General disquiet

The British government is in full damage control mode after the comments from the army chief of staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, saying that the British presence “exacerbates the security problems” in Iraq. Dannatt went on the BBC this morning in an effort to downplay and revise his remarks, bizarrely stating that they were not ...

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606659_72157679_05.jpg

The British government is in full damage control mode after the comments from the army chief of staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, saying that the British presence "exacerbates the security problems" in Iraq. Dannatt went on the BBC this morning in an effort to downplay and revise his remarks, bizarrely stating that they were not "substantially new or newsworthy." He also tried to bridge the chasm between his position and the Prime Minister by stressing that "we're making progress" and pointing out that the Brits have handed over control of two of their four provinces to the Iraqis. The Prime Minister responded by saying he agreed with "every word" the General said, albeit in his damage control interview not the original newspaper one. Despite this act of insubordination, Dannatt is untouchable. Blair is simply too weak to pick a fight with a decorated general, especially when the general is far more in tune with the public mood than the PM.  The full interview is even more incredible than the headlines. Dannatt strays well beyond military affairs to fret that a moral and spiritual vacuum could allow "the Islamist threat in [Britain] to make undue progress." Even this morning, when he was meant to be trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, he mused that the army stood for a certain set of values, but "whether they sill reflect our society, I don’t know." The Iraq war has made some strange bed fellows. But the Stop the War Coalition—itself a weird fusion of Islamists and leftists—and a conservative, Christian general must be near the top of the list.  

One area where Dannatt is undoubtedly right is when he talks about the funding of the armed forces. Blair has an expansive view of the British role in the world. But if the British military is to be used as a force for good, then it must be properly equipped and funded. If the general's comments—combined with growing public unease about the lack of supplies and support for British troops in Afghanistan—spark a bidding war over military funding between Labour and the Conservatives, they will have served some positive purpose. But at the moment, all they have done is undermine public support for the mission in Iraq, increasing the chance of a precipitous withdrawal and dangerously undermining the concept of civilian control of the military.

The British government is in full damage control mode after the comments from the army chief of staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, saying that the British presence “exacerbates the security problems” in Iraq. Dannatt went on the BBC this morning in an effort to downplay and revise his remarks, bizarrely stating that they were not “substantially new or newsworthy.” He also tried to bridge the chasm between his position and the Prime Minister by stressing that “we’re making progress” and pointing out that the Brits have handed over control of two of their four provinces to the Iraqis. The Prime Minister responded by saying he agreed with “every word” the General said, albeit in his damage control interview not the original newspaper one. Despite this act of insubordination, Dannatt is untouchable. Blair is simply too weak to pick a fight with a decorated general, especially when the general is far more in tune with the public mood than the PM.  The full interview is even more incredible than the headlines. Dannatt strays well beyond military affairs to fret that a moral and spiritual vacuum could allow “the Islamist threat in [Britain] to make undue progress.” Even this morning, when he was meant to be trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, he mused that the army stood for a certain set of values, but “whether they sill reflect our society, I don’t know.” The Iraq war has made some strange bed fellows. But the Stop the War Coalition—itself a weird fusion of Islamists and leftists—and a conservative, Christian general must be near the top of the list.  

One area where Dannatt is undoubtedly right is when he talks about the funding of the armed forces. Blair has an expansive view of the British role in the world. But if the British military is to be used as a force for good, then it must be properly equipped and funded. If the general’s comments—combined with growing public unease about the lack of supplies and support for British troops in Afghanistan—spark a bidding war over military funding between Labour and the Conservatives, they will have served some positive purpose. But at the moment, all they have done is undermine public support for the mission in Iraq, increasing the chance of a precipitous withdrawal and dangerously undermining the concept of civilian control of the military.

James Forsyth is assistant editor at Foreign Policy.

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