Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Amazing Richard Dannatt

That a serving military officer - the British Army's Chief of General Staff no less - should feel so free to meddle in politics is a little disturbing. What General Richard Dannatt said about Iraq - that the British military presence "exacerbates the security problems" is plainly true, and that is what he should have been telling his political superiors in private. But it is not for a serving General to tour television studios making political speeches (if he held a much lesser rank he would probably be sitting in the glasshouse by now). He has the option of leaving the army, becoming a private citizen, and then making his views public (many senior officers in the United States have followed this course). The anti-war left should be wary of making a hero of the General (difficult given that he is so gung-ho vis-a-vis Afghanistan). That Liam Fox (the Shadow Defence spokesman) should think it a "refreshing change" for Dannatt to make his views public shows a slender grasp of democatic proprieties (pretty much what one would expect from a right-wing fruitcake). One assumes that there have been raised voices in private, but it says something about Blair's loss of authority that he feels he cannot sack the General, and instead has to pretend that what Dannatt said "is precisely the same as we're all saying". Interestingly, both Malcolm Rifkind and Michael Portillo (former Defence Secretaries) have, however cautiously, criticised Dannatt for crossing the line into the political arena. Rifkind says: "I think senior generals....musn't cross the line into expressing political views at variance with the government of the day". Why does it take Tory to say that? Rifkind rather generously thinks Dannatt didn't do this "intentionally" (yeah, sure) and that "he'll be sadder and wiser this weekend". I doubt it. I think the "straight-talking" General will be reading the largely favourable press coverage and watching The Amazing Mrs Pritchard, rather wistfully.

3 Comments:

Blogger skipper said...

Agree with you the general was right out of order and should be slapped down for dabbling in politics. Guardian leader is good on this topic today I thought.

12:50 pm  
Blogger politaholic said...

I have just seen Matthew Parris on BBC 1 arguing that Dannatt should have been sacked "within hours" and that he only wants troops out of Iraq "in order send them to Afghanistan".

9:55 am  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Cautionary notes pertaining to civilian control over military are well-taken.

I just read Sam Huntington appropriately quoted on another site:

'If the statesman decides upon war which the soldier knows can only lead to national catastrophe, then the soldier, after presenting his opinion, must fall in and make the best of a bad situation'

That said, it seems to me that part of the contract of civilian control over the military implies also civilian proprietary care for the armed forces. I don't see that. What I see is an attitude that (a) this is a professional army, (b) they get paid to do what they're doing, (c) they should get on with it and quit their complaining, (d) we support them - see, we got our ribbons up on our cars, and (e), you go to war with civilian leaders you have, not the civilian leaders you might want at a future time.

Our feckless civilian Congressional leadership and gullible civilian electorate has been constitutionally derelict in their proprietary responsibilities.

5:24 pm  

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