The Brits are heading home from Iraq Basra, and not all of them are doing it with their heads held high:
(British commanders) also know… (that) 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.”
Well, if there are those in Washington corridors saying that Britain allowed militias to take over Basra that’s because they did. And the city was liberated from tyranny by Iraqi troops partnered with American soldiers. In the British area of responsibility.
From everything I’ve read and seen, I still believe that the private British soldier fights as bravely as he can considering the support he gets. I’m less than entirely certain that he is led as well as he might be. Less certain that, once a political decision has been made, the general staff and officer corps are able to put aside their private reservations in favor of committing to the fierce urgency of victory. That they understand that it’s more useful to fight the foe on the field than look down your nose at your allies in barracks. That it might be better to fight the enemy as hard as you can as and where you find him, rather than attempt to gracefully manage the consequences of defeat.
We’ve come a long way since Churchill vowed that he had not become prime minister in order to “preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.” I wonder if it rankles his inheritors that they followed a former subject into a fight that they lacked the political and martial will to win, and allowed another former client to rescue what they could not. Whether secretly, having fallen so far, there were not those among them who looked forward to seeing their inheritors taken down a notch.
It gives me no pleasure at all to write this. For over a hundred years, Britain remained our staunchest military and cultural ally. As the lion retreats to his den with fretful backward glances, our own constraints multiply in the face of world that grows rather more chaotic than otherwise.
But we must deal with the sea as we find it, not as we would wish it to be.