Friday, October 13, 2006

This Week, Iraq & Peter Kilfoyle

I got home half an hour ago and watched the last fifteen minutes of the 18DoughtyStreet End of the Day Show on my laptop (I have to keep an eye on Mr Montgomerie, you know) while putting This Week on the TV. This Week's studio guests are Miss UK, James Brown and Martin Amis. If that line-up doesn't make you switch over to Internet TV in the future, nothing will.

Anyway, I digress. Earlier this evening I got a text from Sky News telling me that the Chief of the Defence Staff had called for British troops to be withdrawn from Iraq as soon as possible. At first I thought it was a wind-up. But it wasn't. I cannot recall a precedent for this kind of public disavowal of Government policy by such a senior military officer and I'm not sure what the consequences will be. While it puts the Defence Secretary and PM in a difficult position, it also puts the Conservatives in a quandry.

Liam Fox's response tonight was odd in that its primary purpose seemed to be to point out that Tony Blair's authority is ebbing away. It also hinted that the Conservative position is to align itself to the Chief of Defence Staff. This is dangerous territory. Our troops are on a mission in Iraq and my head tells me they have to complete it. If they don't, and they are withdrawn, we are into comparisons with Suez, where our troops were sent home with their tails between their legs. They deserve better than that. Fifty years on, is history about to repeat itself?

I have just come off the phone to Peter Kilfoyle, Labour MP for Walton. I published Peter's book LEFT BEHIND some years ago and we got on like a house on fire. He's recovering from a quadruple heart bypass at the moment and hasn't touched a cigarette for four months. Anyone who knows him will tell you how remarkable that is. He hopes to be back in the Commons by the end of November and I can assure you he will be gracing the Doughty Street sofas too. But he's lost so much weight, he might not need a sofa now. Get well soon, Peter.


Anonymous said...

just caught that chief of defence staff story on Sky myself.

must admit i was a bit shocked, considering the chaps seniority. idle speculation - is this the Queen's way of saying she wants a change in policy?

protocol of course says that she doesnt get involved in politics. but one does wonder - has the army general staff been given the all clear from someone to start saying these things?

just watching bbc news 24 - its the lead item. nick robinson is on(!). this sounds pretty big (or maybe is it a case of the MSM, yet again, jumping on something without substance..?)

Anonymous said...

watching it on sky news now - they are all over it. its big news. it is extraordinary , considering his position.

sounds as if the army pressure got too much that he had to speak out.

Anonymous said...

quote from sky "he said that the covenant of the nation and the armed forces is in danger of breaking down" , when referring to the wounded soldiers in NHS hospitals. the generals are "frustrated" with the "lack of politcal direction" in afghanistan.

he has been summoned to see the minister of defence Des Browne, according to Sky.

Anonymous said...

there's a thread on the Army Rumor Service forum about this here

Anonymous said...

newsnight link - they report on the general's statements as the lead item.

Anonymous said...

Would much rather have been able to watch Amis and James Brown this evening than the Ann Widdecombe sofa interview I caught on 18 Doughty St this evening whilst stuck in the office.

Lobster Blogster said...

Liam Fox's response tonight was odd

The Tories have been standing in front of the open goal which is Iraq for the past three years, whatever makes you think they have a chance of connecting foot with ball right now?

Anonymous said...

Iain, you question Liam Fox's reaction to this news "This is dangerous territory. Our troops are on a mission in Iraq and my head tells me they have to complete it."

I simple ask you to read the Chief of Defence's interview in the Daily mail and then listen again to Liam Fox's interview on sky news.
He was not in the least bit surprised at this intervention by Sir Richard Dannatt!
He has realised what you seem to have missed, you cannot write blank cheques no matter how vital or worthy the cause with a depleted bank balance which is in the red!
In fact Liam Fox has simple shown just how clearly he has grasped his brief as shadow defence secretary, and with that comes the recognition of the real plight of our armed forces. You should question this government on its utter imcompetence in providing adequate resources to implement its objectives in Iraq or Afghnanistan.
I think you just made the same mistake as the government, they did not seem to accept the assessment of the British military because it did not fit in with their objectives. Looks like you just did the same with Liam Fox.

Anonymous said...

how are the armed forces supposed to complete it iain?

we all want iraq to work out but no-one has any idea how. yes the troops deserve better, and thats why we should never have gone into iraq in the first place or should have withdrawn almost as soon as saddam was overthrown without destroying the entire iraqi state.

basically iraq is unwinnable. we can either withdraw and it will be a mess, or we can stay and it will be a bigger mess and even more british soldiers will die. if we stay in we deprive afghanistan of resources and the ability to actually make a difference. if we stay in iraq afghanistan will turn into iraq perhaps next summer.

what do you think iain? what are the options? an unsavoury withdraw or a future humiliating bloody retreat?

Anonymous said...

I too was amazed by this comment. I take the point about our needing to complete the mission, but what the General appears to be saying is that the mission is uncompletable, and indeed counterproductive. If this is so, then he was indeed right to make this comment. Abandoning a medium-sized, strategically important country to a full scale civil war, however, is a huge step, and would perhaps be the riskiest we've taken since the Berlin Blockade or the Cuban missile crisis.

Whether the troops in Iraq would be better employed in Afghanistan is of course another matter. Even if we pulled out of Iraq, America would probably remain there, at least until the '08 Presidential elections. The effect on Anglo-American relations would probably be serious, though perhaps not disastrous if we continued to help defeat the Taliban.

What this rather rambling post appears to be saying is that I've no idea what to do in Iraq, but this comment has certainly made me question my belief that our troops should stay until the mission is completed.

James Higham said...

The precedent for the military commenting arose with Tommy Franks in the recent era and continued some weeks back. It's just an extension of this but it has certainly increased of late.

Anonymous said...

At last someone speaks truth to power. Boyce was sacked for doing so. At least the Attorney General's quack solution to the Boyce's legal arguments against war will land him and his boss and Scarlett in the High Court, the Hague (or US exile).

Blair won't like being defenestrated by an evangelical, probably will be as aggravated as he was by Dearlove and Kelly briefing the BBC about the absence of NBC weapons on the shelf in Iraq in the run up to the war. Spot on comments about society will merely aggravate him even more too.

For those of you who still think there is "good" to be done in Iraq, get on the boat and go out there. It's a disaster.

Anyway, who do we have to thank for this fkn mess? Iain Duncan Cough and his minions. Without them we wouldn't be on this illegitimate mission.

On that note, who is this Fox idiot? Getting prissy with the Russians last week for no reason: they have decisively shifted away from London towards Paris-Berlin axis precisely because of bewilderment at invasion of Iraq on spurious grounds and ongoing resentment of external funding of conflict in the north Caucasus.

In case Fox hadn't noticed we are currently fighting the Pakistani Army, Intelligence Service and proxies in Afghanistan. Just as the Russians and Ahmed Shah Massud did in Afghanistan throughout the 90s with no Western support.

Surely the Conservatives should be backing an honourable soldier who must deal with resource overstretch and the human cost of war.

Bring on the next fuel blockade, fire service strike and an Army mutiny. Blair could unleash his namesake's SO19 stormtroopers but they could only execute and intern a certain number of citizens before there was a general uprising.

Meantime, you think a soldier is going to be bothered about meeting servile non-entity like Des Browne?

Anonymous said...

One important factor might be that his own son (see the BBC front page story today) serves in the Grenadier Guards and that regiment is about to leave for Afghanistan and has been serving in Iraq. Grenadier Guards page. So perhaps the General gets more inside info than some senior officers. I also wonder about the Queen side of things but whatever the motives, this is serious and a key turning point for the Govt's position on Iraq. I don't see how they can continue if the head of the JCS thinks differently. Clearly there has to be some sort of major policy shift. The real problem is that the British Army as it is currently set up and funded does not have the resources to effectively fight these battles. The second problem is that the US "allies" have behaved like a pack of savages in Iraq, estranging the population. The third is that the two countries where we are involved, I and A, are hotbeds of intractable territory, cruel hostile history and vicious fighters. All of this makes me think he's right, and (I share Iain's regrets very much) we should withdraw.

Anonymous said...

One can only imagine the interview. I hope he fights - mekly resigning would be pathetic.

Hell, I'd *request* a court martial

Anonymous said...

"Our troops are on a mission in Iraq and my head tells me they have to complete it."

The late Field Marshall Lord Haig made his career on such single-mindedness. Not such a good career move for almost anyone under his command, as I recall.

Anonymous said...

Chief of the General Staff, not the Defence Staff. It's the airman who is Chief of the Defence Staff. Really earn my nom de plume with that one.

Anonymous said...

Military intervention in British politics has not been since the rule of the Major Generals in the 1650's. This is dangerous stuff constitionally, but shows what level this country has been brought to by Blair. He is however right, a direct result of there being no exit strategy- see Bob Woodward, State of Denial.

Anonymous said...

The good General is untouchable. Four years ago he would have been sacked. Now the government do not have the political authority to sack the Chief of the General Staff without a major political crisis. His views will be representative of his immediate circle - the other Chiefs of Staff - and the Armed Forces in general. The public, the media and most of Parliament share his viewpoint and those with a sicnerely-held contrary view can be counted on one hand and have seats around a big table in Downing Street.

James Higham said...

Updated comment on my earlier one - Sir Richard's comments, largely unreported in their entirety, e.g. on the BBC, represent much more than an attack on Tony Blair. There is a general commment about society and I wonder how widely it will be reported.

Anonymous said...

Such comments by such a senior officer are without precedent.

Be he right or wrong in his views he should not say such things whilst still serving.

The fact that he is still serving after such comments also speaks volumes about this Government.

It is weak, factionalised and now rudderless!!I fear for my country..

Anonymous said...

Listening to the man himself on Today, not just media analysis of media analysis, it is depressing how innured we are to lies and spin that when a man simply expresses the facts, moreover entirely in line with his area of professional expertise, there is outrage and panic.

Scary Biscuits said...

Iain, I think you are right to criticise Liam Fox for appearing to support the Chief of Defence Staff's comments.

As a Conservative I think the soldier should be sacked. It is his job to implement policy, not to criticise it; that's the Tories' job.

I hate to repeat Labour spin but Liam Fox is just contributing to this sense that the Tories have no longer got anything of substance to say. He should be criticising Labour's failure to fund the army properly, asking it to fight wars on several fights while not providing the presonnel and materiel to do the job. Instead he becomes like the SNP, critising Blair from a passivist point of view: no defence cuts but don't put servicemen in harm's way either. Blair has done more damage to our armed forces than if he'd stayed a member of CND and yet the Cameroons seem incapable of articulating this.

Anonymous said...

The study of C20th Spanish history (apart from the fighting in the Civil War) is not fashionable. An examination of the circumstances that allowed Franco to rise from the son of an obscure civil servant in Galicia to 40 years of absolute power is interesting. Disaffected military feeling let down and disliked by the useless and corrupt politicians in a country that had just lost the remnants of empire. Declining standards and failing economy. Makes you think!

Anonymous said...

The good general says it is time for honesty and not spin. He has been honest.

The country, the media and the polluted New Labour government apparatus is stunned and so unused to this clear and direct approach, we are all overwhelmed. Yet he is talking the truth and is mindful of the responsibility he has to the troops he commands - unlike the revolving door of donkeys (Hoon, Reid, Wilson) who send them on missions that are doomed from the start due to a fatal combination of ignorance and dishonesty.

I disagree (for the first time) with Iain Dale on this issue. The Tories should not shy away from attaching themselves to an honest critique of a doomed campaign that has been one of the UK's worse foreign policy misadventures since Suez.

Anonymous said...

We invaded Iraq based on Tony Blair's assertion that Saddam Hussein had WMD's that he could deploy within 45 minutes.This has been shown to be, at best, unfounded and, at worst, downright lies.It must surely follow then that another country, let's say Pakistan for instance, would have the same arguement for invading Britain.In fact they would have more legitimacy given that they wouldn't be telling lies about the WMD's.

Anonymous said...

Blair went into Iraq and Afghanistan without enough troops and resources. As did the Americans. That simple fact has not changed since, and now it is too late for both wars. The Islamists will soon have been handed two victories.

To deploy enough resources we would have had to have had a Draft, and increased defence spening to 6% of GDP from 2.4%.

Of course, Brown wouldn't spend one penny more on defence than he had stated previously, war or no war.

Blair and Brown between them have created a 1940, where poor preparation has enabled our enemies to early victories. Brown should be gone as surely as Blair. Liam Fox is positioning the Party correctly. The future will have to be different.

Anonymous said...


You say 'Our troops are on a mission in Iraq and my head tells me they have to complete it.' Unfortunately no one seems to know or be able to articulate exactly what that 'mission' actually is. Worse, the aim and intention of the 'mission' in Afganistan is even less clear. Unless, of course, the 'mission' in both cases is to provide unconditional support and cannon fodder for the Americans...

If you take a look at any of the Military websites ( for example) you'll see overwhelming support for the CGS's comments. And you'll also note the strength of feeling.

I doubt that Dannatt will lose his job immediately. It's clear that the cretinous Des Browne is going to have to work at it a bit. Nonetheless Dannatt has clearly set out what the overwhelming proportion of the military and many civilians actually feel and believe.

Blair's 'legacy' looks increasingly tawdry. The public have lost all 'respect' (and, in passing, whatever happened to that particular New Labour 'initiative'?). He'll never be able to regain credibility and it's best for all that he should leave quietly and rapidly - what Sir Richard might refer to as a 'Tactical Withdrawal', perhaps.

Anonymous said...

Its funny how people always complain about spin, but when we finally have someone who tells the truth, he should not have spoken ! Actually, most people know the truth, but it is nice to have someone in a position to know more than us to confirm it.

He did not say he was not going to obey orders by the way.

And he also said that by pulling out of Iraq, there is a better chance of being able to do the job in Afghanistan, which is an important point that seems to have been missed.

Because at present, it will be both wars that will be going wrong (in the case of Iraq, its a question of degree).

The problems with the tories is that they voted for Iraq in the 1st place, which only shows what a bunch of morons they were, and arguably still are.

Man in a Shed said...

I suspect the truth is that the Army can now see its breaking point on the Horizon. It is fighting 2 wars and needs to be ready to fight a third at short notice ( Falklands anyone ? ). Our best units are exhusted. They have been telling the government this in private, from what I can sumise in the media. Now they want to make it clear something has to give and soon.

Better a bit of insubordination and honesty now than a military disater latter.

Blair, Reid and co have been keeping us in the dark - its only occasional reporters like Christina Lamb returning from the front line who let us know what is really going on.

James Higham said...

This last comment by Man in a Shed is very close to the truth in all probability - the army must be clsoe to the end of its tether.

Anonymous said...

Archduke - I tried to click on your link, but was told it "doesn't exist".

Chuck Unsworth (and all the others with similar thoughts): "I doubt that Dannatt will lose his job immediately. It's clear that the cretinous Des Browne is going to have to work at it a bit."

Des Browne can gnaw away at it for the rest of his life, but the only person who can sack Sir Richard Dannat is HM.

Ian Lewis said...

Left Behind is one of the best political analyses of what can go wrong in a local political party. In terms of Liverpool, badly wrong.

The Labour Party in the City is only now emerging from the shadows of the Militant era and Kilfoyle's role and his efforts are fascinating.