UK Army Chief Counsels Iraq Withdrawal
General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of British Army, has told a leading tabloid that the UK should withdraw from Iraq “soon” if it wants to avoid “breaking” the Army.
The Army could ‘break’ if it is kept too long in Iraq and British troops should be withdrawn ‘soon’, the head of the Army has said today. In a devastating broadside at Tony Blair’s foreign policy, General Sir Richard Dannatt said: “I want an Army in five years time and 10 years time. Don’t let’s break it on this one. Let’s keep an eye on time.”
His comments come after an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail, where Sir Richard warned that the continuing presence of British troops “exacerbates the security problems” in Iraq and added that a “moral and spiritual vacuum” has opened up in British society, which is allowing Muslim extremists to undermine “our accepted way of life.”
His views will send shockwaves through Government. They are a total repudiation of the Prime Minister, who has repeatedly insisted that British presence in Iraq is morally right and has had no effect on our domestic security.
Sir Richard, who took up his post earlier this year, warned that “our presence in Iraq exacerbates” the “difficulties we are facing around the world.” He lambasts Tony Blair’s desire to forge a “liberal democracy” in Iraq as a “naive” failure and he warns that “whatever consent we may have had in the first place” from the Iraqi people “has largely turned to intolerance.”
“We are in a Muslim country and Muslims’ views of foreigners in their country are quite clear.” As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited in a country, but we weren’t invited certainly by those in Iraq at the time. “The military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in. Whatever consent we may have had in the first place, may have turned to tolerance and has largely turned to intolerance.” “That is a fact. I don’t say that the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them.”
In comments that set him at loggerheads with Mr Blair, Gen Dannatt warns that the good intentions of 2003 have long since evaporated – pitching British troops into a lethal battle that few at home can understand. “I think history will show that the planning for what happened after the initial successful war fighting phase was poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning,” he said.
“The original intention was that we put in place a liberal democracy that was an exemplar for the region, was pro West and might have a beneficial effect on the balance within the Middle East.” “That was the hope, whether that was a sensible or naÃ¯ve hope history will judge. I don’t think we are going to do that. I think we should aim for a lower ambition.”
The Prime Minister has repeatedly insisted that British troops must stay until the Iraqi security forces are able to take charge – a forlorn hope as the country has slipped to the brink of civil war.
Sir Richard warned that the consequences will be felt at home, where failure to support Christian values is allowing a predatory Islamist vision to take hold. He said: “When I see the Islamist threat in this country I hope it doesn’t make undue progress because there is a moral and spiritual vacuum in this country.” “Our society has always been embedded in Christian values; once you have pulled the anchor up there is a danger that our society moves with the prevailing wind.” “There is an element of the moral compass spinning. I think it is up to society to realise that is the situation we are in.”
“We can’t wish the Islamist challenge to our society away and I believe that the army both in Iraq and Afghanistan and probably wherever we go next, is fighting the foreign dimension of the challenge to our accepted way of life.” “We need to face up to the Islamist threat, to those who act in the name of Islam and in a perverted way try to impose Islam by force on societies that do not wish it.” “It is said that we live in a post Christian society. I think that is a great shame. The broader Judaic-Christian tradition has underpinned British society. It underpins the British army.”
Dannatt is now backpeddling a bit:
Britain’s army chief, who set off a political storm by calling for troops to be withdrawn from Iraq “soon,” said Friday he meant a phased withdrawal over two or three years, and denied that he was attacking government policy.
Gen. Richard Dannatt gave a series of interviews after newspapers ran front-page stories interpreting his remarks published Thursday by The Daily Mail as a critique of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s policy.
Dannatt said in the initial interview that the British military should “get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems.” On Friday morning, he insisted Britain stood “shoulder to shoulder with the Americans, and their timing and our timing are one and the same.” “We’ll probably reduce our soldiers over the course of the next year or two or three — let’s wait and see. That’s what I mean by sometime soon,” Dannatt said in an interview with Sky News. “We don’t do surrender. We don’t pull down white flags. We’re going to see this through,” Dannatt said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Kevin Drum notes that there were rumors of this a couple weeks ago.
The secret memo made it clear that Dannatt tried to privately broker a deal last month to pull British troops out of Iraq and transfer them to Afghanistan, where he thinks we still have a chance to make a difference, but was turned down. Now he’s gone public. I wonder if there are any American generals who agree with him?
Quite likely. Today’s top generals began their career during the tail end or immediate aftermath of Vietnam and are rightfully still quite leery of getting bogged down in someone else’s civil war. And the use of the military for nation-building vice full-scale wars is still something they engage in reluctantly. It should be noted, however, that we have to speculate as to what sitting American generals think about this issue because they have the professional discipline to keep their mouths shut.
Dannatt’s vision of the world of clashing religions is rather unusual, especially coming from a top military man. His view of what’s happening in Iraq and the likelihood of achieving the ambitious goal of a bulwark of democracy there may well be right; the trends are certainly in his favor.
Still, Blair simply has to fire him. It really doesn’t matter who is right here: Soldiers serve the elected civilian leadership and do what they must to carry out state policy. If they believe strongly that the politicians are wrong, they have a duty to speak their minds behind closed doors and seek to influence the decision-makers. If that fails and they can not in good conscience obey their orders, then they must resign and take their case public. It can simply be no other way.