Remember the force, Luke…

One can’t help but credit Luke Akehurst for his predictive abilities

This is probably a sure-fire way to make myself political toast with Labour colleagues…

…if not for his judgment of character.

but I actually feel rather sorry for Donald Rumsfeld and find the gloating at his resignation distasteful.


1) Well for a start off his strategy in Iraq was our Labour government’s too so if he’s such a bad/wrong person so are we – or at least everyone of us that supported the government line.

Well aside the bit about ‘if’, Luke, you’re right on the money here. Actually that’s a bit unfair, its not that those who supported the government line are bad people so much as they were often desperately naive in their desire to think the best of the government’s actions, as I’ll demonstrate when I get to Stuart’s comments.

2) If you are going to have Republicans in power (and I’d rather we were now 6 years into an Al Gore Presidency) I would rather they were idealistic ones that believed in spreading democracy to the Middle East than Kissinger/Nixon style cynics practicising real-politik and focussed just on national self-interest rather than some higher ideological ends.

There are two basic problems with this statement.

First, the realpoltik arguments for invading Iraq in 2003 (I.e. regional stability as the key to ensuring secure access to strategicially valuable resources, including those of the nearby Caspian Basin) were always far more substantive and rational than any number of fictions based on either Saddam’s non-existent WMDs or the idea of spreading democracy to the Middle East, give or take the impediment of the UN charter which says that you can’t do that kind of thing any more.
The second problem is the mistaken belief that the invasion wasn’t primarily motivated by considerations of realpolitik – it was – everything else (WMDs, Democracy, etc.) was simply a false pretext designed to bypass the little impediment I mentioned in the last paragraph.

3) He’s the fall guy for his boss in the White House who in a European political system would be the one resigning after these elections.

That’s not quite true – it depends entirely on where in Europe you’re talking about.

Where there is a more or less complete separation between the directly-elected executive (usually a President) and the legislature, as in France, then El Presidente remains near enough bomb-proof.

Under parliamentary-type systems where the separation is much less complete, say in the UK or Germany, then yes, Luke is essentially correct in thinking that it would the PM/Chancellor who’d eventually take the bullet – although I still wouldn’t like to be against them having pushed both their Defence Secretary and Foreign Minister into the firing line first, before any ordinance actually got through to them.

And then, of course, there’s Italy, where they’d probably fire the PM simply because the wind had changed direction.

4) He actually did the traditional job of Defense Secretary very well – overseeing two stunning military victories in Afganistan and Iraq in a matter of weeks – what he is being blamed for is the subsequent failiure to rebuild Iraq and of the US armed forces to peacekeep – neither of which traditionally were or should be core US military functions.

Hmmm… as someone with a keen personal interest in military history, strategy and tactics, I’d have to disagree with this.

In the case of Afghanistan, the US did successfully remove the Taliban regime and close down Al Qaeda’s main training/operational capacity but also failed to complete other primary objectives, not least the capture of Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban.

As to why they failed in those objectives, the answer is basically political timidity.

The US’s standard approach to warfare, i.e. build-up an overwhelming superiority of forces, establish air superiority, destroy key command and control and enemy offensive capacilities by means of aerial bombardment and then send in ground forces is fine against a static enemy in defensive formation (i.e. the Iraqis) and has the political benefit of keeping US casualties to an absolute minimum. For a US administration its basically a low-risk strategy given the marked sensitivity that its citizens have tended to exhibit towards the sight of plane loads of body bags arriving in the country, since the Vietnam war.
Against a highly mobile guerilla army in difficult terrain of which the enemy has intimate knowledge (i.e Afghanistan), its next to useless – great for capturing urban centres but of no great value in terms of defeating the enemy in actual combat.

To take out Bin Laden, in particular, the US needed to take risks and put forces in on the ground immediately, without waiting for their usual build-up, etc. – in fact what the US really needed to do was to deploy their own special forces troops in a diversionary strike, while we took care of rooting out Bin Laden – in terms of terrain and ground conditions in Afghanistan , our forces, particularly the SAS and Gurkhas, would have been far better suited to the task than anything the US could deploy.

The invasion of Iraq, while successful, was nowhere near as well executed as that which was mounted in the Gulf War- not least for the lack of Schwartzkopf who was by far the best military strategist of his generation – and was fought against Iraqi forces at half the strength they were in 1991. Worse still, the invasion of Iraq, and its aftermath, overstretched US capabilities by opening up a second live front to the point of allowing the Taliban to regain a foothold in Afghanistan – even if you support(ed) the invasion of Iraq on broadly humanitarian grounds you would have been justified in opposing the invasion of Iraq, at the time it was mounted, purely out of recognition of the need to finish the job in Afghanistan before opening up another front.

My hunch is history will say Rumsfeld made all of us a lot safer by destroying the Taliban/al-Qaeda base in Afghanistan and removing Saddam from power so he wasn’t around to refresh his WMD arsenal and marry it with N Korean missile technology.

I think history is more likely to consider Rumsfeld a failure for having overreached even the massive capabilities of the US military-industrial complex and set back the cause of humanitarian intervention to at best where it was before Kosovo due to the unilaterist stance taken by the US and its disregard for importance of the UN and the rule of international law, but that’s a rather lengthy argument that I’ll save for another time.

There are a lot of Afghans and Iraqis (particularly Kurds and Shiites) who have a lot to thank him for. 

And a lot who would happily salt the ground he’s walked on.

I mentioned comments from Stuart (Bruce) a bit earlier, and what he had to say was this…

No Luke it wasn’t our Labour government’s strategy.

We did the right thing for the right reasons.

Bush and Rumsfeld did the right thing for the wrong reasons.

Our motivation was to make the world a better place. Bush/Rumsfeld/Cheney did it for greed and national self-interest.

I am still pro the Atlantic alliance, despite the actions of these nasty foolish men who have done more to damage American and British interests than all who have gone before.

I can appreciate the sentiment, but I’m afraid it doesn’t fit the facts.

The arguments that Blair put to parliament and to the British people about Saddam’s WMD capabilities were no more real or substantial than those put forward by the Bush Administration and the ultimate reason why we went to war was not out of rational judgement of the threat posed by Saddam – which didn’t exist – or humanitarian concern – an argument – that didn’t appear at all until 12 February 2003 and then only in response to the work of Hans Blix and the UN weapons inspectors whose findings were beginning to undermine the WMD-based case for war.

We went to war because Blair allowed himself to be boxed into a corner by the Bush administration, which was set on going in whether it had our support or not, which happened because Blair put altogether too much emphasis on the value of the so-called ‘special relationship’ with the US to the point of leaving himself in a position where he couldn’t back out.

We were railroaded and joined the invasion for no better reason than that we (meaning Blair) was clinging on to the coat tails of the US so tightly that he couldn’t get off.

Talk of wanting to make the world a better place is fine in the context of ordinary Labour members and supporters, whose support for the war may well, and probably did, come from just such considerations, but one cannot honestly say the same of the Labour government, or at least those members of it who we most intimately involved in the decisions that took us into the war.

Does all that count as political toast? Not sure, maybe only a light grilling this time out.

2 thoughts on “Remember the force, Luke…

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