The following editorial was published in The Times in London, England, concerning the continuing American and British military occupation of Iraq:
"The Sunday Times - Comment
'The Sunday Times
"October 15, 2006
"A simple-minded general stirs internet mutiny in the ranks
"Who dares speak truth to power? The answer last week was General Sir Richard Dannatt, chief of the general staff and head of the army. Like every top soldier he knows that his job is about hand shaking, desk hopping, point scoring, fence mending and spinning. This is normally done in secret.
When Dannatt summoned the Daily Mail, of all papers, for an in-depth interview on Iraq he was either daringly brave or totally naive. Opinion is divided on which. Dannatt is a moralistic man, deeply Christian and without guile, who has pondered swapping his uniform for the pulpit.
In recent months the service chiefs have taken a pounding from their oldest enemy, their retired predecessors, for not backing the army in Whitehall. Opposition to the Iraq war has fed through into poor support for the troops, while a service-oriented ministry under a succession of weak chiefs of the defence staff has biased spending towards costly ships and planes.
Dannatt clearly had had enough. On taking over the army last month he found soldiers ill-paid, recruitment declining and e-mails and service blogs awash in reports of logistical cock-ups. Worse still, Dannatt realised that he would have to oversee, if not a military defeat, at least an ignominious withdrawal from Iraq and possibly Afghanistan. He then had to listen to Tony Blair’s bombast to his party conference that such a withdrawal would be “a craven act of surrender that will put our future security in the gravest peril”.
Dannatt shares the overwhelming view among defence experts that British lives are still being sacrificed in Iraq because Blair lacks the guts to stand up to George Bush. Staying another five years would be counter-productive and serve no British interest. Yet Blair kept saying he would remain “until the job is done”. What job? There can be no progress without security and Iraq outside Kurdistan has become, under coalition supervision, a worse bloodbath than under Saddam Hussein, whether or not 500 people are dying each day as recently reported. For Blair to imply that things are getting better is a lie.
Worse, as Dannatt points out, “our presence exacerbates the security problem”. We were not invited — “we kicked the door in” — and as occupiers we are no longer welcome. The British are not even policing Iraq, merely guarding bases and venturing on occasional patrols that offer target practice for passing mujaheddin.
This does no more than echo what American field generals were reporting as long ago as September 2003, six months after the invasion. According to Bob Woodward’s book State of Denial (see Culture and News Review), they demanded an immediate transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis. Swift withdrawal, they said, “would enhance the security situation because the Iraqis don’t like occupation”. Staying would become a focus for insurgency. Never did soldiers speak truer words.
Yet Dannatt’s rectitude is not the immediate point. A modern, highly politicised war requires absolute trust between politicians and soldiers, the so-called “military covenant”.
I recall last year watching General Sir Mike Jackson, the last army chief, personally seeing off an Irish Guards patrol from Basra camp. The patrol was highly likely to see action and take casualties. He shook each man by the hand and told him how vital was the job for which he was being asked to risk his life. Despite widespread scepticism among the troops, there had to be this momentary bond of trust for discipline to operate. Jackson was good at it.
I do not see how Dannatt can now do what Jackson did. Soldiers sent to die need not assent to a war, but they do need faith that those commanding them think it wise, as do their families. After the 1982 Argentine invasion of the Falklands, Margaret Thatcher went to war to recapture the islands against the private reservations of John Nott, her defence secretary, and her chiefs of staff. It is probable that had they all assembled on the first night, when the first sea lord put the fleet to sea, they would have stopped her. But the mission was legal and once begun was loyally executed.
Victory against the odds was achieved. There were no recriminations over formerly expressed doubts, because doubts made judgment better informed. The political conduct of the Falklands war was near impeccable.
For Dannatt publicly to question the wisdom of what his soldiers are doing is a breach of constitutional discipline — if not an invitation to weblog mutiny. So far the army’s leaked mutterings against Blair have concerned the lack of armour, poor vehicles and radios and too few helicopters. While Americans drive round in Bradleys, the British are in soft-tops. The Helmand expedition is desperately short of air support, yet journalists can find any number of helicopters idle in Somerset.
In the past month Dannatt has fought for and obtained tax relief for his soldiers at the front at a cost of £60m. He won assurances that injured servicemen will not go to state hospitals where Patricia Hewitt’s staff order them to remove their uniforms. In both cases the army made shrewd use of the press.
Dannatt’s interviews have gone far beyond these matters. Reporting army dissatisfaction in Monday’s Guardian, Max Hastings wrote that “no one seriously suggests that serving officers should be permitted publicly to question the usefulness of staying in Iraq”. Dannatt has given himself just that permission. He broke the “omerta” under which British officers have laboured ever since Bush trapped Blair at Crawford back in April 2002. They have had to fight a proxy war for the Pentagon over which they had no control or even influence. They have seen their hearts-and-minds work in the south ruined by the ineptitude of US troops and officials in the north. Policy had been ruled by America’s political timetable, the next event being the congressional election on November 7.
The debate on Iraq is approaching the point it should have reached in 2003: how best to extend partition from Kurdistan to the Sunnis and Shi’ites and thus minimise civil conflict. The constitution provides for it, offering Blair a crucial exit strategy later this year. In May in Baghdad, Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, told Blair that he wanted British forces out of the south by the end of the year. Frightened of what Bush would say if he took Maliki at his word, Blair refused this gift horse.
Offered a chance for a dignified military withdrawal and a handover to an elected Iraqi government, he parroted Bush’s line about craven surrender to terrorism and “finishing the job”.
Dannatt might sensibly have taken this debate forward, rather than publicly questioning the wisdom of the war as such. He is anyway vulnerable to double standards, given his enthusiasm for the war in Afghanistan. Here a decision to send an under-manned ill-equipped expedition with hopeless objectives was made without army protest. Like Iraq it had no relevance to any military threat to Britain and was entirely political: to show that Britain could play a lead role in a newly expanded Nato.
Afghanistan has since proved a carbon copy of Iraq, with lack of security vitiating the winning of local hearts and minds. There is no way that 5,000 British troops, or even 100,000, can protect southern Afghanistan from the mujaheddin. Occupation is the rallying point for insurgency and a stimulus to anarchy — as Dannatt points out in Iraq. If he wants withdrawal from Iraq, why not from Helmand? As head of the army Dannatt enjoys closer access to the prime minister than any public service professional. He may be angry at Blair’s stubbornness but he has privileged conduits for that anger. In going public he has clearly become a hero of exasperated soldiers in the field, as well as of the anti-war lobby at home (and possibly of the pusillanimous cabinet).
Ninety per cent of the army appear from media and internet evidence to support him, which must render him unsackable. But in so clearly undermining the case for the war in Iraq Dannatt has opened Pandora’s box. He must now demand that the government pick up Maliki’s request for a British withdrawal this year or his position will become untenable. He has destabilised the military covenant and must urgently win his argument against Blair or resign. In the pulpit, controversy comes wrapped in cotton wool. Not so in the fire."
The British general is right. The American and British military occupation of Iraq is untenable. Vote to pull American troops out. Vote for Kenneth Stepp for U.S. House, KY-5, the Democratic candidate.