, and (e), you go to war with civilian leaders you have, not the civilian leaders you might want at a future time.

Our feckless civilian Congressional leadership and gullible civilian electorate has been constitutionally derelict in their proprietary responsibilities.
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