Friday, October 13, 2006

Sir Richard Dannatt

The new head of the British Army Sir Richard Dannatt has, understandably, caused a storm by telling the Daily Mail that we should "get ourselves out (of Iraq) sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems".

Not making the headlines, though, is this part of the interview:
"We can't wish the Islamist challenge to our society away and I believe that the Army, both in Iraq and Afghanistan and probably wherever we go next, is fighting the foreign dimension of the challenge to our accepted way of life."
So, on the one hand the troops in Iraq are fighting the challenge to our accepted way of life, but on the other hand they should get out. Maybe I'm misreading this (it is late) but it seems like a bit of a mixed message to me - and mixed messages are the last thing troops need. I think Dannatt should get in front of a microphone and clarify exactly what he means. And he should do it "sometime soon".

This section is less ambiguous:
"We need to face up to the Islamist threat, to those who act in the name of Islam and in a perverted way try to impose Islam by force on societies that do not wish it. In the Cold War, the threats to this country were about armies rolling in. Threats now are not territorial but to the values of our country.

"In the Army we place a lot of store by the values we espouse. What I would hate is for the Army to be maintaining a set of values that were not reflected in our society at large — courage, loyalty, integrity, respect for others; these are critical things.

"I think it is important as an Army entrusted with using lethal force that we do maintain high values and that there is a moral dimension to that and a spiritual dimension.

"When I see the Islamist threat I hope it doesn't make undue progress because there is a moral and spiritual vacuum in this country. Our society has always been embedded in Christian values; once you have pulled the anchor up there is a danger that our society moves with the prevailing wind.

"There is an element of the moral compass spinning. I am responsible for the Army, to make sure that its moral compass is well aligned and that we live by what we believe in.

"It is said we live in a post-Christian society. I think that is a great shame. The Judaic-Christian tradition has underpinned British society. It underpins the British Army."
Update 9.30am. The broadcast media whipped itself into a frenzy over this story last night. Commentators on the BBC, ITV and Sky reacted with hysteria, taking their lead from the Daily Mail’s ludicrous headline “Army chief declares war on Blair”. The hyperbole was off the scale with talk of this being an unprecedented crisis for the government.

Hmmm. Here’s Dannatt clarifying his position on the Today programme this morning (streaming audio):
Naughtie: When you say “we should get ourselves out sometime soon”, what do you mean?

Dannatt: I mean that when the mission that we’ve gone to do is substantially complete, we should be leaving…

…we’ve been there three and half years , we don’t want to be there another 2, 3, 4, 5 years. We’ve got to think about this in terms of a reasonable length of time. And we’re making progress…

When the job is done, we will go and I hope that will be sometime soon...

I'm a soldier - we don't do surrender.
The Daily Mail interview with Sarah Sands lasted an hour and half and concentrated on Afghanistan. A small section dealt with Iraq and Dannatt says it was taken out of context. He had an MoD press officer with him and the interview was okayed by the Secretary of State.

Memo to the MSM - you can stop jerking now.


Anonymous Clematis Fraudster said...

The CGS has done the political equivalent of dropping a huge, audible fart at a respectable dinner-party.

He will be got at - expect a Lord Winston-style 180-degree about-face in the next week or two.

Or maybe not - he is a tough cookie.

9:54 am  
Anonymous Umbongo said...

Sarah Sands (fired from the Sunday Telegraph) resurfaces at the Mail desperate for something to rescue her reputation. Her interviewee makes - if taken in context - some unexceptionable statements about our military engagement in Iraq. The MSM goes bananas - objective achieved.

This isn't even a fart at a dinner party - it's a suppressed burp: I didn't realise the MSM were such sticklers for etiquette.

11:42 am  
Anonymous Clematis Fraudster said...

I disagree - this is a huge story. A measure of how much discomfort this has caused the government is the number of 'advisors' and spin doctors who have emerged from the shadows to express a view.

Furthermore, he appears to have backtracked since the first interview - the spin machine has seemingly stepped in and now he is, we are told, best buddies with Tony Blair and his government. I think he is being squeezed.

But the genie is out of the bottle. I think he went seriously off-message last night and he knows it. Now, the government's officials have hauled him back in but the message is out there.

(Apologies for the all the mixed metaphors)

However, it is best to ignore the remark about withdrawing from Iraq "sometime soon".

Dannatt, it seems to me, is mightily pissed off with the treatment that the British Army has had to suffer; he is mightily pissed off at the lack of post-war planning in Iraq and the woeful under-manning in Afghanistan; he is mightily pissed off that his troops are being committed to faraway places by a government that appears to have no idea what it is doing at strategic or military level.

And when a serving CGS expresses such views in public, it is news.

ARRSE appears to be four-square behind him, which is good.

As for the Stop the War Coalition (who have been widely quoted and appear to back Sir Dicky's comments on Iraq), their views are inconsequential.

1:53 pm  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Clematis says:
"But the genie is out of the bottle. I think he went seriously off-message last night and he knows it. Now, the government's officials have hauled him back in but the message is out there."
I agree! Shock & Awe! Mission Accomplished! If you Brits lead us Yanks out of Iraquagmire, we will certainly forgive you for following us in.

2:36 pm  
Anonymous archduke said...

this is a BIG story. i can understand why the MSM has gone ga-ga over it. The General reports to the Queen, not to No.10

More here at the Mail

and added that a "moral and spiritual vacuum" has opened up in British society, which is allowing Muslim extremists to undermine "our accepted way of life."

The Chief of the General Staff believes that Christian values are under threat in Britain and that continuing to fight in Iraq will only make the situation worse.

is that a military coup threat?

2:42 pm  
Anonymous Clematis Fraudster said...

A distinction should be made between what you and I think of the war in, and occupation of, Iraq, and what the army's senior suits think.

The Chief of the General Staff may have dipped his toes into politics but his prime concern is with his troops. That is why one should pay less attention to the "let's pull our troops out of Iraq" and more to the meat and drink of what he is saying about British troops at an operational level (i.e. manning, treatment of wounded soldiers, etc.).

My comment about the Stop the War Coalition is simple: they do not giving a flying fuck about troop levels, equipment, and the welfare of soldiers. In the eyes of these political opportunists, the only good British soldier is a dead British soldier. To this end, their views are of no consequence.

2:48 pm  
Anonymous verity said...

Gosh, I didn't know Sarah Sands was still kicking around after getting the chop for wrecking The Sunday Telegraph.

Archduke writes: "is that a military coup threat?"

Hmmm ... yes ... I can say, viewed from any angle, I like it.

3:02 pm  
Anonymous Umbongo said...

clematis fraudster

My mistake in swallowing the "Today" line on the story as one purely concerning withdrawal from Iraq which, taken on its own, is not that surprising.

However, the CGS has made (or has been reported to have made - a not so subtle difference) some rather unusual statements for the head of our armed forces (takes me back to the 70s when talk of a military coup was in the air). I really don't know exactly what he is trying to convey except a general sense of unease with both the position of the army in the Middle East and what the army might have to deal with domestically rather than abroad in future.

If the CGS has been widely misunderstood or misreported, this just illustrates the downside of allowing mediation of all news and opinion through the media: they're not called the "media" for nothing.

3:31 pm  
Anonymous Umbongo said...

Slightly tangential - what is happening to the Mail stable of newspapers? Today we have this overdone excitement concerning the CGS brought to us by an indifferent - and desperate - journalist. In last night's London Evening Standard, the featured columnists on the leader pages were Will Self, Jonathan Freedland and the YazzMonster herself: I could have bought the Guardian and had a more nuanced take on British politics. Also, by and large, the Standard is, if not cosy with Livingstone, hardly a stern critic of our mayor's racial and other politics.

Looks to me like the Mail is becoming the torch-bearer for Cameron's style of "conservativism" and seeking to dish the Telegraph as the Conservative Party's house journal: the next thing you know is that la Toynbee will have a column (at even more than the £140,000 pa she is reputed to receive from the Guardian).

5:45 pm  
Anonymous archduke said...

"My mistake in swallowing the "Today" line on the story as one purely concerning withdrawal from Iraq which, taken on its own, is not that surprising."

c4 news tonight followed the same line - with a bare footnote mention of the other issues at the end. they said he was a "devout christian", and got Denis McShane on to do a soundbite about how he , Mr McShane, was all worried about the General saying that Judeo-Christian values unpinned the British Army.

8:35 pm  
Anonymous archduke said...

further to the above - are the MSM focussing on the Iraq angle , rather than the "military coup" aspect of the general's statements.

THATS what i'm reading into it, when he talks of "moral vacuum" and "Judeo-Christian" values, and the threat of Islamism at home.

The point I think he is trying to make is - what is the point of the army fighting Islamism, when the political elite are bending over backwards to it.

THAT is what he is on about - one wonders what the morale of the troops is, when they hear of a Islamist being made a school inspector.

8:37 pm  

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