Thursday, September 23, 2004


What's up in Britain?

I've been so focussed on Australia lately that I'm afraid I've let the rest of the world slide. That's unfortunate because our other principal partner in the CII (Coalition of Iraq Invaders) is having second thoughts about its presence there. And the American media haven't even noticed!

Public opinion

The Guardian reported on Tuesday that the British public wants to get out of Iraq. Based on a poll taken in the period Sept. 17-19, it finds,

The overwhelming majority of voters - 71% - including Labour supporters want Tony Blair to set a date for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, according to this month's Guardian/ICM opinion poll.

The finding represents a big swing in public mood since May when 45% of British voters told ICM the troops should remain in Iraq "for as long as necessary".

The ICM data shows that support for withdrawing troops is almost as strong among Labour voters (73%) as Liberal Democrats (75%).

Even among Conservative supporters, two-thirds want to see a date set.

The feeling is equally spread across social classes and age groups.

I believe that's what they mean by the word "consensus."

Force reduction

Well, the British public needn't worry because it's happening anyway. Jason Burke of The Observer advised on the 19th:

The British Army is to start pulling troops out of Iraq next month despite the deteriorating security situation in much of the country, The Observer has learnt.

The main British combat force in Iraq, about 5,000-strong, will be reduced by around a third by the end of October during a routine rotation of units.

A military spokesman in Basra confirmed the scaling back of the British commitment.

Currently there are 8,000 British troops in the 14,000-strong 'multinational division' in southern Iraq, which has responsibility for about 4.5 million people.

The cuts will occur in the combat elements of the deployment - the 5,000-strong infantry and armoured brigade that is committed to the provinces of Basra and Maysan. Four Royal Navy ships will remain in the Gulf. [emphasis added]

The need for more troops in Basra

Donald Rumsfeld, the American Secretary of War, has repeatedly said that he would send more troops to Iraq if his generals would only ask for them, which is like Saddam Hussein saying he would turn Iraq into a democracy if only someone would step forward to ask. American generals only say more troops are needed after they've taken retirement. That's why we call them courageous.

But the British commanders appear more uppity. On August 31, The Scotsman ran this account

REQUESTS from British commanders in Iraq for reinforcements to cope with an upsurge in violence have been rebuffed because it would be too politically embarrassing at a time when the Ministry of Defence is proposing to make sweeping cuts to the armed forces.

British commanders have repeatedly asked for additional forces to back up those already in southern Iraq, only to find their requests falling on deaf ears. Privately, some officers serving there believe the security threat is being downplayed by the MoD [Ministry of Defense] to avoid having to send out extra troops.

.... Earlier this year, Brigadier Nick Carter, the commanding officer of British forces in Basra, told The Scotsman that coalition forces would be needed in Iraq for years and people were living in "cloud-cuckooland" if they thought it was possible to create overnight a police force that was accountable to the population.

Actually, it's not just the British commanders who are asking for more troops. So is the Iraqi "government." According to The Scotsman's correspondent Gethin Chamberlain,

Iraq’s new UN ambassador, Samir Sumaida’ie called on Britain and the United States to increase their number of troops in Iraq to prevent it from degenerating into a "super rogue state".

This is just dandy. Before we invaded, Iraq was a "rogue state." Thanks to the Coalition's efforts, it is now becoming sort of a superpower of terrorism—the "super rogue state."

But the British Ministry of Defense sees no problem:

Captain Donald Francis, spokesman for British forces in Basra, said he was unaware of any requests from senior officers for additional troops, and he said the difficulties were easing.

"The situation in Najaf has calmed down and similarly in Basra," he said. "It is a full vindication of our tactics."

Rumsfeld couldn't have said it better himself.

Oh, by the way, just what are the British troops doing around Basra?

General John McColl, the deputy commanding general of the multinational force in Iraq,

rejected recent reports which suggested that British troops in the south had withdrawn to their barracks and abandoned regular patrolling, although he said that he believed there was no point in confronting hostile crowds when they gathered.

Indeed there isn't. You could get shot that way!

The British Treasury

Wars are, regrettably, expensive. If they weren't, I'm sure we'd engage in them more often. Or maybe just launch ourselves into one very, very long (perhaps even indefinite) war, as George Bush has proposed.

Without the promise of treasure at the end to make it "pay for itself"—as Deputy Secretary of War Paul Wolfowitz suggested of our Iraq invasion, once we got the oil flowing—the cost of the entertainment works out to be exorbitant. Even when you're dutch-treating with friends.

And that is what has happened to the British—they are "overextended," as I often have to explain to my credit card company.

"We are tight. Tour intervals are down and the army is very committed," [Gen. McColl] said. "Northern Ireland is still going along and there are tours in Bosnia, Afghanistan, the Falklands and Cyprus, among others.

"The army is very busy indeed...."

Yes, it is. And who said the Empire was dead!

From the military's point of view, the person behind this perfect cock-up is said to be none other than Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Tony Blair's presumed successor as leader of the Labor Party. It has been reported that Brown had a deal with Blair by which Blair should have retired by now and Brown would be the new Prime Minister. At this point, each seems intent on getting rid of the other.

Ministry of Defence plans to cut four infantry battalions - including one Scottish regiment - have provoked a fierce debate within the army. Opponents claim that the cuts have been forced on the MoD by the Treasury, with Gordon Brown refusing to sanction extra cash for defence spending to cover the cost of expensive equipment projects, such as the Eurofighter, which have overrun their budgets dramatically.

Cutting four infantry battalion means the loss of 2600 troops. And if that weren't bad enough, the soldiers are beginning to go AWOL and the military isn't prosecuting.

A little speculation

I detest gossip, mind you, but I enjoy a little speculation now and then.

Dennis Revell writes via NASPIR:

[A] bunch of Labour MPs, led, I believe by Martin Salter, are running an initiative (at least they talked about it) to help the Democrats to get Bush dumped. It's hard to believe ... that Blair isn't wavering, at least a bit. I posit the possibility that he has done a deal with the crowd aiming to help dump Bush: He announces the withdrawal of British Forces (possibly & hopefully combined with his resignation - then the War Criminal goes off and lives an undeserved quiet life) shortly before the US election: and the Labour Party Conference times well with this.

I might dismiss this as raving Leftist lunacy if it weren't for Rupert Murdoch, purveyor of right-wing media. Michael White of the Guardian reported yesterday:

Gordon Brown's looming premiership will see taxes and public spending grow sharply as Tony Blair's restraining influence disappears and the new prime minister does more to redistribute wealth to the poorest, Rupert Murdoch's economic guru warns today.

Irwin Stelzer, the US economist whom the media tycoon uses as both an adviser and an ambassador, gives a surprisingly ambiguous and waspish verdict on the chancellor's likely conduct once in No 10 - at a time when Mr Murdoch's British newspaper titles are starting to switch horses from Blair to Brown.

The Labor Party Conference gets underway next week.

Don't you hate it when money that might have been spent on a perfectly good war gets redirected to the poorest? Murdoch's not going to take this lying down.

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