Monday, October 30, 2006

Diplomats Fitting Iraqi Scuttle

As my previous post showed, the British presence in Basra is being scaled down. However, the Foreign Office and Department for International Development have decided to depart early, leaving a sordid legacy. This has placed the reconstruction efforts in Basra under a cloud. Remember that these efforts were focussed in areas that were not controlled by militias. Now, it appears that more money has been lavished on the British consulate than on reconstruction in the city itself:

The Foreign Office and Dfid operation in southern Iraq has been criticised for the poor handling of economic and political regeneration in the area.

While £14 million has been spent on refurbishing the consulate, including a new portico, hardened roof defences and swimming pool, it has spent just £12.5 million on reconstruction that included repainting a tower in the city.

The palace, which is surrounded by a 30ft blast wall and graced with manicured lawns, is in the same fortified compound as 800 British infantry.

Such luxury within an impoverished city would leave a bitter taste with the locals, providing a tempting target for those who wish to gain support through mortar attacks. Now the FCO and DFID responds with evacuation. No doubt the usual suspects will be promoted, for their diplomatic handling of the locals.

For 'sophisticates' who attack the United States on the grounds that our imperial history allows us to administer the poor locals better, think again. Too many years in the European Union have turned our civil servants into venal incompetents and our politicians into parasites sucking the lens, whilst the Army sees their soldiers and their achievements pissed on.
Sunday, October 29, 2006

Two Fronts: Arse About (New Labour saves) Face

The Independent reports that the British Army plans to hand over maysan province to the Iraqi security forces in January 2007 and halve the number of troops serving in Mesopotamia. Part of the strategy for completing this goal is a campaign of reconstruction, building schools and hospitals in Basra. This is part of the 'hearts and minds' brief that has worked for British troops in the past. Such a campaign relies upon defeating the enemy forces, with extreme violence, if necessary:

The decision to tackle the most peaceable areas of Basra first is designed to convince those in areas dominated by insurgents that the rebuilding programme is in their interest. Sources said that the next six months were crucial to the scheme's success.

If the nutters are not tackled and defeated, building schools becomes a short-term scuttle to give the insurgents target practice. By allowing the militias free rein in Basra, the government will point to a few photo-ops, bleat success, and then leave.

It is the hypocrisy with which the limited number of options that I dislike. Now, that the wheels have come off the government's 'two front' deployment, they are open to attack by the cash-starved armed forces, sick to death of being taken for granted. General Guthrie used an interview in The Observer to call the Affghanistan campaign "cuckoo". Whilst he defended Blair's actions, his contempt was aimed at the MOD apparatchiks who blithely waltzed without a consideration of Afghan history or Taleban resistance. When one remembers Reid's saying that not a shot would be fired....

"Anyone who thought this was going to be a picnic in Afghanistan - anyone who had read any history, anyone who knew the Afghans, or had seen the terrain, anyone who had thought about the Taliban resurgence, anyone who understood what was going on across the border in Baluchistan and Waziristan [should have known] - to launch the British army in with the numbers there are, while we're still going on in Iraq is cuckoo," Guthrie said.....

Guthrie said that civil servants and even some in the military were assuming that "Afghanistan and Iraq are something we're going to muddle through for another couple of years and then we'll be able to go back" to a period of relative calm.

"I don't see that happening," he told The Observer. "I think we're in an extremely volatile, dangerous world," he said. "It's no good governments saying we're going to keep out of these things. They don't always have the luxury of choice. The type of crisis is actually quite difficult to forecast. But sure enough, we are going to have crises. There is absolutely no reason to suppose that the world is going to settle down in the foreseeable future. We're not going to be allowed to graze in Elysian fields with the sun on our backs."

The calls for re-armament are getting stronger. The period of the peace dividend has ended, cashed in by Blair's penchant for a muscular liberal foreign policy. Yet, Guthrie's attack on the Ministry of Defence finds two political targets: the unimpressive John Reid, whose ego is continully punctured by the travails of the Home Office and Des Browne, who reels before the anger of the Armed Forces, no longer able to hold on expenditure and suffers the Treasury's displeasure.

Cross-posted to The Bewilderness
Sunday, October 22, 2006

Iraq: MOD is Really Pissed Off

For those who supported the Iraq war (a band of merry men that doth include myself), one of the most damning aspects of the run-up to the invasion was the cynical and duplicitous campaign organised by the Blair administration to justify their claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. This running sore had still not run dry in the political landscape.

The Hutton report brought two aspects of this campaign to light: the close relationship between Number Ten and the intelligence services; a politicised relationship that reflected badly on both parties. The objective analysis of MI6 was cast into doubt and, their capability to deal with the Islamist threat, placed under question marks. Now the Ministry of Defence appears to be casting further dust into the eyes of both parties.

As leaked, MI6 ran an operation known as Rocking ham, a "spin unit", working in tandem with their US counterparts and supporting the theory that Blair signed up to the invasion during the autumn of 2002, a timeline never revealed to Parliament, monarch or nation.

The Sunday Herald has previously revealed the existence of two secret “spin units” operating within British and American intelligence and designed to concoct a false premise for war.

In Britain, Operation Rockingham collated questionable information supporting misleading claims about Saddam’s active WMD arsenal to back up the case for war. The British spies gathering the information – mainly from untrustworthy Iraqi defectors – knew the claims were either bogus or out of date. The information was used by the Blair government to persuade the British parliament and people that war with Iraq was a necessity.

The MOD argues that the information that these "spin units" collated was sourced from the Iraqi National Congress under Ahmed Chalabi, and that most of the disinformation was passed from Iranian intelligence. If true, the intelligence services were either duped or willing pawns:

Garry Hindle, head of terrorism and international homeland security and resilience at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) for Defence and Security Studies, said he had been aware of claims that the INC was feeding disinformation to the US as part of an Iranian intelligence operation for “a couple of years”.

“It is certainly significant for a senior MoD official to comment on this,” he added. “I would tentatively suggest that, given the close ties that existed between the Pentagon, the US administration and the INC, and the sidelining of the CIA and the State Department, that it may not necessarily be that ‘duping’ is the key, but rather a wilful acceptance of information that supported objectives or validated beliefs.”

Why did the Iranians wish to aid the coalition invasion of Iraq, when there was every probability of strategic encirclement? If the intelligence services were cognizant of, perhaps deliberately co-operating with the Iranian mullahs, what was the quid pro quo? An acceptance of Shiastan and carte blanche for the Sadr army to attain hegemony over Shia militias.

Whatever price was paid in Iraq, we should be grateful that the duplicitous incompetence of our homeland security has come to light, at the hands of a Ministry that views their handiwork with some scepticism, I suspect. They cocked up the possible threat from internal Islamist radicals in the 1990s, allowing the development of Londonistan. They encouraged a war that has succoured terrorism and converted Al-Qaeda from a base to a franchise. Iran is now resurgent and the British Army is overstretched, unable to maintain two fronts, and undermined by a sceptical public opinion at home.

That is a damning record for our intelligence services, now sullied by New Labour. Both politicians and securocrats have endangered us, their turncoat ranks closing in to protect skins at the expense of our lives. That will not be forgotten.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Afghanistan: Sangin and Musa Qala - Defence or Defeat?

Now that the heavy conflicts of the summer at Sangin and Musa Qala are coming to a close, more stories about the pressure and strains suffered by the British Army are coming out through armed forces noticeboards and private emails. It is clear that equipment failures remain a drag to the operational effectiveness of our troops.

Troops revealed that they were engaged in all-out fighting, with ammunition running out, equipment malfunctioning and reinforcements and supplies failing to arrive. "Two days ago, we ran out of GPMG [general purpose machine gun] ammunition in our forward location," said an email to a Tory MP, Patrick Mercer.
"The Taleban were dodging around in great numbers at about 700m and firing at us from there from behind all sorts of cover. We ran out of LINK [the linked-up ammunition for a general-purpose machine gun] and we couldn't get any more in overnight because of the darkness and the weight of fire. We were within RPG range which they use superbly. We used our mortars to good effect, but, again, ammunition ran short."
Similar complaints came from another officer, who said that his troops' SA80 rifles melted in the heat. "You would go to pull the trigger and a piece of the gun would come away in your hand," he wrote. His force was also hampered by "a chronic lack of thermal imaging equipment, which allows you to plot the enemy at night. Without it you fight blind in a vast desert you don't know."
Communications equipment, including Harris 117 radios, which allow soldiers to call for help and back-up, was also being rationed, and their Land Rovers often broke down. "They were not made for battles in the desert," said the officer. "Every day, two or three vehicles were being repaired because axles were breaking under the strain. It made you an open target."

This is another black spot against Blair's administration, the Army prevailing because of their professional experience, not due to the fuck-ups of the MOD. Medals may be have been earned, but decent equipment would be a better reward.

Recent reports indicate that the British Army is retreating from Musa Qala after a truce with the Taliban allowing both sides to withdraw without losing face. This was negotiated with the aid of the local shura, the 'council of elders'. Such a withdrawal could amount to defeat, preventing the Kabul government from defending its presence and abandoning the objective of reconstruction, the original goal of the deployment. If such a withdrawal takes place at Sangin as well, questions have to be raised over the ability of the British or Canadians to achieve positive returns in the province of Helmand.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Post-Blair Foreign Policy II: Cameronism

When I talked about post-Blair foreign policy and the need to detach the Atlantic Alliance from the intimate strengths of Blair and Bush, little did I realise that Cameron's foreign policy speech would include similar points, with a greater emphasis upon the word "slavish".

Mr Cameron, addressing a British-American audience in London, said he wanted to revive the "best traditions" of the so-called special relationship, in which Britain would be a "long-standing friend", prepared to tell the truth to its leading ally.

"We will serve neither our own, nor America's, nor the world's interests if we are seen as America's unconditional associate in every endeavour," he said.

Britain should be "solid but not slavish" in its friendship with America. However, since Mr Blair had been in No 10, Britain had combined "the maximum of exposure with the minimum of real influence over decisions".

As the current approach has tanked badly in the polls, Cameron's "rebalancing act" nevertheless took courage: contrasting Tory difference with Thatcher's presence at the commemoration of 9/11. Indeed, if the special relationship required survival, it needed rebalancing after Blair's close shadowing of Bush's policy in particular areas.

Cameron attacks anti-Americanism:

"Anti-Americanism represents an intellectual and moral surrender. It is a complacent cowardice born of resentment of success and a desire for the world's problems simply to go away."

He said Tories were "instinctive friends of America and passionate supporters of the Atlantic Alliance".

George Jones in the Daily Telegraph argued that this represented a breach between the Tory party and US neo-conservatism. Guido Fawkes plays up the parallels with Fukuyama as the main focus is still on the war on terror.

Cameron has read the polls: fight terror but avoid the failures of the Bush-Blair special relationship.

(Cross-posted from The Bewilderness)

Friday, September 08, 2006

Post-Blair Foreign Policy

Reginald Dale of the Centre for Strategic and Intelligence Studies (CSIS), looks at post-Blair British foreign policy. He argues that the 'special relationship' will survive despite the current antipathy towards the foreign policy of the United States. Given that this relationship oscillates between hot and cold spells, we are moving towards a lukewarm era where the imtimacies of Bush and Blair are lost.

There are a number of issues on which Dale is too optimistic and underestimates the potential for blue water to open up between Britain and the United States. He correctly notes the current antipathy of the elites to the wars of the Middle East, but he does not take the antedeluvian attitudes of the Labour Party into account. Blair's very enthusiasm for the United States may engender a long-lasting reaction. The Left is in no mood to compromise. The trade unions are in a far stronger position than they have been for twenty years. Any new leader will find that their hands are tied, and that the 'special relationship', Trident and other baggage may become sacrifices to an unelectable Labour administration.

The other assertion that Dale makes lies on the other end of the pendulum's arc. Dale states that "no British prime minister is likely to join America in major military ventures for the foreseeable future." Again, there is no clear indication that this has acquired permanent status. Polls show that British attitudes towards the United States and the 'war on terror' have become personalised and contradictory: the public wishes to prosecute the war on terror through European rather than US agencies, primarily because they distrust the judgment and the effectiveness of Bush's policies. The anti-American flavour of current polls is unlikely to last beyond the end of Bush's term and Blair's downfall, since the United States is the only reliable ally who can prosecute these campaigns with vigour. Once the current preconditions for the polling results disappear, support for military action may resume. This is without the play of contingency, where further 'spectaculars' may result in more diplomatic revolutions.

It is not possible to predict a post-Blair foreign policy. You can define what it will not be, when the personal relationships and ideological rhetoric of the Prime Minister are taken into account. The constraints tying his successor are also clear: the demands of the Left and the public dislike of Bush render an enthusiastic Atlanticist policy problematic until 2008.

(Crossposted to The Bewilderness)
Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Annan's Attack

There are signs of decrepitude in this government. One of the most extraordinary scenes is Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, phoning members of the Cabinet, to revolt behind Blair's back, on the issue of the Israeli War. Since foreign policy is an issue of collective cabinet responsibility, Straw would be well-advised to shut up rather than act as a conduit for the UN. It is even more extraordinary that the UN Secretary-General deems that he has the right and the power to influence the internal politics of Great Britain. More foolish for the political party that lets him, although on the upside, it weakens Blair further.

According to well-placed sources, Mr Annan rang Mr Straw, now Leader of the Commons, last Wednesday - just hours after four UN peacekeepers were killed by Israeli action in southern Lebanon.

Claims that the UN chief was effectively fomenting revolt in Mr Blair's Cabinet against his decision to stick closely to Mr Bush and refuse to call for an immediate ceasefire will infuriate the Prime Minister.

Mr Annan's office insisted last night that he talked directly to Mr Blair, not behind his back.

Annan may find that his intervention has long-term consequences. Straw's position is compromised as he drew political advantage from open criticism for the Muslim voters in his home constituency. NO doubt he will soon be a backbencher. Annan may now find the United Kingdom lining up behind the United States on the issue of reform, lining him up for a Bolton lockjaw.

That still leaves us searching for a foreign policy.
Monday, July 31, 2006

Bring Back Britain

There is nothing predictable about the Middle East except for the
anguished cries of commentators who bemoan the latest war crime, the
latest roadmap to some tolerable truce and the latest terrorist outrage
carried out by the Militant Tendency, if you believe BBC understatement.
As the Israeli campaign has ground on and Hezbollah has cowered within
its civilian camouflage, a chorus of "What is to be done?" has permeated
our newspapers and television screens.

Such cries of help are usually the stimulus for Tony Blair to add his
ha'penny voice to the international great and the good that gather at
emergency conferences, writing resolutions that will solve wars,
insurgencies and genocides. But if, like the Darfur genocide, these
problems prove too intractable for their talking shops, the diplomatic
caravanserai will migrate towards a more welcoming watering hole. Her
Majesty's Government made noises on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
some three years ago, when Blair organised a conference, hoping that his
Belfast triumph might magically transpose to the Middle East through the
wand of British diplomacy. Alas, like all such endeavours, this
conference was sucked into the sands and never heard of again.

Postwar British governments have never had much luck in the Middle East.
The fiftieth anniversary of Suez has proved an opportune moment for many
to reminisce on our most disastrous intervention of all. We were allied
with the Israelis and the French in a clever plan to seize back the Suez
Canal, a strategic waterway run by a privately owned company based in
Paris that was sequestered by Nasser, the dictator of Egypt, so that he
could dam the Nile and posture as an Arab champion. The United States of
America, under President Eisenhower, broke Great Britain and France in
what has possibly proved to be the superpower's most foolish foreign
policy decision since 1945. This spelt an end to most independent
military action on our part and left France as an estranged onlooker,
increasingly embittered and striving to undermine US dominance in favour
of a multipolar world.

Yet, even when this was combined with the ratchet effect of relative
decline, British foreign policy has appeared distinctive through
delusions of influence over the United States. Harold Macmillan
described a comfort blanket of Athenian guidance to Kennedy's Rome.
Margaret Thatcher waved her handbag at Ronald Reagan and talked Hayek
and bombs. Such interventions always had a certain effect, but
Atlanticists have exaggerated history, knowing full well that we are
regarded as a second rate ally, a useful tool, but no more so than
Germany, Japan or Israel. Great Britain needs a dose of realism in our
special relationship with America now that Blair has proved a disastrous

Realism is one thing that you also will not find in reports on wars or
diplomacy. Truthfully, we just do not know what is going on in Beirut or
in Number Ten. Tony Blair was gravely damaged by his inept conversation
with President Bush, where his old instincts for diplomatic intervention
came to the fore. His silence, and the silence of other Ministers, on
the issue of a ceasefire and a peacekeeping force, could be genuine
disdain for a war that has already exacted political costs. Or he may
have nothing to contribute to an international peacekeeping force as the
military pot is empty. Our troops, overstretched in Iraq and
Afghanistan, could not be redeployed to Lebanon. Blair, without the boys
to back him up, kept mum until the Cabinet pressure cooker required a UN
release. He was watching his performance in 2003, since the Iraqi rerun
on Friday was a conference with Bush to draft a UN resolution.

We should be grateful that Blair is unable to commit us a third theatre
of war. The Israelis have proved very careless with the lives of
Lebanese civilians because they are unwilling to re-enter one of their
military nightmares: the occupation of Lebanon. Nor will the United States
entertain the idea of their troops participating in a peacekeeping
force. On October 23rd, 1983, 220 US Marines were killed in their
barracks at Beirut Airport by a suicide bomber whilst keeping the peace.
The Marines were joined in death by 58 French paratroopers through a
second suicide bomber.

If such a peacekeeping force is toothless, then Hezbollah will ignore it
and concentrate upon its immediate goals: terrorist incursions, rocket
attacks and insurgency within northern Israel. If the peacekeeping force
is strong enough to enforce the ceasefire, then Hezbollah may well turn
on them, using proxies to strike and kill the soldiers of whatever
country was foolish enough to commit them to the maelstrom. Then they
can take up their favourite pastime of firing rockets from someone's
backyard, hiding in the civilian population.

Blair moves in time to the American drum, and is accused of poodleism.
If he did have a foreign policy of his own, then he would prove more
vocal in his attacks of the Israelis, pandering to a domestic audience
by burnishing his internationalist credentials. Then, he would do
nothing except hold a conference and talk about a truce. The outcome is
the same whether countries are allies of Israel or internationalist
critics. They can do nothing without a ceasefire, and that lies within
the gift of two actors: Israel and Hezbollah.

Britain was an aggressive supporter of liberal internationalism under
Blair. Now, that distinctive strand of his politics is diminished, we are left
with the "special relationship", and a humiliating perception of
submission. From Trident to Iraq to the Natwest Three, Blair's
government has undermined our sense of worth and demeaned the alliance
that they consider the lynchpin of our security. Britain still lives in
a world of nation states. Britain still has strong armed forces and many
interests throughout the world: emigrants, daughter nations and