- Nov 22, 2003
- Reaction score
Wow. From the looks of things the writer is correct. Blair made the right choices but didn't follow through. Instead, the politics trumped responsibility. The military pays:
March 12, 2007
The price of the Blair-Brown war
The Armed Services are paying with lives for Labour rivalry
The British Army could draw up an indictment against the British Government. It would not be based on the decisions to go to war in Afghanistan or Iraq. Both were the subjects of national and parliamentary debate at the time that the decisions were made. The indictment would be that the Government failed to back the troops with adequate funding. Whether one is talking about pay and allowances, about equipment, about the numbers of men, about military hospitals, about the shortage of aftercare for the sick, the Government has failed to find the money. It has not honoured its side of the defence covenant.
Two ministers are responsible. Forget the grey ghosts who have held the post of secretary for defence. None has resigned rather than accept his responsibility for running the Armed Services, in a war on two fronts, without securing adequate financial support. It was the Prime Minister who decided the policy; it was the Chancellor who controlled the funding. If there has been a mismatch between commitments and funding, they must take the responsibility.
Tony Blair had several reasons for his decision to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq; I found them convincing at the time, whatever errors may have been made since. He wanted to maintain the Anglo-American alliance for defence; he was right to think that the United States is both the most advanced defence power and the most reliable ally. The European powers of Nato have been reluctant to accept their fighting responsibilities in Afghanistan. That supports Mr Blairs judgment that he should rely on the United States rather than them.
Mr Blair wanted to drive al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan; he was convinced that Saddam Hussein was a threat to peace throughout the region. The strengths of the post-Saddam insurgency tend to confirm that judgment. Presumably, Mr Blair was also concerned about the future of oil supplies from the Middle East, which is a permanent economic interest for the United Kingdom. He believed that Saddam was trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction; he may have used that argument as propaganda, but there is no reason to doubt that he believed it at the time almost everyone else did, even President Chirac of France.
The more closely one considers the original arguments for supporting US policy, the more weight they seem to have. At the very least, these were reasons for going to war that could have been accepted in good faith by a responsible and rational statesman. That is all the justification that the Army expects, or can ever expect. What was inexcusable was that defence expenditure, in all its forms, including the pay and welfare of soldiers, was allowed to fall so far behind events.
The peace dividend, which was composed of defence cuts made after the end of the Cold War, coincided with the outbreak of war in the Middle East. The policy should then have been reconsidered. Defence spending should have been doubled or thereabouts after the decisions to go to war that were made in 2002 and 2003. As a share of the national income, defence spending continued to fall, despite the protests of senior officers, made at first privately and then publicly. The Government cannot claim that it was not given warning by the professionals.
Gordon Brown never quite made clear his attitude to the decision to go to war. He gave sufficient public support to the war to be able to remain a member of the Cabinet. At the same time he allowed people in the Labour Party who opposed the war to believe that his public position did not represent his real opinion, and that he had a considerable sympathy with their point of view. Silence is ambiguity, and he was silent most of the time. Mr Browns attitude to defence spending has not changed subsequently. He wants it to be reduced in proportion to the national income, even though British forces are at war.
Throughout the period of the war, the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor has been deplorable. They were fighting a third war, for the leadership of the Labour Party. The division between them meant that the war was Mr Blairs business, but paying for the war was Mr Browns business. We do not know whether the Prime Minister tried to persuade the Chancellor to increase spending. He could have sacked Mr Brown if he refused to finance the war which was government policy. He did not do so.
Whereever one looks, the Armed Forces are underfunded. Patrols in Basra are still using vulnerable snatch vehicles in which several soldiers have been killed. The RAF has not yet fitted foam retardant to all its Hercules aircraft, as has been routine in the US Air Force since the 1960s, and as has become universal in Australia and with most other allies. The Hercules has cost lives. The only regiment in the Army that is fully up to strength is the Gurkhas. Even after a 9 per cent rise for privates, recruits to the Army will be paid £10,000 a year less than those to the Metropolitan Police. Half the accommodation for the Army in the United Kingdom is below standard. The only 1,000 reservists are engaged in the Middle East, often on work for which they have not been fully trained. By the end of this month there will be no military hospital left in Britain to treat the wounded. Put a finger anywhere into the military pie and it will touch the damage done by ten years of budget cuts. The Americans laugh at the way that the Brits rely on hand-me-downs of US equipment.
The Army is seriously overstretched in both Afghanistan and in Iraq. This has done serious strategic damage to its morale and future capacity. Soldiers are given extraordinarily little time to spend with their families and the break-up of marriages is common. There is a pathetic group of unsupported ex-servicemen, who may be suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, who are homeless, jobless and wifeless.
Money alone would not solve these problems, but they certainly cannot be solved without money. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown opted for war on the cheap; British soldiers have to pay the cost.