Alistair Horne


Britain has not been lucky with her Defence Secretaries. I cannot remember one ‘fit for purpose’ since George Robertson, back in 1999. There followed, under New Socialism, the colourless provincial lawyer who helped Blair lie his way into Iraq (I forget his name, as it’s always imprudent to libel a lawyer). Then came the wee Scottie, Dr John Reid, who promised us that troops would leave Helmand ‘without a single shot being fired’. (That was in 2006; already by 2008 four million bullets had been fired by the British armed forces—and we’re still there). Finally, Socialism presented the PBI (Poor Bloody Infantryman) with Bob, the bemused sheet-metalworker.

Now we have the Tory’s pink-kneed Liam Fox, on whom the jury is still out—though so far he has presided over the most damaging defence slashes since 1945. Fox is a doctor (and a Scot, to boot). Some nights I go to bed wondering what would happen if instead we put an army general in charge of the NHS. It couldn’t be worse, you might say.

Frank Ledwige would disagree. In Losing Small Wars he argues powerfully the unorthodox view that it is not the politicians, not even the lack of proper kit, but the generals that are most to blame for what has gone wrong in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It has been strategy, rather than policy, that has erred.

Ledwige has spent 15 years as a naval intelligence officer, first in former Yugoslavia, then Iraq. In Afghanistan he served as a civilian legal adviser, and is currently in Libya. He writes with authority—and passion.

In our roles both in Basra and Helmand, Ledwige sees a fundamental failure of intelligence. ‘Our services talk to themselves and like what they hear…’, and in neither did they ‘understand the environment.’

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