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Sunday, 23 September 2012

Armed Forces and policies on defence

Published in the Times, 22 September 2012. It was the lead letter for the day.

Dear Sir

George Webster correctly applauds Paul Flynn MP’s defence of the generals of the Great War against the common misconception of “Lions led by Donkeys” (letter, Sept 20). Contrary to popular belief, the phrase did not originate in that conflict. More to the point, had British generals been hopelessly incompetent it is unlikely that they would have finished on the winning side, never mind with the victories of the “hundred days” in 1918 behind them. In fact, 1918 was probably the only time in its entire history that the British army could claim to be the most powerful field army in the world.

There, is, however, one point on which I would take issue with Mr Flynn. It is true that few ministers have covered themselves in glory with respect to defence in recent years, whether in terms of short-term procurement, long-view White Papers or, most importantly, starting and conducting foreign wars. But it is another matter to exculpate today’s generals for any of those issues. Where is the evidence that any senior officers advised the government in 2003 that the British army was wholly unsuited in terms of training, equipment and rules of engagement for the reconstruction and counter-insurgency that would have to follow any successful invasion of Iraq? How many officers have had their careers halted by the subsequent events in that country or Afghanistan?

Instead the armed forces have successfully inferred that it has all been the fault of politicians, without mentioning who advises those politicians. This is no more honourable than those former members of Mr Blair’s cabinet who claimed in their later memoirs that they did not really support the Iraq War and had doubts about the PM’s judgement, despite not voting against the invasion or resigning their posts at the time.


  1. So you're saying the British army is incompetent - or was in the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions.

  2. It was extremely competent invading Iraq, but not in pacifying the insurgency afterwards. Not all the fault was its own - but neither was it blameless.

    In Afghanistan it has done well at all the things it trained for - winning firefights primarily - but the thought that it could ever bring stability to a country which has never known it was optimistic to say the least.

    Have a read of Losing Small Wars - I think the author over eggs it at times and is flat wrong about patrols in Iraq, but at the same time makes very strong criticisms of the generals that as far as I know have remained unanswered.