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A soldier speaks out
October 13, 2006 4:07 PM   Subscribe

Chief of the General Staff General Sir Richard Dannatt has given an interview to the Daily Mail in which he says that the presence of British troops makes the security problems in Iraq worse . The General won the MC aged 22 in an action in Northern Ireland, so he presumably knows a thing or two about insurgency, never mind courage. Mr Blair has agreed...
posted by A189Nut (36 comments total)

 
And you think generals rule wars ?
posted by elpapacito at 4:14 PM on October 13, 2006


No, I think Wars rule Generals
posted by A189Nut at 4:22 PM on October 13, 2006


Another disloyal Shinseki. I dunno what those wimpy Pomeys will do, but heah im 'Meruca, we'd drum his ass out of the Army.
posted by orthogonality at 4:28 PM on October 13, 2006


Although he's probably right, I think the General was spectacularly irresponsible in speaking publicly about this. It does the morale of soldiers serving in Iraq no good at all [4th para.] to be told by the head of the Army that they are merely making things worse and should be withdrawn. The decision on when to leave Iraq is for politicians to make, not the military itself — the forces implement foreign policy, they do not decide it.
posted by matthewr at 4:41 PM on October 13, 2006


I agree with every word that Dannatt said. But he has got to be sacked
posted by matthewr at 4:54 PM on October 13, 2006


it's lucky that this guy has had the decency to go public. who knows what kind of potential trouble he has prevented by saying what most of his subordinates must be thinking already.
posted by Svitlana at 5:20 PM on October 13, 2006


matthewr: Although he's probably right, I think the General was spectacularly irresponsible in speaking publicly about this. It does the morale of soldiers serving in Iraq no good at all

from matthewr's link:
What is wholly improper is to try to undermine his masters in public. Of all people, a soldier ought to understand this: is it not central to our understanding of a soldier’s duty that he obeys commands, even it he thinks them unwise? For the top soldier the commands come from an elected government. The general should expect no more quarter from his Prime Minister than he would give a junior officer who stirred up doubt about the wisdom of his own judgment.
I would hope Dannatt is keenly aware of this, and would expect calls for his resignation, but feels driven to such extraordinary action only because to not have expressed his opinion could lead to the "break[ing]" of the army.

He is in the classic position between a rock (protocol, army morale) and a hard place (breaking the UK armed forces, catastrophe in Iraq). I find it hard to believe he would not be speaking out of anything but desperation, and would have weighed the above concerns carefully.

How insane does government policy have to be before a general acts?
posted by MetaMonkey at 5:25 PM on October 13, 2006


Also, both the Tories' sudden U-turn away from government policy in line with Dannatt, and Blair's attempt to spin Dannatt's statement are contemptible.
posted by MetaMonkey at 5:32 PM on October 13, 2006


matthewr, you are quite correct. No matter how much we may agree with, or feel vindicated by, General Sir Richard Dannatt, he's out of line. From your 2nd link:

...The general should resign, and if he will not, then the Prime Minister should instruct the Defence Secretary to remove him. If neither Tony Blair nor Des Browne dare do it, then we have learnt all we need to know about the paralysis now afflicting the Government.

Where are all those Brits yelling at us USians about allowing the destruction of our constitutional republic now?
posted by taosbat at 5:52 PM on October 13, 2006


The simple fact is the (UK) forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are under extreme pressure and someone with responsibility needs to relate that to the British public. Blair and his government is the cause of that pressure, not Dannatt.

Get the troops home now.
posted by movilla at 6:33 PM on October 13, 2006


26 + 6 = 1

LIMEYS OUT OF NORTHERN IRELAND
posted by quonsar at 6:55 PM on October 13, 2006


I think the General was spectacularly irresponsible in speaking publicly about this

that's nice. Oh, btw, who the fuck are you and why should I care what you think?
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 7:14 PM on October 13, 2006


No, quonsar, 26 + 6 = 32.

Speaking from safely inside the 26, I can tell you that very few of us want any of those nutters anywhere near our government, thanks. Even if we could afford the extra €10bn per year (net) they'd cost us. Which we can't.

<obRogueStateFundingTerrorismReference>
posted by genghis at 7:42 PM on October 13, 2006


Shiites push for British troops to leave

BASRA, Iraq - Many Shiites in this southern port city say they want British troops to leave, though the region is still bloodied by a persistent grind of killings, including Sunni insurgent bombings and Shiite-on-Shiite slayings amid a competition for political control.

Several prominent Basra leaders on Friday agreed with an assessment by Britain's army chief that the British presence only worsens the violence and the soldiers should withdraw soon...
posted by taosbat at 7:48 PM on October 13, 2006


British intelligence has learned that we're fucked.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:16 PM on October 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


Matthewr, I disagree. It might be that the General was out of place to speak up, but he's not being irresponsible. Quite the opposite.

IMHO, it's the military's job to keep the civilian leadership apprised of the situation, just like it's any subordinate's job.
posted by hattifattener at 11:17 PM on October 13, 2006


We've lost Iraq, I think that is what will take another 2 years for some people to realize. Lost. Hundred of thousands of people dead and it is an exercise in futility.
posted by edgeways at 11:28 PM on October 13, 2006


It depends whether you think breaking the financial back of the USA is an exercise in futility.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:46 PM on October 13, 2006


I doubt the brits are doing much harm on their own. If they left Americans would just take over. Is that really what people want?
posted by delmoi at 12:08 AM on October 14, 2006


Hang on a minute. Is someone saying that troops in Iraq are damaging security of the nation(s) involved? This is a revelation. Why the hell didn't someone mention this a few years ago before we committed all those troops & resources?



Where are all those Brits yelling at us USians about allowing the destruction of our constitutional republic now?

Pardon?

I don't quite know what you're alluding to but, on a tangent, it might be worth pointing out that Blair's reputation has been totally destroyed by his handling of the Iraq war from the start. The only reason he's still in power now is the lack of a credible opposition* and he'll be stepping down next year as even he has realised that he's become a millstone around New Labour's neck.

*Of course the hilariously anti-war Daily Mail has been leading this opposition since day one. David Cameron is gaining relative credibility by being a strange combination of BlairLite and NotBlair. Such is the way of British politics as Blair rode to power on a strange combination of being NotThatcher and the Tories fucking up the economy. It was later that he was unmasked as ThatcherLite
posted by i_cola at 2:03 AM on October 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


[/sledgehammer sarcasm] tag went missing after the first paragraph.
posted by i_cola at 2:04 AM on October 14, 2006


Oh, on second thought, maybe not. Certainly Downing Street pressured Dannatt into "re-thinking," but as several have noted above one has to wonder why he said his piece while still in the army. The idea (if you really mean it) is to resign dramatically before venting (as many, many generals and cabinet ministers have done previously) so that 1. there is no constitutional issue about a uniformed soldier telling off his elected civilian boss; 2. said boss has no handle on the (ex-) soldier to get him to recant; and (not least) 3. there's no question about how strongly you mean what you said. In this case cynics will now think "OK, the threat of breaking the army is worrisome but apparently less important to Britain's top general than hanging onto his career" and rank the threat in the list of current worries accordingly (#114703.)
posted by jfuller at 5:47 AM on October 14, 2006


is it not central to our understanding of a soldier’s duty that he obeys commands, even it he thinks them unwise?

No absolutely not, such attitude is the one which allows excuses for genocide and pointless brutality because "it was ordered, and I can't but obey" ; it removes all responsability from soldiers except the one of obeying whatever order he receives from whatever criminal happens to reach some power. He who pulls the trigger is the responsible of his own actions and its consequences, also because when they are asked and held reponsible for the consequences of their actions , the "officiers" will be nowhere to be found, dead or claiming to be innocent..and surely a court of their own will never condemn an officers , rather spend some soldier "for the the good of the cause"
posted by elpapacito at 7:22 AM on October 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


elpapacito: Surely soldiers must obey officers' orders unquestioningly — in all but the most extreme cases (like My Lai). In all circumstances other than the massacre of civilians, the solder's beliefs and his opinions about his orders are entirely irrelevant.

Anyway, your argument applies to soldiers being given orders by their officers. An Army officer publicly disagreeing with the elected government's foreign policy is different. In a democracy, politicians decide when the Army leaves a country. The informed opinion of senior Army officers ought to be taken into account by politicians, but equally officers are obliged to keep their opinions private, and allow the politicians to have the final say. Allowing the Army to make foreign policy decisions, or use their influence on the public to force politicians into a decision, is entirely undemocratic and unconstitutional.

Army officers have no right to make foreign policy decisions for themselves, in the same way that public-sector doctors can't decide who to treat and the police can't decide who to protect.
posted by matthewr at 7:47 AM on October 14, 2006


Permission to speak freely
posted by caddis at 8:43 AM on October 14, 2006


In all circumstances other than the massacre of civilians, the solder's beliefs and his opinions about his orders are entirely irrelevant.

It's more complicated than that, matthewr. There are any number of potentially unlawful orders that could be given at any level of the chain of command, including the civilian level (witness GWB and his reign of unlawfulness).

Quoting Smedleyman, "How you might think or most especially how you feel about it doesn't enter into it. You are either given a provably unlawful order or you are not. If you are, it is your duty to resist it."

I shall add: if you are given a lawful order, your only response is "Yes Sir/Ma'am!" Your duty is then to execute that order in a lawful manner. My son assures me that the US army still gives its soldiers classes about lawful v. unlawful orders and what to do if one receives an order one believes may be unlawful, just as they did in my day.

I agree with this:

Anyway, your argument applies to soldiers being given orders by their officers. An Army officer publicly disagreeing with the elected government's foreign policy is different. In a democracy, politicians decide when the Army leaves a country. The informed opinion of senior Army officers ought to be taken into account by politicians, but equally officers are obliged to keep their opinions private, and allow the politicians to have the final say. Allowing the Army to make foreign policy decisions, or use their influence on the public to force politicians into a decision, is entirely undemocratic and unconstitutional.

Please pardon me, i_cola, I shouldn't snipe at UKians who have twisted their daggers here blaming us USians for not doing enough to stop this great disaster when they're faced with their own problems.
posted by taosbat at 11:57 AM on October 14, 2006


In a democracy, politicians decide when the Army leaves a country.

Dannat hasn't removed anyone's power to decide. If anything, he has made UK citizens' choices more apparent.

The informed opinion of senior Army officers ought to be taken into account by politicians, but equally officers are obliged to keep their opinions private, and allow the politicians to have the final say.

The informed opinions of the armed forces ought to be taken into account by everyone, not just the people employed to have the final say.

Allowing the Army to make foreign policy decisions, or use their influence on the public to force politicians into a decision, is entirely undemocratic and unconstitutional.

If Dannat had taken it upon himself to pull battalions out, I would agree he overstepped his authority.

What is really undemocratic having no public debate on an issue as monumental as going to war. If Dannat unintentionally forces a public debate, more power to him. But forcing a debate is not forcing a decision.
posted by Ritchie at 5:36 PM on October 14, 2006


[Dannatt] has made UK citizens' choices more apparent

But citizens don't have a direct choice about this, which is the way the system is designed. We elect a party to represent us for five years, and during that time the government may well take decisions which go against the majority of the public's views. Joining the EEC, devaluing the pound and breaking the unions' power were all hugely unpopular but ultimately necessary decisions. Allowing the public to make every decision (via referenda) would result in disjointed, ineffective, irrational, myopic decision-making — essentially, the most persuausive high-readership tabloids would determine government policy, which is far from desirable.

The system of democratically choosing a set of politicians, advised and assisted by the Civil Service, for a period of five years and then letting them get on with the business of running the country has worked perfectly well for Britain for the last few centuries.
posted by matthewr at 5:58 PM on October 14, 2006


Anyway, it's a core part of Britain's constitution that the politicians take public responsibility for decisions, while Civil Servants give impartial, confidential advice.

Civil Servants, such as Dannatt, are insulated from the public and the media and never have to publicly defend themselves and their advice — unlike politicians held to account in the House of Commons and the press — in return for not attempting to influence public opinion like Dannatt has. Dannatt has set a very bad precedent.
posted by matthewr at 6:05 PM on October 14, 2006


The informed opinions of the armed forces ought to be taken into account by everyone, not just the people employed to have the final say.

I'm afraid you're wrong about that, Ritchie. matthewr has hit the nail on the head again: "...it's a core part of Britain's constitution that the politicians take public responsibility for decisions, while Civil Servants give impartial, confidential advice..."

You employ certain people to have the 'final say' for good reason.

Meanwhile, it appears us USians are going to have yet another constitutional dust-up.
posted by taosbat at 6:35 PM on October 14, 2006


What's all this shit about a british constitution?
posted by wilful at 3:29 AM on October 15, 2006


What's all this shit about a british constitution?

The British Constitution is uncodified and some of it is unwritten, but it very much exists.
posted by matthewr at 5:35 AM on October 15, 2006


Surely soldiers must obey officers' orders unquestioningly — in all but the most extreme cases (like My Lai). In all circumstances other than the massacre of civilians, the solder's beliefs and his opinions about his orders are entirely irrelevant.

And how is this any different? Iraq is My Lai, just an order of magnitude greater.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:46 PM on October 15, 2006


By that logic, so's any war.
posted by matthewr at 11:26 PM on October 15, 2006


Anyway, it's a core part of Britain's constitution that the politicians take public responsibility for decisions, while Civil Servants give impartial, confidential advice.

I don't think Dannatt qualifies as a 'civil' servant - he is a General after all. And even if he wasn't, this isn't a decision about where to route a new motorway. You can't lump 'let's go to war' in with 'let's join the EEC'. One of these things is, stripped of it's vainglory, a base commercial decision.

Allowing the public to make every decision (via referenda) would result in disjointed, ineffective, irrational, myopic decision-making — essentially, the most persuausive high-readership tabloids would determine government policy, which is far from desirable.

Well okay, you read something I didn't intend to convey. But let's assume I was making an argument for direct democracy, just to keep it interesting. Doesn't the representative democratic model seem to have produced decisions, in the last generation or so, that somewhat resemble the kind of feckless policy you describe as the hallmark of direct democracy?

It's not the system that produces success or failure, it is the quality (or lack thereof) of the people who inhabit it.
posted by Ritchie at 4:04 AM on October 16, 2006


I don't think Dannatt qualifies as a 'civil' servant - he is a General after all.

I meant Civil Servant in the intuitive, general sense, not in technical or legal terms — technically, employees of the NHS are in fact not civil servants [apparently], but that doesn't make any difference in the real world. I think the role of the Chief of the General Staff, constitutionally, is at least analogous if not identical to that of senior Civil Servants, who are expected to be apolitical and to keep their opinions and advice confidential.

In a democracy, the Army can't be allowed to start throwing its weight around and manipulating public opinion to influence the decisions of politicians; the fact that Dannatt's statements happen to have popular support (and are right, IMHO) is irrelevant in this.

And even if he wasn't, this isn't a decision about where to route a new motorway. You can't lump 'let's go to war' in with 'let's join the EEC'. One of these things is, stripped of it's vainglory, a base commercial decision.

So democracy and constitutional principles shouldn't apply to the important decisions?

(As an aside, the power to declare war lies with the Queen, somewhat undemocratically. However, in practice, the Queen's role is ceremonial, and the elected government makes the decisions.)

Doesn't the representative democratic model seem to have produced decisions, in the last generation or so, that somewhat resemble the kind of feckless policy you describe as the hallmark of direct democracy?

Well, an analysis of the last twenty years of political decisions is a rather weighty task to take on before lunch, so I won't pretend to fully answer this question.

Some of the most successful political decisions in recent years could never have been taken in 'direct' democracy. For example, I can't imagine the electorate voluntarily relinquishing control over interest rates, which obviously have a dramatic effect on unemployment and mortgage repayments, to a bunch of almost anonymous and comparatively unaccountable academics. However, this was the first thing Blair and Brown did on gaining power — they transferred the responsibility of making interest rate decisions from themselves to the Bank of England's new Monetary Policy Committee. This has, thus far, been a highly successful system and is a rare example of a politician more-or-less voluntarily relinquishing an important power.

Similarly, some of the most successful reforming governments have been highly unpopular at the time. Attlee's 1945-51 government was elected in a landslide victory but after five years of his government, his majority had fallen to a mere five seats, before being ousted in 1951. This was the government that established the post-war consensus that dominated British politics for the next thirty years — it nationalised key industries, established free secondary schooling and created the NHS and the welfare state.

I think representative democracy is, as Churchill said, "the worst form of government except all those other forms."
posted by matthewr at 7:00 AM on October 16, 2006


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