The Ministry of Defence……

I have cut and pasted an extract from columnist Matthew Parris’s article from last Saturday’s edition of “The Times” (UK) entitled `Sshh….six taboo subjects we don’t talk about`. The below was one of those `taboos` and sub-titled, `Military incompetence`.

If these days you were flicking throughYellow Pages wanting to hire a nation to manage a war for you, would it any longer be Britain? And don’t give me any of that “the soldiers only do what the politicians tell them” nonsense. It was the top brass that told the last government they could do counter-insurgency and sort out Helmand; it was the military that mishandled equipment and supplies.

Southern Afghanistan was never do-able. We’ve been useless at counter-insurgency. But our armed forces thought they could do it, and do it within available resources. They couldn’t. Just as they couldn’t do southern Iraq. We messed up in Basra, big time, as I saw early enough when I went there.

Take a look at a review in Thursday’s Times by our defence editor, Deborah Haynes, of Christopher L Elliott’s new book: High Command: British Military Leadership in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Elliott analyses a decade of military failure. “At the moment, the UK is bound to fall on its face,” the retired major-general said, “a coherent, thinking, ‘brain’ either does not exist in the MoD, or the circumstances of Whitehall do not allow it to flourish.”

Such open discussion is very rare in our country. An unhealthy coalition of boffins, neocons, commentators gone native and “use it or lose it” generals has all but closed down debate. But make no mistake: the Ministry of Defence is in charge here. Don’t blame the politicians. Don’t blame the poor bloody infantry. But do ask why Britain keeps making a hash of it. Or, rather, don’t, because we who believe in defence aren’t supposed talk about failure.

I’m sorry but our most recent world-beating military success was 70 years ago. After that narrow squeak, JM Keynes wrote this: “England is sticky with self-pity and not prepared to accept peacefully and wisely the fact that her position and her resources are not what they once were.”

A useful thought — dare I say it? — for the year ahead? More useful than a thousand speeches about immigration? Am I allowed to say that?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Ministry of Defence……

  1. Bill Brandt

    I think his sentiment has swung too far the other way – The SAS way of doing things has been copied by several nations – just saw a program on their counter insurgency in Malaysia – doing the undoable. They are a benchmark.

    It is sad when you hear of things like debate “do we still need a Royal Navy?

    Tom Clancy wrote a book on submarines (not a novel) and he dealt in detail with the British program on how they develop submarine officers – if anything even more rigorous than the US program.

    The problem is – with us too -when politicians unduly influence and try to run things. Or cut budgets into the muscle and bone.

    • The author is a former conservative MP from Thatcher’s day. He is actually a very profound and well researched writer. He may have over egged a couple of points but his actual message resonates with me. Having regularly `exercised` with our sf and worked with former SAS troopers who became police officers on my tactical firearms team, I agree with you Bill, that they may be equalled but they aren’t bettered. Ex submariners in my old job also said that the last thing they would have wanted to encounter in an underwater war was a boat and crew just like them.

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