British sailor heroically protects Iraq’s oil. (Not why we invaded.)
The descent of Sky News into an ever more ass-licking school of PR-journalism is reaffirmed with a classic of the genre entitled Royal Navy Lead Protection of Iraqi Oil.
This is a story that illustrates exactly how:
(1) Sky accepts access under conditions that are not made clear to the viewer.
(2) The story has been or may as well have been scripted in advance by one of 400 Ministry of Defence press officers.
(3) Visually exciting airtime is cynically built on the trope of Our Brave Boys and broadcast with no irony precisely at a time when the abandoned British sector of Basra has been in a state of near civil war, a new open-ended military engagement has opened in Afghanistan (Sky is broadcasting equally delusional embedded reports from there) and our hopeless prime minister is paralyzed & clueless.
Is this new? I think the science with which this orchestra is being conducted is really quite novel. What is happening is that the MoD has, after various disasters (like the embarrassing capture of Royal Marines by Iranian revolutionary guards, a spectacular PR stunt gone wrong), re-ordered its operational priorities so that successful PR is now the ONLY objective. Entire battles (Engagements”) are effectively staged for the benefit of the TV crews. Nobody ever asks where all that ammunition explodes, or shows pictures of killed Afghani children. Anything that obstructs the official narrative is ruthlessly swept away, including the coroners who puncture the official narrative.
It is not new that information is fabricated but that the entire MoD seems now seems to be turned over to this task is, surely, worthy of remark.
As one watches what is happening in Afghanistan, and Iraq, what is plain is that Sky News – and it is representative of a much-wider problem – has become essentially a broadcasting asset of the MoD. This serves everyone’s interests: cheap stories for Sky News, propaganda for the MoD, except those of the viewers, who should wonder what it might mean to “win” these conflicts, and ponder the mediatisation of armed conflict into a series of controlled images retailing approved narratives.
BBC images of our valiant PM in action in Basra and Camp Bastion.Having oneself photographed in front of soldiers is a George Bush trick and the news channels fall for it every time. Those who are themselves cowards are often keen to be photographed with soldiers.
The surreal course of the Gordon Brown war ministry continues in Basra where the prime minister announces (and the media solemnly recites) that Britain is about to hand “control” of Basra to the “Iraqi government”. This is the government whose writ does not run outside the walls of the Emerald City. And is now going to “control” Basra! Put out more flags.
How absurd a statement is this? One need only start with the obvious point that Britain does not and never has controlled Basra, that it is in fact controlled by rival political-religious-criminal-&-surrogate militias and the British cower at the airport, and even the supply of photo opportunities has dried up. But if Gordon needs to pretend, to get the army out of there, then so be it.
Then to Kabul where Gordon the war premier inspected Karzai’s honour guard and one presumes was not introduced to some of the narco-terrorists who make up the nice Mr Karzai’s government.
Then to camp Bastion – Little Britain meets Carry on Up the Kyber – where British soldiers are supplying new photo opportunities for politicians. The focus breathlessly repeated by all correspondents is Musa Qala. The fatuity of this operation is exquisitely revealed by Jason Burke in today’s Guardian.
As for poor Musa Qala: a victory full of sound and fury signifying nothing except that we will declare ourselves to have won every one of these battles until we lose the war It was evident that the Taliban decided not to fight to hold the town, although many civilians left before the fighting, and are now exposed to what are said to be terrible weather conditions, not to speak of prowling air strikes.
Meanwhile, the ANA soldiers are having a good loot of the place and as soon as some corridors are opened, we will soon have photo opportunities with shirt-sleeved reconstruction people from Dfid. The BBC and Sky are ready to come in with crews for that.
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Last year the British stormed in to the same place, killed lots of young men, then “victoriously” departed because there were not enough Nato soldiers to sustain the occupation. The cover for this was a “deal” with the local elders who promised to keep out the Taliban (who?). This victory hailed by the BBC was obviously absurd. The “Taliban” promptly returned as soon as the British had left. Even more fundamental definitional problem: who are the Taliban? The best explanation is that the Taliban are more or less anyone killed in these operations. Even if the young men slaughtered in such quantity by the British army are possibly not Taliban at all, but merely defending themselves against northern mercenaries and British and American infidels.
Meanwhile, Gordon has announced that British troops will be in Afghanistan for 10 more years. This needs to be read against previous forecasts of 30 years and 20 years. But what is the end state? We are there to establish – what exactly? If Gordon has a vision for Afghanistan, it would be interesting to hear him express it.
But ground reality has nothing to do with it. This is entirely political. So with this new 10-year plan for Afghanistan, Gordon has advanced once again the victory horizon. At the current rate of progress, in six more months, we will have won this war, five years ago.
Babylonia today after successful British military occupation
An hilarious interview appears in today’s Washington Post in which the chief of the defence staff Sir Jock Stirrup claims that the British have succeeded in the south of Iraq and that those who believe otherwise have had false expectations.
I wonder where these came from?
Stirrup said that British leaders (we are not told which) may have created the impression that troops were going to leave Iraq “with a burgeoning economy, with prosperity spreading throughout the country, with everyone living quietly and tending their gardens and enjoying the cool of the evening after a good day’s work.”
Instead, obviously, the country is smashed to bits, controlled by various flavours of religious mafias some of them heavily influenced by Iran, the infrastrucure is as bad or worse than ever, women are oppressed, there are dozens of sectarian and criminal killings every day, most of those who can have left, and millions are being made through the theft and diversion of the nation’s natural resources.
Sir Jock of course is only following orders. He is not the one who decides the line to take. It is Gordon Brown who has decided that he has to have this Big Lie to conceal his actual policy of cut & run and perhaps we should not begrudge or question the Rosy Scenario which is necessary in the circumstances.
Stirrup as Pangloss serves a reasonable purpose if the aim is to get out of Iraq. Which it ought to be. Hence, we have a lie in the service of a greater good. Who can argue? Necessary hypocrisy is at the basis of British polity and always has been. This is why the Brits are, as seen from Washington, such “duplicitous bastards” (pace Alexander Haig, observing the eternal character of our Island Race).
“What’s important” is a “greater” truth which is that the British exit, with a lie as its bodyguard, does prove that the foreign soliders have for a long time been part of the problem and that withdrawing them has been on balance rather positive. This is a lesson Americans might care to note. If the consequence of cut & run is that we must do so while pretending victory, so be it. This is if you agree with me that cut & run is the preferred, indeed the only sensible, policy option.
So maybe rather than scoffing at Sir Jock we should celebrate him. Other British air force officers have undertaken heroic missions on behalf of their country, flying their Spitfires towards the oncoming Hun, etc. Sir Jock is out there fighting the 21st century information war with just as much courageous indifference to his personal safety.
Sir Jock does not heed that his story of a British success is ridiculous and that the Americans know it perfectly well. (Bush is supposed to be furious with Brown.) But he keeps on saying it. Shall we join in and pretend he is right? Can we make the same case for Afghanistan and leave there, too?
Drink it and you’ll believe anything
The mission of David Petraeus is to give George Bush the “victory” he has demanded in Iraq. The surge may be working as advertised or may be a statistical mirage but the command genius of Petraeus is to realise that what is really important is to create an illusion of victory. Which is why he has so many of his brightest officers producing Power Point presentations proving that Bush is winning. Greater loyalty hath no soldier to his commander in chief.
In the information wars where spin is everything, it’s not whether you really win or lose a war that matters, but what people think happened.
The British are setting the standards for retreat having abandoned downtown Basra and preparing to quit the airport with a cock-and-bull story that this is what they had in mind all along. It was an ironic touch having the bugler blow the “advance” as the final convoy abandoned downtown Basra.
The Americans, too, are going to have to leave soon but are taking more care to build their narrative. They will not simply cut and run like us Brits. They will take care to declare victory first, then cut and run. Whatever subsequently happens in Iraq is now going to be blamed on the Iraqis themselves. What a glorious war!
Retreat is the most dangerous manœuvre in warfare therefore as British forces prepare to evacuate Iraq, it is worth hoping that military planners and the new government defence team have consulted Carl von Clausewitz’s On War, Book 4, Chapter 13.
WHEN A BATTLE IS LOST, the strength of the army is broken — its moral even more than its physical strength. A second battle without the help of new and more favorable factors would mean outright defeat, perhaps even absolute destruction. That is a military axiom. It is in the nature of things that a retreat should be continued until the balance of power is reestablished.
Consult here the rest of von Clausewitz on the art of retreat.
My faith is limited in the competence of the current defence leadership to organise an effective withdrawal from Iraq. Even when Gordon Brown has apparently taken to personally micromanaging the project.
Families who have representatives in Iraq are entitled to wonder whether any of this is being thought through.
It is also impossible to know what to make of rumors that Cheney and Bush are determined to take out Iran (in a joint venture with the Israelis) before they leave, as they do not believe any incoming president will have the guts. That this would not be a manoeuvre consistent with Clausewitz is evident. The question is: how demented/psychotic/delusional is Bush? Is he going to pour oil on the flames and make a bad situation even worse? My neocon pal in America says don’t worry – the republicans in the senate won’t let him.
Helicopter on the roof of the CIA apartment building at 22 Gia Long Street, Saigon, April 29, 1975.
A shortage of helicopters in Iraq may make this type of retreat impractical.
It has been the frequent good fortune of war-mongering politicians that there are usually generals who will indulge their fantasies, in the interests of their own careers. A senior military class should, with its first-hand knowledge of the unpredictability of war, be doing everything it can to dissuade politicians from waging it. This involves a necessary modesty about the real capabilities of all those ill-equipped soliders, landlocked sailors and aircraftless airmen last seen in the BAE Systems hospitality chalet at the Paris air show.
But the sound of bugles makes for promotions and so all too often, ambitious soliders become complicit in the catastrophe that ensues. Thus has it been for Britain’s disastrous military entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As the dimensions of the disaster are revealed, the officers are reduced to spouting the very same lies as their political masters. That this is demoralising for soliders, who know a fuck-up when they see one, goes without saying.
The disgrace of the British political and media classes for the war in Iraq must therefore also be shared by the senior officers who did not stand up against what was always a mad idea of simultaneously fighting two distant wars without enough air lift, soliders, specialised equipment or even bullets.
Now might be thought time for the senior officers to tell the truth. The defeat in Iraq has left remaining British forces there exposed and in terrible danger. Afghanistan is not so far from this. Yet the media trope of the excellence of our armed forces, “best in the world,” experience gained on the streets of Northern Ireland, etc., etc. (see all newspapers) survives contact with facts that show that no matter how brave and willing our soldiers, they are as ever led by donkeys.
This series of entanglements has been built on lies. Not a shot was to be fired, promised the former defense secretary John Reid, announcing the British deployment to Helmand. Officers and editors knew this was a lie. This was to have been a “reconstruction” mission. Well it’s clearly failed. Indeed, it is worse. The operation has failed to prevent, and may even have encouraged, a come-back of the Taliban.
Hearts and minds have not be won by the massive killing and destruction for which British forces are held locally to blame. Neither have our soldiers inhibited the drugs trade, which is thriving.
British forces are now operating beyond their resources. Senior officers knew this was likely to be an operation with Falklands-level casualties yet Reid misled parliament and yet not one seems to have said a word. Let us hope a new generation of careerists now tell Gordon Brown the truth, in the interest of their own promotions.
The situation in Afghanistan suggests strongly that the war is lost there, too. It is indeed worse than ever as military operations including brutal air strikes have turned the population against the British and NATO troops who are suffering continuing casualties and making no apparent progress whatsoever. The drug traffic is at a record level. (My own suggestion on this, War on terror, how to win it, has been ignored.) Tony Blair’s promises that British troops would get everything they needed have of course been broken – with the compliance of silent senior officers.
Perhaps we should expect at a minimum a dignified silence from those who have commanded these disasters. Not a bit of it! Instead, we get more lies. We have notably had the spectacle of Air Marshall Sir Jock Stirrup, chief of the defence staff, in yesterday’s Sunday Times. Here he is denying the claim in the Washington Post last week (and in I told you so a month ago) that Britain has basically lost its war in Iraq. Not at all boasts the air marshall: “”Our mission there was to get the place and the people to a state where the Iraquis could run that part of the country if they chose to and we’re very nearly there.”
Let us deconstruct this sentence which the French would call an “engrenage” or spiral, in this case of falsehood. The “line” taken by the air marshall is in fact garbage. This was not our war aim. The war aim, originally, was to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, which were never found. The politicians, inasmuch as they have ever been consistent, have spoken of elimination of Iraq’s terrorist infrastructure, or protecting oil supplies, and precluding a hostile Iraq (or Iran) from dominating the Persian gulf. Paul Bremer, the American proconsul in Baghdad, spoke of a free, democratic and independent Iraq. There was none of the air marshall’s subjunctiveness about it. So the mission now described by the air marshall was never in fact the mission. Then there is his phrase: “We’re very nearly there.” Where? We know and assume that politicians dissemble. One of the things I used to find admirable about officers was their professional candour – for they knew the risks of pretending things were what they were not. I suppose I have always been naïve.
Measured by every single single one of these objectives, the British have completely failed in the south. Worse, conditions are deteriorating for a residual British force of 5,500. They are currently beseiged in a manner than is reminiscent of Gordon of Khartoum. Every night they must dispatch a 100-vehicle convoy from the beseiged airport to the beseiged Palace, and every night this is attacked.
It is actually quite hard to see how the British can withdraw in good order. If our armed forces were more capable, we’d be sending MORE soliders to the area to cover the retreat. (If we had any.) I have written before of the lessons of Clausewitz and how the British government and its commanders as yet show no signs of knowing them. So there is a really ghastly prospect of further disasters ahead.
Now is the time to tell the truth – but the senior officer in Her Majesty’s armed forces will have none of it. He is inventing war aims as he goes along.
Sir Jock’s very lack of fitness for purpose is what makes him so attractive to politicians. An airman, he is from the most expensive and incapable arm of the armed forces. Sir Jock has been up to his neck in the insane Eurofighter project (a plane so far incapable of fighting a day in the war on terror). He is like the operetta admiral who never went to sea, who is now in charge of the Queen’s navy.
I told you so noted the nature of British failure in Iraq here.
The Washington Post said the same thing several weeks later here.
The Sunday Times News Review contains a dreadful story on British military failure in Afghanistan here.
A collègue bloggeur of this parish offers a war souvenir here.
From Iraq Slogger, excellent reporting from Basra here.
Image: Baden-Powell defends Mafeking by Henri Dupray
Bernard Jenkin MP poses on his web site
Is Bernard Jenkin MP the stupidest politician in the House of Commons? The competition is stiff. But his candidature is strengthened by the article currently appearing on his website titled Three Days in Iraq, reprised in a letter to The Economist.
“The present debate in London and Washington threatens to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” says Jenkin, on the basis of his 72 hours of daring first-hand observation.
Jaws of victory?
Quoth Jenkin: “We must clear away the fog generated by the original 2003 decision to invade Iraq. [Jenkin was an enthusiast.] Victory means handing over to a national government able to keep al-Qaeda down and Iran out with reducing coalition support. I can testify that this is achievable. ”
This is psychotic.
Jenkin claims (without citing the slightest evidence) that, “Defeat – to withdraw in a hurry – will surely mean not only greater carnage than we have yet seen and a massive strategic victory to Iran in the south and to al-Qaeda in the centre of the country – a far greater humiliation than Suez for the British or Vietnam for the US. This would be disastrous for global security – and for our own? Iraq may not have been about al-Qaeda when we went in but it certainly is now.”
Where to begin deconstructing this tissue of delusion? Well, one could note that in the south of Iraq, the British military has already been defeated, having impotently watched Shiite religious parties create a de facto Islamic state. The British army is irrelevent, except to provide target practice for militias and briefings for visiting half-wits from London like Bernard Jenkin.
One could observe that Kurdistan is de facto an independent state. That the central government in Baghdad cowering in the Green Zone has essentially no political authority. That by no metric has the original war aim been achieved. Nor will it be. That it is too late to keep Iran out of the south. And that to propose that this war is about al-Qaeda is literally bonkers.
Authority, of course, is what Jenkin completely lacks.
Unlike Jenkin, whose qualifications to pronouce on the geo-politics of Iraq are non-existant, Peter Galbraith has spent much of the past 20 years working on the problems of Iraq, has been there a dozen times since 2003 and does not rely for his information on MoD scripts.
Galbraith is described by Max Hastings as knowing “maybe five million per cent more than any member of the Bush administration” about Iraq and he certainly knows at least this much more than the hare-brained Jenkin.
In the current New York Review of Books, Galbraith says:
The Iraq war is lost. Of course, neither the President nor the war’s intellectual architects are prepared to admit this. Nonetheless, the specter of defeat shapes their thinking in telling ways.
The case for the war is no longer defined by the benefits of winning—a stable Iraq, democracy on the march in the Middle East, the collapse of the evil Iranian and Syrian regimes—but by the consequences of defeat. As President Bush put it, “The consequences of failure in Iraq would be death and destruction in the Middle East and here in America.”
Tellingly, the Iraq war’s intellectual boosters, while insisting the surge is working, are moving to assign blame for defeat. And they have already picked their target: the American people. In The Weekly Standard, Tom Donnelly, a fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, wrote, “Those who believe the war is already lost—call it the Clinton-Lugar axis—are mounting a surge of their own. Ground won in Iraq becomes ground lost at home.” Lugar provoked Donnelly’s anger by noting that the American people had lost confidence in Bush’s Iraq strategy as demonstrated by the Democratic takeover of both houses of Congress. (This “blame the American people” approach has, through repetition, almost become the accepted explanation for the outcome in Vietnam, attributing defeat to a loss of public support and not to fifteen years of military failure.)
Indeed, Vietnam is the image many Americans have of defeat in Iraq. Al-Qaeda would overrun the Green Zone and the last Americans would evacuate from the rooftop of the still unfinished largest embassy in the world. President Bush feeds on this imagery. In his May 5, 2007, radio address to the nation, he explained:
If radicals and terrorists emerge from this battle with control of Iraq, they would have control of a nation with massive oil reserves, which they could use to fund their dangerous ambitions and spread their influence. The al Qaeda terrorists who behead captives or order suicide bombings would not be satisfied to see America defeated and gone from Iraq. They would be emboldened by their victory, protected by their new sanctuary, eager to impose their hateful vision on surrounding countries, and eager to harm Americans.
But there will be no Saigon moment in Iraq. Iraq’s Shiite-led government is in no danger of losing the civil war to al-Qaeda, or a more inclusive Sunni front. Iraq’s Shiites are three times as numerous as Iraq’s Sunni Arabs; they dominate Iraq’s military and police and have a powerful ally in neighboring Iran. The Arab states that might support the Sunnis are small, far away (vast deserts separate the inhabited parts of Jordan and Saudi Arabia from the main Iraqi population centers), and can only provide money, something the insurgency has in great amounts already.
Iraq after an American defeat will look very much like Iraq today—a land divided along ethnic lines into Arab and Kurdish states with a civil war being fought within its Arab part. Defeat is defined by America’s failure to accomplish its objective of a self-sustaining, democratic, and unified Iraq. And that failure has already taken place, along with the increase of Iranian power in the region.
In a parliament of dunces, Bernard Jenkin is an outstanding example of stupidity and ignorance. His talk of jaws of victory is, quite literally, mad. In proposing that the debate in Washington and London threatens to snatch his fantasy victory from its jaws, Jenkin follows the Bush script exactly. Who to blame for this disaster? Certainly not the knaves like Jenkin who voted for this war, and continue to promote it. Instead, it is to be the fault of those who dare to question and debate it!
More evidence that Jenkin is bonkers here.
British forces have suffered a humiliating defeat in Iraq. The situation has progressively deteriorated. Britain has no control over the border with Iran. It has virtually withdrawn from Basra, other than the Palace, which is kept supplied by nightly suicide missions by disgusted squaddies. The police and army units trained and equipped by Britain are controlled by militias. Joint operations with Iraqi forces are immediately compromised and result in British casualties without any measurable objectives being achieved. Under-equipped, remaining British forces huddle mainly at the airport where the scene is surreal. Three more servicemen were killed this week in what the army refers to as an “indirect fire” incident. This means that insurgents lob bombs onto the British base more or less at will. They are gone long before the British can effectively counter-attack. Aggressive British actions have failed to nail the attackers so the army has failed both with its vaunted softly-softly as well as with the recent Operation Sinbad to root out insurgents, which was a spin operation intended to show the army “doing something.” Senior British officers know their mission has failed. They are too cowardly to say so and indeed talk of “success.”
You will not have read this story in any British newspaper. Their defence correspondents were this week boasting of the new mission found for the £25 billion Eurofighter. It is to shoot down airliners.
The Phoenix Program will be recalled as a culminating horror of America’s war in Vietnam.
Everything else having failed, the CIA and its hired killers committed thousands of “targeted” assassinations in an attempt to decapitate the insurgency. This is a doctrine Israel has also adopted. There is a lot about Phoenix here but much of it (including the Wikipedia entry) is fiercely disputed.
Phoenix showed the very few restraints there are on a cornered American president although the central point – whether such a tactic can ever work – is largely undiscussed. I suppose it constitutes a perogative of power if you are a president or prime minister to get a list of the folks you have had killed overnight – while you were sleeping!
As is now perfectly clear, in Vietnam this technique had no influence at all on the result of the war, which America lost. Vietnam is now a booming hub for banks, factories, BMW showrooms and tourists.
In fact the Vietnam war was already lost when the program began. Phoenix was never a war-winning move as much as a desperate attempt to snatch a sort of non-humiliation from the Vietnamese quagmire.
It is not odd that the Americans and their allies seem now to be engaged in some form of similar enterprise in the bloody remains of Baghdad.I refer to the interesting and underappreciated story May 29 by Thom Shanker in The New York Times (available here from the International Herald Tribune ).
In recent weeks, as the final elements of the troop increase ordered by Bush began arriving in Iraq, Special Operations units have captured or killed senior officers of the militia loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, the influential Shiite cleric. Senior officers said one mission this month killed a militant Shiite commander, Azhar al-Duleimi, who is believed to have organized a deadly attack on a government compound in south-central Iraq in January.
“The first thing I want to know is how did we do last night,” Petraeus said in a recent interview on National Public Radio in the United States, explaining how closely he follows the operations of the secret special-mission units.
To read Iraq Slogger is the reality check. We are being sold a “big picture” of Iraq in which Bush talks of “victory” and Blair of staying “until the job is done” none of which accords with the mosaic on the ground reported in Iraq Slogger where the picture is of a country that has fallen apart.