Alex Massie

The Generals & Their Plan of Attack

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Actually, the General Staff's manoeuvres on Fleet Street have, alas, been rather more successful than their efforts in Basra and Helmand province. I commend*, therefore, Paul Robinson's article in this week's edition of the magazine in which he argues that the Generals must take their share of responsibility for recent military failures. More provocatively still he suggests the Army has been saved by Labour since without Tony Blair's zeal for expeditionary warfare it's not quite clear what the army would be for these days.

There's something to that in as much as I suspect that if Blair had not committed us to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the MoD budget would be, once again, the first port of call for Chancellors hell-bent on cutting costs across Whitehall.

Robinson writes:

The combination of this self-satisfied culture and the moral elevation of the soldier in the popular imagination has led to a modern version of the infamous dolchstosslegende, the stab-in-the-back theory which encouraged Germans to believe that they had not really been defeated in the first world war.

For the past two years, elements of the British press and the British army (with General Dannatt to the fore) have worked all out to propagate a similar myth. The sharks at the Daily Mail have led the way. ‘A shameful betrayal of our servicemen’; ‘Treachery, politicians, and the shameful betrayal of this man of honour [Richard Dannatt]’, its headlines have screamed. Sensing blood, the rest of the press have joined the frenzy (‘The betrayal of Britain’s troops’ — Independent; ‘How Labour has betrayed the troops’ — Sunday Express, and so on).

The army’s humiliation in Iraq, and its failure to bring peace to Helmand, are not, we learn, its fault. Rather, the Labour party, and in particular Gordon Brown, coldheartedly sent the troops off to die without the proper equipment and without the reinforcements which might have enabled them to achieve victory. If only they’d had the tools to do the job, our fine ‘boys and girls’ would have dispatched the Taleban long ago.

This is, of course, perfect nonsense. One of the more galling sounds of the past two years has been that of Americans smugly observing that the British have been slow to learn the lessons of modern counter-insurgency. The criticism has been especially hard to bear because it is true.

*Of course I commend it since it makes some of the arguments this blog's been advocating too.