Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

‘Blair’s Generals’ (II): Some surprises about American actions in the Iraq war — like not telling the Brits about the surge!

British Generals in Blair’s Wars offers some new views of, and information about, the Iraq war. It made me wish I had interviewed more Brits for my books Fiasco and The Gamble. On the other hand, I doubt they would have told me back then, in the thick of things, some of the things they ...

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Wikimedia

British Generals in Blair's Wars offers some new views of, and information about, the Iraq war. It made me wish I had interviewed more Brits for my books Fiasco and The Gamble. On the other hand, I doubt they would have told me back then, in the thick of things, some of the things they say here. In sum, for the British, the Americans appear to have been friendly but often unthinking allies, rather painful to deal with.

Most startling to me in this volume was the revelation that L. Paul Bremer, III, the American proconsul in Baghdad in 2003-04, had officially requested the removal of the British commander in Iraq, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Andrew Stewart. This is discussed by Stewart and others. "I was charged with not killing enough people," he recalls. "The CPA asked for my removal." Another officer, Gen. (ret.) John McColl, adds that, "The demarche had gone from Bremer to Washington to London without the military commanders being consulted. Indeed, they, the [U.S.] military leadership, seemed to be content with the British approach."

In the spring of 2004, adds Col. (ret.) Alexander Alderson, when he and another British officer tried to brief U.S. Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan on counterinsurgency doctrine, the American officer pounded the table and stated that he was not going to face an insurgency. "Damn it," he shouted, according to Alderson, "we're warfighting."

British Generals in Blair’s Wars offers some new views of, and information about, the Iraq war. It made me wish I had interviewed more Brits for my books Fiasco and The Gamble. On the other hand, I doubt they would have told me back then, in the thick of things, some of the things they say here. In sum, for the British, the Americans appear to have been friendly but often unthinking allies, rather painful to deal with.

Most startling to me in this volume was the revelation that L. Paul Bremer, III, the American proconsul in Baghdad in 2003-04, had officially requested the removal of the British commander in Iraq, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Andrew Stewart. This is discussed by Stewart and others. "I was charged with not killing enough people," he recalls. "The CPA asked for my removal." Another officer, Gen. (ret.) John McColl, adds that, "The demarche had gone from Bremer to Washington to London without the military commanders being consulted. Indeed, they, the [U.S.] military leadership, seemed to be content with the British approach."

In the spring of 2004, adds Col. (ret.) Alexander Alderson, when he and another British officer tried to brief U.S. Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan on counterinsurgency doctrine, the American officer pounded the table and stated that he was not going to face an insurgency. "Damn it," he shouted, according to Alderson, "we’re warfighting."

I also was surprised to see Maj. Gen. (ret.) Jonathan Shaw’s comment that the Americans decided in December 2006 on "the surge" in Iraq later the same winter without consulting the British: "This shift happened over Christmas 2006 after all our Whitehall briefs which had focused on transition and reductions in troop levels. I arrived with national orders to reduce our footprint, at a time when the US was increasing its."

But Colonel Alderson does note that as the surge occurred, "There was now a much greater level of coherency in what the US was trying to achieve." I had observed the same phenomenon in Iraq in 2007 and had tried to write about it in The Gamble, but did not summarize it as well as Alderson does in that one sentence.

(One more to come.)

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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