Sunday, September 19, 2004
Jaw-Jaw on War

General Sir Michael Jackson remained resolutely 'on-message' when he gave an interview to the Sunday Telegraph. After swooning over the general's "grey pinstripe suit and a maroon airforces tie, with black shoes polished to perfection", Sean Rayment (geddit???!!!) proving as taxing in his interview technique as David Frost. For their efforts, Jackson would only give one deliberate concession to the public arena: yes, Britain was involved in a "counter-insurgency war". In Torygraph language, this is called being "characteristically blunt"; or perhaps, a statement of the bleeding obvious. The rest of the interview was an argument for the 'Future Army Structure', or surviving on less soldiers for less money.

However, Jackson should be listened to. He has to balance the needs of the armed forces with the demand of a government machine that prefers to use proxies for the explanation of public policy. For all we know, Jackson may have fought long and hard for a military structure that remains halfway useful, compared to some cock-eyed nonsense thought up by a New Labour apparatchik parachuted into the MOD for theatrical effect. Even Jackson must know that 'make do and mend' has wrought long-term damage: sacrificing men for the Typhoon and the FRES, both projects that will be superseded in the next decade. We do live in a world of accelerating change.

In the short-term, the military commitments remain as regular as the 93 to North Cheam. The 18,000 US troops in Afghanistan will be reinforced by a further 1,100. The British will send a further 8,000 peacekeepers for deployment in the south and west of Afghanistan to safeguard the presidential and parliamentary elections. Whilst this is a recognition of the British Army's peacekeeping skills, this may serve as the breaking point. They will be fighting a war against the heartlands of the Islamic jihadis: their very presence will make them a target. Unsurprisingly, the French, Germans and Dutch have shown that the Rapid Reaction Force, manned by the European powers, is unwilling to contribute to the stabilisation of Afghanistan. Another symptom of NATO's long, slow decline.

The peacekeeping force would be under the headquarters of the Nato Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, commanded by a British general. Most of the staff would be British. The corps would replace the force in Afghanistan led by France, Germany and the Netherlands. The Dutch have been criticised for failing to find more soldiers to provide security for next month's election, which the Taliban have vowed to wreck.

Although, the idea of a counter-insurgency war may be overstating the case. British soldiers still face clashes with Shi'ite militiamen but the paramilitary groups have stayed quiet. Even if Basra remains a squalid place to live (I doubt Hamburg or Stalingrad were much better in 1946), the people do have a voice:

Last weekend, Allawi went on what seemed very much like a whistle-stop tour to Basra, the second-largest city in Iraq, with 2.6 million people, and Umm Qasr, the nation's only deep-water port.

He promised his audiences that he would end years of neglect in the south. But in an unexpected show of democracy on an otherwise carefully scripted visit crammed with televised photo-ops, Basra's mayor promised to embarrass Allawi and promptly did so, saying his government had not seen a single dinar from the Finance Ministry.

Then, in Umm Qasr, a woman pushed to the front of a crowd and, in a plaintive voice, asked when Allawi would do something -- anything -- to bring drinking water and electricity to her home.

In-your-face demands are new to Iraqi political life, and it is rare -- even a year and a half after the fall of Saddam Hussein -- to see citizens challenge authority figures openly.

This is about the only development that makes this episode worthwhile. Even better if they privatised the water services; then they would work.

(21.43, 19th September 2004)


Post a Comment

Blog Archive