Following the failures of the Boer wars Kipling wrote, “Its a difficult thing to admit it, but as a grown-up nation we should; we’ve had a hell of a beating, it will do us no end of good.” Is there a Kipling in Great Britain today? If so, he or she is probably a journalist or blogger, and likely dismissed as a malcontent.

It may or may not be time to ask the question, but I don’t think they are capable politically to have an honest debate across the pond right now, so I’ll use this space to ask the question.

I have been reading about the final withdrawal of the British military from Iraq. I am quoting from this BBC article discussing the withdrawal.

British military commanders are fiercely proud but defensive too. There are stories of unbelievable courage.

They also know, however, there are those in the Washington corridors who say Britain allowed the militias to effectively take over Basra and that the city was only freed by the Iraqi army.

They say British forces were overstretched and under-resourced and there was not the political will to support them in the fight against the militias.

“I’ve had senior military officers say to me that the Army is broken as a result of Iraq and Afghanistan”, said Lord Ashdown.

Others believe that the legacy of Iraq has weakened Britain’s will to use force globally without a clear mandate.

“I don’t think we’ll ever do that again,” said Sir Jeremy, “without a clear UN resolution… and a much wider partnership.”

Still some of these initial supporters of the war argue that it is too early for a final judgment. History shields its hand.

First this is not about effort, this is not about courage, this is not about pride, and this is not about intent. This is about the facts on the ground including the political support from home. My question is:

Was the British military defeated in Iraq?

The facts on the ground are that Britain allowed the militias to take over Basra, and that the city was freed by the Iraqi army. The BBC article suggests some in Britain are in denial about that. Britain was unable to hold the most important city in their theater of operation, and ultimately required the Iraqi forces supported by the United States to do the job they were unable to do. Political support from Great Britain clearly eroded over time, which means the entire country carries the responsibility of the military defeat.

It should be noted that the majority of citizens are OK with being defeated. While this is a damning historical note that reveals the strategic priority (or lack of strategic priority) of the Iraq war, it would be foolish to ignore that in the fine historical tradition of weak political leadership the British government is accepting military defeat and attempting to turn defeat into a cultural victory. In politics this type of behavior can be expected, but how should we judge Generals who ignore defeat and instead simply declare victory and leave?

This point is important, and a reminder of Kipling’s observations. The United States was on the verge of defeat in Iraq as well, but instead of accepting a military defeat, Secretary of Defense Gates under the Bush administration reevaluated strategy in an attempt to achieve military victory. This was followed up last month under the Obama administration when Secretary of Defense Gates reassessed requirements for achieving victory with a balanced force necessary to meet a broader spectrum of the nations strategic challenges where military power may be required. Instead of accepting a military defeat and claiming it as a cultural victory, the Obama administration is expanding the size of the military force and has kept military power in Iraq to finish the job.

The difference between a country that doesn’t accept a military defeat vs a country that does accept military defeat is the difference between a country with strong political leadership with a conviction towards victory vs a country with weak political leadership absent conviction towards victory. In my opinion, Great Britain as a Great Power is not only in decline, they are gaining speed in that decline becoming subservient to the United States in the spirit of a military puppet state.

I believe the answer to the question asked above is yes. The British Army was not only defeated in Iraq by a militia supported by a third world country (Iran), but was broken in Iraq by that foe. The British continue to lose credibility in maintaining control of Helmand Province in Afghanistan, which suggests military defeat is viewed with cultural acceptance among current political leaders. With the Royal Navy at the smallest level in several centuries, it is possible that Great Britain is a technologically advanced paper tiger with a military nowhere near sufficient to support the strategic or economic interests of that nation.

I could be wrong, but the last time the British Army was defeated this bad by a small state insurgency was when the US defeated Britain in North America supported by France led by then General George Washington. It didn’t hurt Britain as bad at that time though, because the British still took sea power seriously in those days and had something to fall back on.

Posted by galrahn in Tactics

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  • pred

    In 1992 Bill Hicks in one of his acts compared the casualty statistics for the Gulf War. Iraq: 130,000; US:81 and asked “does that mean if we had sent 82 guys we still would have won?”. Well, no. Under-resourced military forces rarely do. And given that the UK cannot pour a few billion extra into a surge here and there in a conflict that is very unpopular forces in Basra had to make do with what they had and hope to be bailed out when needed. Part of the problem also lies in the absence of a realistic post-invasion plan. The idea that they would be greeted with open arms as liberators was shortlived. Where was the guy asking “hey, say this does not turn out as planned? Could we get stuck there in insurgency warfare for a decade or so? What worst case scenarios should we consider here and will we be able to go the distance?” And while the surge had its successes, no doubt about it, it came at a time when sectarian warfare was nearing its final stage and had less trouble to keep the now ethnically cleansed communities apart.

    Good question on what role the “advanced paper tiger” is meant to fulfill… part of the answer lies in soft power that already exists. And another piece of the puzzle is the fact that various paper tigers share interests yet seem unwilling to move in harmony to solve the security issues they face. The piracy response is a step forward in this respect. Iraq and Afghanistan already are old wars already.

  • John Dallman

    “Acceptance of defeat”. Well, yes. It’s part of not being a superpower any more that you are subject to being defeated. But as well as that there’s another issue that limited the UK government’s efforts. And that’s a lack of percieved legitimacy for the war in Iraq.

    “In my opinion, Great Britain as a Great Power is not only in decline, they are gaining speed in that decline becoming subservient to the United States in the spirit of a military puppet state.”

    Absolutely. But we were in that position, and knew it, from the moment we signed up for the war. The intelligence presented in the UK to justify the war was visibly cooked at the moment it was presented. There was lots of posturing about it, and official enquiries, but the thrust was clear to those with eyes to see. The floor figure for the number of people who protested againt the war in London on Feb 15th 2003 was 750,000; estimates vary up to two million. Tony Blair lost his position as Prime Minister mainly because of the war.

    The UK strategy for some time has been to get out; the subtle part, which was meant to be taking advantage of US propoganda about success to “demonstrate” that we weren’t needed any more rather fell apart, but it was a decent plan.

    The people never wanted the war in Iraq; Afghanistan has been tarred with the same brush. Now Pakistan is going down the tubes too. OBL’s plan, to provoke the west into destroying what legitimacy it had, is working all too well.


  • Spade

    “The facts on the ground are that Britain allowed the militias to take over Basra, and that the city was freed by the Iraqi army. The BBC article suggests some in Britain are in denial about that.”

    Part of that is arrogance.

    I remember early on when the Brits were yelling about how awesome they were (and how much the US and everybody sucked) because of how much they knew about CT due to all their ‘experience’ in Northern Ireland (where, I will note, the people they fought against now help run the government).

    When they started going on about how smart they were because they were wearing soft caps and berets instead of helmets, I started to wonder how many people would die before they realised Basra wasn’t the Bogside.

    It’s a hard thing to go from “we are the best at this ever” to what happened. I’m not sure they ever will. After all, telling Americans what they were doing wrong is such a pastime.

  • War in Irag began 17 January 1991.
    and resulted in “victory”
    which lasted, what?…a whole 12 years long? And then in 2003 we “must” do it again? and now we have another “victory”, because the level of violence has subsided, and will lie doggo for, how long? “victory in Iraq” is so much more than an oxymoron.

    So, the British left the field a bit sooner than we. my my.

  • Whilst I agree the british have been consistently underfunded, for about the last 50 years; something which has been further eroded by the placing of funding in bad projects, and not building what is needed.

    e.g. maintaing foreign bases in places where peace rains, and no useful training can be done, whilst not building 3 70,000ton CVNs plus enough escorts for 6 escort groups; to maintain 2&4 ready for deployment – compared to 2 60,000ton gas guzzlers being built

    however, there is the fact to remember that it even took the American government a while to realise they need to increase the number of personnel in their forces for the conduct of wars – and they were not as weded as ours is to the idea of ‘a small proffessional elite’….unlike the mass forces which were so succesful in every large war we have ever engaged in.

    yes we did lose momentum in iraq, but it was not the forces fault – this is the worst thing to admit but they do a very difficult job, with very little support from the government – which is more interested in keeping servicemen out of the country (look at the current governments actions over the Ghurka’s) than looking after them and giving them the equipment and numbers they need to do the jobs which the same government is so eager to sign them up to.

    yours sincerly


  • Byron

    Do you understand that the War on Terror is not simply about Iraq and Afghanistan? That it much more complex than that? I’m just an ignorant civilian with no formal warfighting education, and I undestood what it would take and how long it would take years ago. Start thinking in macro, not micro.

  • Hayball


    Some of us would be greatly comforted if more of us just started thinking. At all levels of society.

    Grump, grumble.

  • Dee Illuminati

    Iraq was like a dog chasing a car; what do you do with it when you catch it?

    There is an interesting post over at Galhran’s about failed states.

    In many respects the post invasion debacle of disrupting the sstatus quo and existing institutions tossed Iraq into a failed state status where we then faced the premise of having to destroy institutions to save them~

    “When it comes to human rights, China’s foreign policy is deliberately agnostic. As Hu puts it, China operates “without any political strings.” Inspired by how it would like to be treated by others, Beijing adheres to a policy of “noninterference in internal affairs,” trading, investing and providing aid without regard to whether its partner is a democratic visionary or a tyrant.”

    When we look back at Iraq, was it about democracy, WMD, etc…

    I will point out that “cultural hegemony” is an expensive proposition beyond strictly military victory.

    Possibly Britian reached a conclusion that the people who said that the war would pay for itself were wrong.

    Do I suggest accepting defeat? No. But I remember Powell stated succinctly: “If we break it we own it.” I guess that is sort of like catching the car!

  • Zen

    What does “victory” in Iraq look like?

  • Jed

    Yes we were defeated. I was part of the army that was defeated. Was it the fault of the average squaddie – hell no ! Was it the fault of our politicians, absolutely.

    Galrahn says: “In my opinion, Great Britain as a Great Power is not only in decline, they are gaining speed in that decline becoming subservient to the United States in the spirit of a military puppet state.” Again absolutely correct, we are have become your lapdog, those politicians with the balls to disagree with our U.S. masters were lambasted in parliament and told to get with the program.

    Even if you accept that we should never have been there in the firt place, but we are so lets get on with it, the biggest diferences between U.S. and British attitudes was indeed the arrogance of some senior army officers who believe they wrote the book on Counter-insurgency in Malaya, Oman, Northern Ireland etc, and “we can learn nothing from the heavy handed Yanks”. Also the resourcing and funding – look how much extra cash has been voted through congress in the years of war, whereas the our armed forces have been forced to fight two wars (or one war on two fronts), while keeping up peace-time tasking on a drastically REDUCED budget.

    So as G notes, we are down to the lowest number of frigates and destroyers ever, we are going to build 2 carriers, for which we will never be able to afford enough F35’s to fly from them, but we think we are clever because we have an independant nuclear deterrent and a seat on the security council. The British people are sea blind for sure, even though 95% of commerce still arrives in the islands by sea, but if the British people only want a coast guard, then fair enough, but the U.S. has to drop the special relationship and expecting us to be their ‘staunch’ allie, we will be just another part of federal europe who does not want to pay to safeguard its freedom.

  • Total

    “where, I will note, the people they fought against now help run the government”

    And this is different from the U.S. agreements with Sunni groups how?

  • Byron

    I am truly sad to hear that Jed. I’ve always looked at Great Britain, Canada and Australia as close brothers, speaking the same language and having the same heritage. Having to think of England as a bit player is very disturbing. I am very unhappy to have to think of the great British Lion now take on the manners of a house cat.

    I only pray that it doesn’t happen here in the States!

  • Zen

    Jed: Where’s the threat justifying a larger RN coming from?

    I think Galrahn’s article is poorly conceived. The Brits didn’t suffer defeat any more than the US will when we pull out.

    I’m struck by this line, though: “Others believe that the legacy of Iraq has weakened Britain’s will to use force globally without a clear mandate.”

    To my mind, this is a no-brainer.

  • Mille Sabords

    I would like to add a few things on victory and defeat.

    Since military objectives always is (and should be) subordinated to political objectives, one must ask, how did the loss of Basra adversely affect Britain?

    And on the other side, I am still not sure what “victory” will look like for the Americans that bravely stick it out in Iraq, but still, when V-day does come America has already lost so much politically by this war that military victory seems irrelevant. By losing politically I am not talking about Europeans allies complaining about US policy, I am talking about real capability being weakened (economically and militarily) and the loss of image, or fear if you like, by America’s enemies.

    The US has already lost in Iraq even if they one day can claim victory. The Brits on the other hand seems to have lost little, even though they can be said to have been defeated in Basra.

    Though I am still in full agreement with Galhran that UK is in decline as a great power. That process has gone on for at least 60 years and is not stopping now. Worth remembering that exactly this development was a central strategic goal of the United States at least until the 1950’s.

  • Jed

    Zen I think we did indeed suffer defeat, perhaps it could be characterised as a moral, or perhaps even a ‘technical’ defeat. Its the defeat of giving up inner city Basra to the Mahdi Army et al because the local commanders on the ground could not secure the resources to do otherwise.

    I used to be in Pysops, we could have made a real difference in that environment, but nobody took us seriously until it was too late (and that was after we thought people were getting used to us after success in the Balkans and Sierra Leone)- so perhaps thers is the ‘defeat’ of a certain level of command who fell back on thier arrogance as I mentioned.

    Alas as well as being ex-Army reserve, I did my full time stint in the jolly old RN, so as your comment “where is the threat justifying a larger RN coming from” – well we have to look at the bigger strategic picture. If the major threat to the UK is from the GWOT, then perhaps as an Island nation the RN should have been put forward as our major contribution to that war, rather then dropping Marines into a landlocked theatre. Ohter than GWOT, surely the potential threats to the RN are the same as the potential threats to the USN ? Piracy, Chinese expansionism (?) – I am just kidding, but its a good question, and if the answer really and truly is, there is no potential maritime threat to the UK or its allies, then turn the RN into a coast guard and have done with it. However if the UK political machine can see past Kabul, then fund the damn Navy properly, there are plenty of historical prescedents to examine what happens when we dont !

  • Stevey

    I think the article is quite hypocritical. I have huge respect for the US as a country and for its great military tradition.

    US defeat in Vietnam was followed by humiliation in Iran and Somalia (through no fault of brave US forces). This versus a vastly under-resourced British in the South of Iraq relying on reinforcement from the Iraqi army to subdue the militias. It’s hardly the fall of Singapore again is it? There have been no Saigon-style British helicopters pulling staff from Embassy roof-tops. To compare it to the US Revolutionary War is ridiculous. This was a small-scale action that wasn’t adequately resourced.

    Considering the UK is led by a left-wing government, it has actually shown a level of commitment in staying on in Iraq not displayed by any other US ally. I think its fair to say that had the US been led by its equivalent party (the Democrats) since 2004, there would be no Western forces left in Iraq at all at present. The problems in Southern Iraq were the fault of the UK government not committing enough resources. The numbers committed to pacify an area including a city of 2 million people was pathetic and makes any judgement of the effectiveness of the UK military hard to make.

    To address some points:

    “Britain was unable to hold the most important city in their theater of operation, and ultimately required the Iraqi forces …to do the job they were unable to do.”

    Erm..a bit like the well-equipped US forces in Anbar relying on Sunni militias swapping sides to rectify the situation in a province ‘lost’ by the US’s own admission? However good a military force is, numbers and resources limit effectiveness. The Brits never had enough troops to ‘surge’ like the US did in 2007.

    “Political support from Great Britain clearly eroded over time, which means the entire country carries the responsibility of the military defeat.” Political support didn’t ebb away over time in the UK. The Iraq war was unpopular from the start but was never a key election issue in the UK: hence Tony Blair being re-elected in 2005. The UK has lost over 332 personnel in wars far away in support of the US in recent years. I would not call that lacking stomach for a fight.

    “the last time the British Army was defeated this bad by a small state insurgency was when the US defeated Britain in North America supported by France led by then General George Washington.” The last time the US was defeated by a small insurgency (not even given third party support) was in Somalia in 1993. Its best not to throw stones in glass houses. I also take issue with the term ‘defeated this bad’. Even the most ardent critics of the UK Iraq mission would take issue with defining it as some kind of nation-shattering event. Somalia in ’93 was a hugely more traumatic event.

    To contrast the US to the UK as “a country with strong political leadership with a conviction towards victory” is ludicrous and not supported historically. The US is renowned as country whose political elite quickly lose the stomach for a fight when things get messy in foreign lands: look at Vietnam, Somalia, the tragedy in Beirut, the resistance to UK suggestions for ground forces in Kosovo. Bush went against US public and political opinion in supporting the ‘surge’ in 2007. Historically, this reinforcement of a costly US mission abroad is something of an aberration for the United States.

  • Dee Illuminati

    However if the UK political machine can see past Kabul, then fund the damn Navy properly, there are plenty of historical prescedents to examine what happens when we dont !

    One of the commanding heights of any economy is the logistical and trade routes. History is full of examples where empires rose and fell as a consequence of not being capable of ensuring that trade and logistical routes were secure. Japan and the UK are two notable examples where island nations in reliance of raw materials for their security should not retreat into a false sense of security.

    In an age of international interdependence it is not the time to endorse isolationism.

  • taka

    I would argue that they were politically defeated. Militarily, if given enough manpower and resources, they could have done it alone; but the Brits were only in Iraq because Bush, et al. essentially blackmailed Blair into coming along (probably with promises of military contracts). When the Army got caught holding the bag, Blair was on his way out.

    I don’t blame them for leaving. I wouldn’t blame them for leaving Afghanistan either.

    The sooner we all remember that you cannot not defeat an enemy solely through military means, the better off we’ll all be. I think the British Army figured that out quite a long time ago. The politicans haven’t figured that out though.

    Iraq was Blair’s albatross. Afghanistan is rapidly becoming Brown’s. Let’s hope it also doesn’t become Obama’s.

    We’d be better of funding education in Pakistan and Afghanistan, so that poor familes don’t send their kids to Taliban schools. Ending the asinine war on drugs would eliminate a fair amount of funding for terrorists around the world.

    But I digress…

  • Good question, and I weighed in a while back in my Basra category on my own blog, where I followed the diminution of the campaign in the South for its duration.

    Here is my short take. If there is any one lesson I would take away from the campaign, it’s that the Brits were failed by their leadership, which was too enamored by their COIN experience in Northern Ireland to be of any use in a hostile region like Basra. To conduct COIN in a region which speaks the same language as you, has [roughly] the same religious framework as you, has the same cultural framework as you, and in a region where the people don’t have a proclivity to beheading people with whom they disagree … is quite a different thing than what was required in Basra.

    Their ROE was too soft as one would expect coming off of their Northern Ireland experience, and believing that they had nothing to learn from those “cowboy” Americans:

    To be clear, I think that this is a world away from saying that the enlisted man is cowardly, or failed to carry out his mission. In fact, I believe just the opposite based on what we see in Afghanistan. The [enlisted] Brits are brave and as good as any Army, but the command structure is problematic and has not provided good leadership. How far up the chain of command one can go without encountering these problems is unknown to me.

    Finally, ask any Brit who ridicules the “cowboy” Americans and their harsh TTPs if he would have been willing to trade places with the Marines in Anbar, and the conversation comes to an abrupt end. Point proven.

  • Jon Livesey

    I’m afraid I agree with the comments that suggest that this article is motivated by hypocrisy. It reads as though the US sees Britain gradually reduced to non-independent status and tries to hurry the process along with the comment “Well, they can’t fight, anyway”. The trite and insulting allusions to 1776 don’t exactly help either, apart from being adolescent.

    It’s worth remembering that this kind of lofty attitude has consequences. Continental Europe took so much patronizing abuse from the US over Iraq – a war in which they perceived, rightly or wrongly, no self-interest – that today their distancing of themselves from the US has ended up covering issues far wider than Iraq, as Obama found out on his recent trip to the G20 meeting.

    I think the US has to decide what it wants from its allies. If you just want “political cover” from the UK when you invade Iraq, then accept that political cover gracefully and don’t turn it into a sneering “debate” over “defeat”. And if you want full-bore military support, then accept that you will have to make a much better case to the UK electorate to get it. The UK public know all about colonial wars, and they can see through cant that is opaque to the more patriotic kind of American.

    The UK in Iraq behaved – quite rationally – like a gambler who suspects the game is bent and politely declines to commit his capital fully. The UK gave just enough “political cover” by supporting the US at the UN and by sending a small military force, to avoid being accused to betraying the US, but it also made sure that the “small force” really was small enough that it could be disengaged at any time, as it has been.

    The UK saw Iraq for what it was; not a fight for “freedom”, but a straightforward colonial war in which the entire point is to commit forces only in order to be able to withdraw them later. In colonial wars, forces are committed not to “win”, but to keep control of the timetable under which events unfold which are going to unfold anyway. Just as in Northern Ireland there are trends unfolding in Iraq which most outsiders don’t even understand, but it’s worth committing minimal military forces just to slow them down and make sure genocide does not take place, but no more than that.

    In a sense, this is the begged question in the comment “…support the strategic or economic interests of that nation”. Exactly what were Britain’s interests in Iraq? To present the US with a massive victory from which the UK would eventually be air-brushed out, as they always are in the US media? Or to do what their UN mandate asked them to do, which was to hold the ring while the Iraqis got their act together?

    I suggest it was the latter, and that it would be a very irresponsible UK Government indeed that acted as though it had to tax its citizens to provide massive military support for operations from which the US would as usual take all the benefits, military and economic.

  • Byron

    Jon, what benefits does the US acrue from the current actions? We buy our oil like everyone else does, for the same price. Most of it doesn’t even come from the Middle East, much less Iraq. Is there some sort of hidden largesse that has moved towards the US? And the only damn thing our military has gotten out of it, besides our never-ending pride in them, is EXPERIENCE. Those men are learning the COIN war the hard way, and as evidenced in Iraq, they are learning fast.

    I would ask you to remember those dark days of 1939, when YOUR nation was being threatened and you stood alone against the Axis, and your only lifeline stretched to the east. OUR nation had nothing to gain in that war, and most citizens wanted nothing to do with it. After all, we’d not long since left the continent with boys still fresh in Flanders Field. Our government did everything in it’s power, and some not, to help you out. When the Japanese sucker punched us at Pearl Harbor, we didn’t attack in that direction with all our might…we attacked west, to help our friends in Europe and our brothers in Great Britain.

    Sometimes, Jon, you don’t help your friends because there’s something in it for you, you just do it. Lastly, I thank the great troops of Great Britain for all that they did and all that they will do. This is NOT a war against the United States; it is a war against Western Civilization, and that includes you, Jon.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Da Nile ain’t just a rive in Egypt. Pick at Galrahn’s post all you want to, but the larger truth remains. The Brits were a great ally, but things have changed. And ignoring that won’t change it. Let’s hope Oz remains.

  • Dan

    The debate between Jon and Byron ilustrates exactly the point of misunderstanding between the public of the 2 nations.

    The US view is WW2 was carried out purely out of unselfish good and no benefit whatsoever to the US and all of Europe should be grateful for the US support.

    The UK view is the US turned up 3 years late, took too much credit for what was a joint effort and walked away with all the spoils of victory by using it’s ecconomic leverage to destroy the previous independant great power of the British Empire. the US then turned the Dollar into the effective world currency and became the major ecconomic power on the planet.

    It was also a very long time ago so the differing media myths are all anyone knows, those who actually lived through it are all but gone, an adult in 1939 in now at least 90 if still with us. Those in their 40’s making decisions in politics and the media grew up with a US depressed and defeated post Vietnam, which pulled out immediatly in the face of casualties in Beiruit or Somalia. The UK was used to troops being “on operations” in some part of the Empire as it was wound down or post colonial campaigns whether Yemen in the 60’s Oman in the 70’s or Malaya and Malaysia from the 40’s to the late 60’s or various minor interventions in Africa, all with no support whatsoever from the US.

    To the US public or at least part of it World War 3 startted on 9/11/01 and Iraq is an integral part of that campaign. To the majority of the the UK population Iraq is a distraction from a seperate capaign against Islamic extremists but even that campaign against terrorists is seen as a campaign like many others since 1945 not some kind of exitensial struggle.

    I would agree with Jon, Britain took part in the campaign, grudgingly and reluctantly with negligible public support or understanding but the political establishment under Blair delivered the largest non-US contribution to the “coalition”, was the first non US forces accross the border and will be amongst the last to leave and the thanks it gets for that is insulting comments about being defeated.

    The US has a choice it can accept it only wants allies for “political cover” as when in 1966 LBJ was demanding and UK would not support sending troops to Vietnam, what startted as a Brigade in return for a loan of a $Billion, then the request became “only a regiment the Black Watch would have done” and eventually “a platoon of Bagpipers will do it is the flag that is important”. Well that is what most of the countries contibuting to the “coalition” in Iraq were doing. of the 21 countries which pulled out of the “coalition” last year or in the first couple of months of this year, most had contributions of less than 100 men.

    Britain was willing to contribute on this occasion the minimum nescessarry to be seen as the major ally but no more. It was not seen as a war but yet annother “operation”, while US politicians were compaining about “stop-loss”, heavy use of the national Guard and combat tours of 15-18 months, the British had tours of 6 months, was shrinking the size of the Army during the campaign and negligible use of reserves. That is not the actions of a nation fully committed to a war of strategic importance, and that is because it was not.

    If the US wants true allies who will be committed to the end to achieve victory, then they need to be willing to be more open to planning on what happens when it happens why it happens, and having less than total control. The British public was united in opposition to a war seen as unnescessarry and so was never going to accept full commitment. It would have taken longer to get more worldwide support but that was not acceptable to the US not because there was a real risk of Saddam atacking Kuwait or Jordan but a risk that if the operation did not commence in 2003, then Mission Acomplished and all troops home might not have happened by the Presidential election of 2004, which was the original plan.

    The strategic and ecconomic intrests of the UK, France and Germany are pretty similar, UK sent a force to Iraq despite this because of lingering ties to the US, as the consequences of the present ecconomic turmoil and the reduced public trust after being lied to over Iraq the liklihood of UK taking part in future operations at all unless they are much more explicitly in the strategic ecconomic interests of the UK are down dramatically.

  • The British are still great allies to the US though Iraq wasn’t our finest hour. Changes need to happen in the leadership of the military and the country and sometimes it needs a failure for these changes to take place…

  • Joe

    Irish War of Independence 1919-21

  • I’m afraid I agree with the comments that suggest that this article is motivated by hypocrisy.

    Jon that is the only statement I take exception to. The article is motivated to encourage discussion, like your 500+ word response.

    I’m not looking for agreement, I’m looking for opinions. I’m always willing to be told when and how I’m wrong through constructive friction.

  • Zen

    “Jon, what benefits does the US acrue from the current actions? ”

    We should review the rationale for invading Iraq; we were told it was because Saddam had WMD and his use of such was imminent. That turned out to be false.

    After the WMD reason was revealed to be inoperative, we were told it was to bring democracy to Iraq. That reason doesn’t particularly work for a number of reasons.

    Sometimes the most obvious reasons are correct: we miscalculated. The Bush administration felt 9/11 provided the political cover to get rid of Saddam (cleaning up after the elder Bush). We expected to rout the Iraqi army–which we did–and the people would greet us with gratitude. We’d then have a pro-American, pro-democracy foothold in the ME.

    Dan has it pretty much right. The UK/Iraq involvement was largely political cover to mask the fact the invasion really didn’t enjoy global support.

    Re WII, Byron would do well to remember we didn’t enter the European war out of the goodness of our heart. We did so only after Germany declared war on us and after the German Navy had been sinking our merchant shipping with abandon.

  • Dee Illuminati

    “Increasingly, the national security agendas of policymakers will be dominated by five questions: whether to intervene, when, with whom, with what tools, and to what end?”

    While I’m skeptical of any predictions of the future I would say that this thread illustrates along with the Pirate issue that the agenda will indeed be dominated by five questions.

  • Hayball

    The republic has no permanent allies. Every government of every nation state acts in its own perception of its own self interest.

    All politics are local and all alliances temporary.

    We should govern ourselves accordingly.

  • Old School Esq.

    Britain has been defeated many times, in many wars on many continents. In the scheme of things this would have to be marked at the low end of that scale. As we say over here, you can’t win them all.

  • Britain was not defeated-anymore than the United States is somehow winning a “victory” in Iraq. They did what the United States asked them to do despite a pretty good knowledge on the part of their public that this was not the best effort in the interest of Britain. They sent 46,000 troops for what they had been promised by the nation leading the effort would be a short campaign. They sent and still send more forces than any other ally. They stayed a lot longer than they thought they should have and that their people had patience for them to do.

    The better question to be asking-with more relevance to both the US and British efforts-is when do the Iraqis start getting the blame they deserve for the failures that occur?

    We argue we can’t leave because the government of Iraq is “not ready”. Even today, the powers that be are trying to find ways around the SOFA agreements so that we can stay longer-for what purpose I am not really sure. Their has to be a point when they are left to rise or fall on their own devices. As far as I am concerned that point was several years ago. US objectives were accomplishe long ago, any British objectives were subsets of that.

    Britain is leaving-because staying was never in their long term interest. We should do the same.

  • Dys

    Interesting article, though I assume the author hasn’t heard of the Anglo-Afghan wars especially the first which are a much better comparison,( though the humiliation from the first was at least an order of magnitude worse) a small Imperial war that wasn’t necessary and not supported sufficiently. I would like to know where the Kipling quote comes from though as I’ve never heard him say anything like that any chance of a source?

  • Bob

    It is interesting to note that there was an interivew with the leader of the militia that ‘took over’ Basra and his opinion was that the way that the British tackled the situation was more intelligent that the way the Americans would have gone about things. It could be that what you genuinely see as a defeat may genuinely be seen differently by the British. If you look at things broadly and take the stereo types of the two nations, Americans: brash, British: reserved, you can see how they could view thing differently.

    Maybe a gradual ‘defeat’ of the invading forces has been better for Basra in the long run than a crushing ‘victory’ would have been. Defeat and victory are the same thing, it just depends on a point of view. Your view is a blinkered Amercian view, the British view a blinkered British one, the only view that counts is the view of the Basran people.

  • Dan

    In terms of other “defeats” this does not come any where near defeat in a war with France and Spain, and some revolting colonials for 13 colonies that UK intended to keep. It does not even come close to the defeats in Palastine in 1948 to US supported Jewish terrorists or in the late 60’s to Arab terrorism and the loss of the naval base of Aden. Others have mentioned the defeat in 1919-21 in Ireland which obviously the objective had been to keep Ireland within the UK forever.

    Iraq was an operation which was only ever going to be temporary, we had originally been promised the commitment would be for 1-2 years and we stayed for 6, if a decision had been made that it was the primary strategic campaign then the UK would not have volunteered to take on additional responisbilities in Afghanistan in 2006, (year 3 in Iraq) and increase it’s forces there from around 1,000 to approaching 10,000 or more than double the commitment to Iraq.

    The intresting thing will be the Strategic Defence Review after the next election, scheduled for sometime between now and June 2010. The recent budget has announced that bailing out the Banks and the ecconomic crisis has doubled the National debt from 40% of GDP to 80% of GDP in 3 years and Defence is going to have to share some of the pain in paying that down so already the new carriers are under threat, even the Trident replacement is being seriously discussed by the Tories.

    The question has to be asked if the campaign in Afghanistan is in the intrests of “the West” and is a fully supported NATO operation why should the UK commitment be bigger than France, Germany and Italy combinded when all 3 have bigger populations and bigger economies?

  • This is very interesting article about British Army. British military commanders are fiercely proud but defensive too.

  • Kipling’s advice would be pertinent in our current Afghan situation to say the least. Interesting post.