Alex Massie

Richard Dannatt’s Convenient Excuses

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Let us concede that the MoD has been under-funded and over-stretched in recent years. Let us also concede that Gordon Brown and Tony Blair should have been aware of this and done something about it. But let's also remember that the armed forces' thirst for funds is essentially unquenchable.

There is always something more, something newer, something bigger, something more expensive that they will say they need (that is, want) to do their job more effectively. That's human nature but I suspect we could increase defence spending by 50% and still be treated to headlines complaining that the MoD needs more cash.

And, look, it's very convenient for General Sir Richard Dannatt to blame Blair and Brown for everything. There's some merit to this case: political leadership certainly matters. But headlines such as these* are perhaps a little too convenient.

It wasn't Tony Blair who lost the battle for Basra and it wasn't Gordon Brown either. It was the British army that was, essentially, defeated in the field. One can see why the army wants everyone to forget or ignore this and blame the civilian leadership but that's not quite good enough, is it? It's nice to be able to blame everything on the politicians especially since doing so permits the top brass to escape any responsibility for their own failures.

Of course criticising the troops is verboten. But suggesting that the army accept its own shortcomings doesn't detract in the slightest from the sacrifice, service and heroism of the fighting soldiers. As Dannatt puts it, there's fighting courage and there's moral courage. If Blair and Brown suffered from a deficit of moral courage - which is what Dannatt claims - then so does the army leadership that happily takes credit for its triumphs while shifting responsibility for its failures elsewhere.

When was the last time the army fought a war equipped with everything they need or would put on their dream list? Precisely. That war never existed. You do what you can with what you've got and, in any case, even if the army needs more helicopters or men or whatever it was still vastly better-equipped than the opposition. So, yes, Blair and Brown deserve to be castigated but let's not forget that the armed forces should take their shortcomings on the chin too.

*Tony Blair and Gordon Brown let UK troops down, ex-army chief says

General Sir Richard Dannatt reveals “perfect storm” of political incompetence and inter-service rivalries

Prime Minister who lacked moral courage versus a ‘malign’ Chancellor

Army chief: How Blair and Brown betrayed our troops

Getting political help for the army was like pushing a rock up a steep hill.

(Links culled from the always-excellent Think Defence which makes the same point.)

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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