Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Frank Ledwidge, Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan

Frank Ledwidge, Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2011, viii + pp.267, Notes, bibliography, Index, ISBN 978-0-300-16671-2

I consider it to be the duty of anyone who sees a flaw in the plan not to hesitate to say so

General Einsenhower immediately before General Montgomery’s briefing for Operation Overlord, 15th May 1944

© Frank Ellis 2012 All Rights Reserved

Anger and shame assailed me when I was reading Losing Small Wars: anger with a corrupt Prime Minister (Blair) for the lies used to justify the deployment of British forces to Iraq and Afghanistan and the professional collusion of senior officers and the security services in the dissemination of the lies; and shame for the untold misery inflicted on Iraqi and Afghan civilians, the deaths and maiming of our soldiers and the lies used to comfort their families and to mislead the public. As if this was not bad enough, we are confronted at every turn in these badly judged deployments with far too many examples of incompetent political and military leadership in theatre. With all these failings and the scale of the invasion and occupation in Iraq, and the NATO mission in Afghanistan, Ledwidge’s title hardly does justice to what is revealed. In any case these are hardly ‘small wars’: the lying alone was and remains even now on a mass industrial scale.

If, having read Losing Small Wars, I had to identify the single most important failing about the disastrous British interventions in Iraq and, currently Afghanistan, it would be the failure on the part of the British government and its military advisers to spell out quite clearly why the British armed forces were ever deployed to these two parts of the Middle East. Factor out the obvious lies disseminated by Blair and his political-military clique that Iraq was armed with weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and that these weapons posed a threat to Britain and there was no justified reason for Britain’s ever having had anything to do with the US-led invasion of Iraq. Bush’s ravings that Saddam Hussein was another Hitler reflect the appalling ignorance of American presidents about the world. Such claims were intended to provide some weak justification for Saddam Hussein’s removal from power. Nevertheless they are pitiful claims. By the standards of Arab leaders Saddam Hussein was averagely repressive. Oil is a factor on the Middle East but did it require that the US and others invade Iraq and inflict such dreadful misery and suffering? If we went there to impose democracy and other Western abstractions then that too has been a catastrophic failure and one that was bound to be in a part of the world where Islam rules. Why do Americans and their too willing British allies not realise that the liberal democracies that evolved in a small part of northern Europe among small groups of racially homogenous peoples cannot be just imposed on what are Third World tribal societies? Here we see a deadly serious failure of imagination, caused by what Pat Buchanan has correctly identified as democratic fundamentalism and which has been made to appear fallaciously plausible by the malevolent ideology of multiculturalism and neo-conservatism.

As for the British Army’s being in Afghanistan, no British politician has yet provided a convincing argument for the deployment. Brown’s claims that British troops in Afghanistan made the UK safer were obvious lies and so obviously clumsy one wonders why he thought he could get away with peddling such nonsense. Equally mendacious are the claims that UK forces are helping the Afghan population to build a better future. Do the Taliban – they are part of the Afghan population – want our help? How do we help people by laying their country waste and imposing utterly alien institutions such as elections and education and undermining the foundations of a tribal society? Other possible reasons for our being there may be related to Iran’s nuclear ambitions and fears about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons (and oil, of course). But even these are not that convincing when trying to find an explanation for why Britain has expended so much blood and treasure. Remove any geo-political considerations and one is left with the interests and rivalries of the three services. Ledwidge refers to remarks made by General Dannatt to a British diplomat that if the British army, with an exit date from Iraq established, did not redeploy its battle groups to Afghanistan, they would be removed in any Strategic Defence Review. Ledwidge also suggests that the British army wanted to go to Helmand to show what it could do and attempt to compensate for its less than glorious performance in southern Iraq. Another factor prompting the deployment was, as always, a desire on the part of senior British politicians and officers to ingratiate themselves with the Americans, to try to rebuild their damaged stock.

British woes in Iraq started well before the first tank crossed the border. Ledwidge convincingly argues that senior British officers failed not only to challenge demagogue-politicians, especially Blair, before the invasion, but also to ask the necessary hard-headed questions about what would happen after Saddam Hussein was removed from power. In a reference to a very short British document entitled ‘Iraq – the aftermath – military options’ which was dated 4th March 2003 Ledwidge makes the telling point that the fact that this document was prepared as late as it was ‘speaks volumes for the priority placed on the “what now?” question’.1 That these and other questions were not asked by senior officers and pushed, if necessary, to the point of resignation, amounts to a clear dereliction of duty. The lack of planning for the occupation phase and the failure to realise that if the British did not provide firm and fair governance less desirable local entities would seize the initiative, helped to create a situation in which law and order collapsed and the militias were able to pursue their vendettas.

Matters in Basra were exacerbated, according to Ledwidge, because the view was held among senior British officers that the lessons of Britain’s previous counterinsurgencies from Malaya to Northern Ireland comprised a body of knowledge and experience that was readily applicable to Basra; and that this historical background made the British army uniquely qualified to engage in counterinsurgency operations unlike the Americans. Ledwidge devotes a lot of space to trying to demonstrate that the experience of previous counterinsurgencies, especially Malaya and Northern Ireland, was not always helpful and often hugely misleading; and that the Americans mastered the problems whereas, the British more or less withdrew to their base and waited for the end, as the security situation in Basra deteriorated.

Expertise in fighting a counterinsurgency in northern Europe, argues Ledwidge, ‘does not imply such prowess elsewhere’.2 On the contrary, I suggest it most certainly does imply such prowess. Counterinsurgencies, for all the specific racial, geographical, political, religious and cultural differences, have themes in common which make it possible to derive general principles and observations. For example, I am not aware of an insurgency that is so unique such that experience gained could not be applied elsewhere. In fact, were such an insurgency known to have existed, one might well be justified in considering it not to be an insurgency at all. The British Army’s track record in waging counterinsurgencies does, in my opinion, justify the expectation that this expertise/prowess could be applied beyond Northern Ireland. That this expertise was not properly applied is another matter.

In attempting to weaken the validity of any experience gained in Northern Ireland and then applied to Iraq, Ledwidge points out that we the “Brits”, as we were named by IRA/Sinn Fein, knew the opposition very well. The cultural, historical links made the task of dealing with IRA/Sinn Fein that much easier. Gerry Adams used to boast that the “Brits” would negotiate with people they condemned as terrorists because they always have done before, as in Kenya, Cyprus and Aden. Adams was right. However, there was a crucial distinction between the counterinsurgency in Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain’s post-1945 counterinsurgencies. Britain could negotiate a settlement with former Mau-Mau leaders and leave. If no negotiated settlement was possible the option of just walking away and leaving the natives to it was always an option. If IRA/Sinn Fein could demonstrate the necessary stamina, it could reasonably expect to be sitting down with British politicians at some stage. Where Adams and other IRA/Sinn Fein leaders were spectacularly wrong was in holding the belief that the British government would be able to abandon Northern Ireland to its fate and that IRA/Sinn Fein or any other group would take control. What was a feasible option in Kenya and Aden was not possible in Northern Ireland, the UK. Northern Ireland was not Kenya. The UK government could not abandon Northern Ireland, however much it might want to, and it took a very long time for IRA/Sinn Fein leaders to grasp this brutal fact. Once Adams and his colleagues realised this the way was set for some kind of negotiated settlement. Alongside this political reality was the fact that IRA/Sinn Fein had been subverted, penetrated and monitored so totally by MI5/GCHQ that its chances of imposing any kind of solution in Northern Ireland were nil. This furthered the chances of a negotiated political settlement.

And here we might find the incunabula of the deal done by the British with Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia in Basra, which Ledwidge sees as a disaster. By 2005 it was crystal clear to all but the seriously deluded that the invasion had gone horribly wrong; that Blair and his close circle of civilian and senior military advisers had demonstrably lied about WMDs (for which they remain unpunished); that no planning had been conducted for the post-war/occupation phase; and that Blair and his clique wanted out of the hideous mess and carnage they had inflicted. In these circumstances an accelerated deal with the militia gangs based on what had taken place in Northern Ireland seemed attractive. However, by the time the British and IRA/Sinn Fein started negotiating Britain troops had been on the ground in Northern Ireland, in large numbers, since 1969. Moreover, IRA/Sinn Fein, even with, at best, the treacherous indifference of US law and order agencies to British requests for extradition, and, at worst, with the treacherous collusion of a whole swathe of the American political caste (Democrat and Republican), was losing what it called the “armed struggle”. Factors that made a negotiated settlement possible with IRA/Sinn Fein - specifically the longevity of the “armed struggle”, the obvious successes of the British army and MI5 and the realisation, eventually, by some of the more enlightened members of IRA/Sinn Fein that no British government could walk away from Northern Ireland – did not obtain in Basra or anywhere else in Iraq. It took 30 years before serious negotiations with IRA/Sinn Fein could start. Britain could not afford to wait 30 years before it started serious negotiations with Iraqi insurgents. Political factors in the UK which militated against hasty deals being done with IRA/Sinn Fein in the 1970s encouraged premature deals with militia gangs in Basra. Everything was done with indecent haste and presented as a solution which it was not. The time factor was one of the key lessons of Northern Ireland and other long-running insurgencies that were ignored by the British and by the Americans. In fact, Ledwidge concedes that the time factor was one of three factors that could be used to defend British policy: (i). the war could last forever; (ii) the Iraqi army was being trained and (iii) there was a view that the British Army was part of the problem.3

A major criticism I would make of Losing Small Wars is that the author in his determination to expose British failure to scrutiny is far too willing, certainly as concerns Iraq, to see success in American efforts and very little else. This distorts his message. Whereas, according to Ledwidge, the Americans are willing to learn from their mistakes the British remain trapped in the Malaya-Northern Ireland paradigms. It is worthwhile reminding ourselves of the errors made by the Americans. If the British failed to plan for the occupation so did the Americans. They then made things many times worse by the programme of de-Baathification which was inspired by the de-Nazification of Germany in 1945. Whatever the Baath party was, it not the Nazi party and Saddam Hussein was not another Adolf Hitler. The de-Baathification programme denied status and support to the Iraqi technocracy the very people needed to get essential services running properly. It turned qualified Iraqis against the Americans. Another disparity can be noted. Ledwidge mentions the charges of torture against the British military interrogators in Northern Ireland in the early days yet he has nothing to say about the appalling abuses carried out by the Americans in Iraq immediately after the invasion in 2003 in Abu Ghraib which were way beyond anything perpetrated by British soldiers in southern Iraq. The Americans, specifically the CIA, also failed to identify the significance of the Fedayeen and their role in the insurgency. And why is Ledwidge, a lawyer, so deafeningly silent about the American state torture chambers in Guantanamo Bay and so-called “extraordinary rendition”? Guantanamo is not even in the book’s index. Why does Ledwidge bypass these American outrages when berating the British Army for minor infringements? If internment without trial and Bloody Sunday are now seen as propaganda gifts to the nationalist cause, what about the routine mass killings of Iraqi and Afghan civilians, carried out by US forces? On a finding of fact Ledwidge even gets the date of Bloody Sunday unforgivably wrong: he says it was April 1972 when it was, in fact, 30th January 1972.4 Recent events in Afghanistan would suggest that the anarchic spirit which led to Abu Ghraib and much more, before, according to Ledwidge, the Americans set the new standard in counterinsurgency and in winning friends and influencing people in remote tribal societies, is alive and well. In the new model American counterinsurgency paradigm, for example, it is acceptable to have yourself filmed while you urinate on dead Taliban fighters, burn the Holy Koran and leave your base in the early hours of the morning to kill Afghan families.

Once again, and wilfully ignorant of some of the realities, Ledwidge pushes the multicultural agenda in the military, praising the way Americans have been quick ‘to appreciate the benefits of such people [immigrants]’.5 Ledwidge has obviously not heard about what happened at Foot Hood in Texas in 2009 when, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a US army psychiatrist due to be posted to Iraq, and already known for his anti-American statements, murdered 13 people on the base. On the clear dangers posed by multiculturalism to the military Ledwidge is just as wilfully blind despite his repeated warnings that our analyses must be based on hard evidence not wishful thinking. To quote Ledwidge: ‘What happens on the ground is rather more important, and that depends on having a true appreciation of what one is doing. In turn, that appreciation must be founded on hard fact, not on the kind of wishful thinking that passes for military assessments of “effect” ’.6 Ledwidge is guilty of precisely this “wishful thinking” when he pushes the agenda of multiculturalism in the military or believes that it can work. Consistent with Ledwidge’s assertion that we must deal with facts and things as they are, not as they ought to be, then it should be pointed out that, quite apart from the fact that they degrade operational efficiency, Western women in uniform are extremely offensive to Muslims and that Iraqis do not like – to put it mildly – blacks in Western armies. So how do Ledwidge and his feminist/multiculturalist colleagues in the British Army propose to deal with that situation, an appreciation based on ‘on hard fact’? For example, were it necessary, in order to demonstrate to the people, say, Iraqis, that we were sensitive to their culture would we be prepared in the name of operational flexibility in a counterinsurgency only to deploy units comprising white male soldiers or is the ‘wishful thinking’ and self-esteem of feminists and multiracialists, with all the antagonisms it arouses among Iraqis, going to be allowed to set the agenda?

Iraqis, the Taliban and all the other indigenous groups that resent Western interference have every right to feel aggrieved. However, they need to be clear that when Western nations cease to interfere in the affairs of tribal states, as they should, it means just that. It means that no food aid when populations spiral out of control shall be donated (only sold at the full market value); it means that Western expertise in victim search and rescue in the aftermath of an earthquake or tsunami shall not be free but will be paid for either in hard currency or free access to natural resources (gold, platinum and oil); it means that drugs that can prevent malaria, bilharzia and even cure AIDS shall be available at market prices to those in Africa that want them; and when the latest African dictator orders the slaughter of some rival tribe Western troops will not be sent to sort the mess out; and it means that Haiti will forever remain mired in primitive savagery. No longer will Western troops impose, or attempt to impose, abstract concepts of free speech, the rule of law, free and fair elections on people who do not understand them or do not care for them. In short, Third World states or tribes are quite right to resent being invaded and lectured to by First World powers on how to lead their lives. They should be left alone provided they represent no threat to the West (and Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan were/are not threats to the West). That said, when they request, or normally demand, Western aid, these we-will-not-tolerate-being-lectured-to-by-Westerners states whose people are conscious of their dignity and who demand to be treated as equals should bear in mind that any assistance that Western states might consider to provide shall at all times be subject to terms and conditions - pacta sunt servanda - and if you do not like them then you can eat your dignity and use your sangomas to cure your children of malaria. This is the new world order.

Ledwidge would have us believe that these days there is very little animosity towards the Russians in Afghanistan. I can only assume that this assertion is intended to create a contrast with the way the British are currently regarded in Helmand and thus to imply that the Russians performed better than the British. The comparison is somewhat flawed. The Russians – they failed abysmally - are gone: the British are there (and failing); they provide a new focal point for Afghan xenophobia. If the British went and the Russians returned tomorrow Afghans would transfer their xenophobia back to them and start saying nice things about the British. Ledwidge’s source for these claims is Rodric Braithwaite’s Afgantsy (2011) and on at least two occasions Braithwaite is cited incorrectly and in a manner that distorts Braithwaite’s original. For example, Ledwidge cites Braithwaite as having written that ‘there was no grudge against the Russians’.7 Braithwaite’s original is conditional and far less assertive: ‘Perhaps it was because of the horrors that followed that the Afghans did not in the long run seem to nurture a grudge against the Russians’.8 The ‘horrors that followed’ is a reference to the civil war that ensued after the Russian withdrawal. Ledwidge cites the page number from Afgantsy incorrectly (p.332!!/p.333☺). Ledwidge then cites Braithwaite as having written that he, Braithwaite, was ‘told by every Afghan that he met that things were better under the Russians’.9 Braithwaite actually wrote: ‘I was told by almost every Afghan I met that things were better under the Russians’.10 I would expect an author with a legal training to show greater attention to detail. Having listed a great many of the fine qualities now attributed to the erstwhile Russian invaders by Afghan interlocutors – apparently they never killed women and children – Braithwaite concludes that: ‘As history much of this was travesty’.11 On the other hand, Ledwidge is unaware of this or it suits his purposes to ignore the bizarre Afghan assessment of the Russian occupation which as Braithwaite points out is a travesty. In fact, both authors fail to consider the possibility that when Afghans praise the former occupiers and their policies to the present occupiers that they could just be engaging in a bit of Brit-baiting not pursuing serious historical analysis.

Some of the most devastating parts of Losing Small Wars deal with what can only be described as the super abundance of middle-ranking and senior officers in the British Army. Ledwidge notes that there are 12 brigades in the British Army and thus allowing for leave, illness, training, extra-unit postings and retirement one might expect there to be about 24 brigadiers. There are a staggering 190 and this is 20 more than in 1997.12 But it gets worse. There are 2 divisions in the British Army. Divisions are normally commanded by a major-general and we have 43 major-generals.13 There are also 5 full generals (and that is just the army). In all, the three armed services have about 500 general officers (brigadier or above14). To cite Ledwidge: ‘To put these figures into perspective, there are far more generals in the British army than there are helicopters, or operational tanks. There are considerably more admirals than ships, and about three times as many RAF officers of one star or above than there are flying squadrons’.15 The comparisons with the US Marine Corps, US Army and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF is similar in size to the UK’s) are grotesquely embarrassing. To cite Ledwidge again: ‘There are proportionately eight times more generals in the UK armed forces than there are in the US Marine Corps, four times as many as in the US army, and an astonishing ten times as many as the Israelis have’.16 It will almost certainly be the case that many of these senior officers will have been promoted beyond their abilities. Below the hordes of generals are the hordes of colonels and majors: ‘There are no fewer than 5,500 officers of full colonel or lieutenant colonel rank (or equivalent) in all three services, and 9,550 officers of the rank of major’ […] ‘An entire division, with all its ancillary support, could be manned by army officers over the rank of major’.17

Most of these officers will never command active units and will be employed as administrators and, judging by the profligacy of MOD, not very efficient ones. Not only do these officers clog up the rank structure, denying talented officers their professional dues, but they provide all kinds of non-military incentives and promotion opportunities for those who wear a uniform but are in fact not soldiers (the same thing happened to the British police a long time ago). In this MOD, office environment, the kind of skills and qualities required for promotion and other rewards will be based on being adept at social net-working, presenting an impression of comme il faut, getting noticed by one’s superiors and avoiding any association with failure but making every effort to get linked with any sort of success. It also raises the possibility that social connections, something we had thought had long been consigned to the rubbish bin will make a come back, if they ever went away, in career planning and rewards. Officers who have secured promotion and rewards by such methods will use the same methods to reward their favourites and will learn to expect deference when they are wrong instead of being corrected by competent staff officers. Long term the damage is very severe and professionally dysgenic: it actively discourages and punishes those with drive, new ideas and unusual approaches, rewarding the mediocrities and time servers. Sign up to all kinds of human rights’ legislation regardless of the consequences for those soldiers who actually do some soldiering and who run the risk of being killed and losing their legs in an IED explosion and who have to make split second decisions about whether to open fire in a threatening situation - Ledwidge’s analysis of this situation is woefully inadequate - impose the politically correct orthodoxies of diversity, feminism and homosexual rights, again, regardless of the real-world consequences, and the stage is set in which absolutely no officer of any rank challenges anything for fear of missing his promotion, posting, medal or knighthood. It should also be pointed out that these officers receive very generous allowances, especially for sending their children to public schools and equally generous pensions when they retire or are made redundant. The case for a pitiless cull on the grounds of operational efficiency and cost savings is overwhelming; and long overdue.

Without realising it, Ledwidge provides evidence that a toxic mixture of keeping one’s head down, saying what one is expected to say and political correctness are contaminating the Staff College at Shrivenham. For example, he notes that a senior officer at Shrivenham complained that many of the officer students ‘were simply not interested in discussing, for example, why they were fighting in Afghanistan’.18 This is deeply disturbing because it suggests to me that the reasons have less to do with genuine ignorance or lack of interest and everything to do with the infiltration of politically correct ideas into the heart of the military. Those student officers knew full well – and the instructor referred to by Ledwidge knew it as well – that any officer attending a course at Shrivenham who asked hard-headed questions about the role and presence of UK armed forces in either Iraq or in Afghanistan and brushed aside the obviously mendacious reasons given by Brown, Cameron and the senior military establishment (keep the streets of Britain safe) would find his career very badly damaged. The student officers know it and so does the instructor (and Ledwidge). Imagine a similar scenario in some Metropolitan Police Service course where white officers were asked for their views on the Macpherson Report (1999). Would they attack this vicious anti-white racism and its Marxist hatred of England or would they grovel and make conciliatory, snivelling noises about “institutional racism” so as not to damage their careers? To quote Ledwidge: ‘Without a clear understanding of what one is doing fighting a war, for what one is fighting and how, the mission is highly unlikely to succeed’.19 Ledwidge is quite right and here is the perfect opportunity for Ledwidge to explain to the reader – although such an explanation should have come much earlier – what exactly the British are fighting for in Afghanistan. Ledwidge, having routinely excoriated senior British officers and politicians for evasions and turf wars, largely true, nevertheless fails to offer any clear cut explanation for the British presence in Afghanistan. Ledwidge never tells us. Maybe he has access to sensitive sources and has succumbed to the cult of secrecy in Whitehall which he has earlier lambasted. Either way he has nothing to say on why British armed forces are in Afghanistan, offering no convincing explanation for their presence at all, an astonishing lacuna in a book of this kind even more so when he attacks senior officers for muddled thinking or lack of any thinking.

Recalling that other students and he at Shrivenham were silenced when they started considering certain areas of the legality of the Iraq war20, Ledwidge then compares the way sensitive questions are dealt with at Shrivenham with civilian institutions: ‘Nonetheless the kind of difficulty I encountered would be completely unheard of in most serious civilian institutions’.21 If Ledwidge really believes that he must be an ostrich or a troglodyte. If you cannot raise awkward questions about the legality of the Iraq war at Shrivenham in 2006, rest assured you cannot raise awkward questions about race and IQ, the consequences of mass immigration and the corrupting effects of feminism in a British university in 2006. Soldiers obey orders and so a commander having weighed up the situation gives his order. Universities, on the other hand, promote themselves as institutions of free thinking, free speech and academic freedom yet are utterly cowardly and corrupt on issues of race and feminism, totalitarian in fact. Universities will not permit conferences on the theme of race and IQ because some of the administrators are too frightened of the truth and determined to suppress it. What happened to Satoshi Kanazawa at LSE in 2011 merely confirms the dire state of academic freedom at British institutions of higher education. Ledwidge decides to look elsewhere for inspiration and his quest for the ‘critical soldier’22 takes him once again across the Atlantic. Unfortunately for Ledwidge the US military and its academies are corrupted by feminism and PC as well. Moreover, Ledwidge is obviously not aware or prefers not to notice that the kind of censorship which exists at Shrivenham also pervades the US military and indeed American society, especially the universities. For example, any senior officer who attacked the damage done to the US military by “diversity” (quotas for blacks and women) would have his career terminated in very short order. US Major Andy Messing waited until he had retired before he criticised racial diversity in Special Forces as a liability. The most recent FBI report on gang activity in the US military, 2011 National Gang Survey: Emerging Trends also highlights the dangers of diversity and how it can undermine morale and unit cohesion.

A fundamental question and one not dealt with by Ledwidge is the purpose for which the UK armed forces exist. If the primary aim of the UK armed forces is the defence of the UK and UK interests, then this will necessitate armed forces configured to wage highly mobile war. Why should we train British soldiers to engage and to kill the enemy then complain, as Ledwidge does, that units like the Parachute Regiment are not the best troops for certain missions where it is necessary to engage with civilians? The counterinsurgencies in which the British army has been involved since 1945 were related to colonial withdrawal (now over), and long-standing historical grievances in Northern Ireland, which have been addressed. The insurgencies in Malaya, Kenya, Aden and Northern Ireland were forced on the British government. That was not the case with the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan which were the direct result of going where we have no right to be. Defining vital British interests to mean an obligation to spread democracy, aiding the allegedly oppressed or preventing the spread of WMDs is an attempt to hide the fact that our motives are not honourable; that our real intentions are to impose the tyranny of democratic fundamentalism on remote indigenous populations so as to control them and if they resist we will kill them.

The specific causes that led to the disastrous deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan will be fought over for years to come. Losing Small Wars and other titles on these wars leave me in doubt that one of the primary causes of failure in Iraq and Afghanistan was dangerous wishful thinking that persuaded civilian and military planners that tribal societies in the Middle East really did want liberal democracy, human rights, education and the idiocies of feminism imposed upon them. Ledwidge makes a convincing case that senior British officers – colonels and above - colluded in these disasters by putting personal career considerations before their duty or because they lacked the moral courage to challenge politicians. Thus they refused to confront Blair’s dangerous fantasies about saving the planet with hard-headed questions. The problems now are all about reforms. Once the men have been brought back from Afghanistan we should avoid involvement in further military adventures unless there is a clear and vital British interest and one that can survive full and open scrutiny. Above all we must decide whether counterinsurgencies are suitable operations for a modern army – I suggest they are not – and if that view is upheld we must concentrate on the core tasks of defending the UK, vital overseas assets (Falklands & Gibraltar) and our trade routes. We can leave nation building and saving the Third World from itself to the Americans: they have the men and money; we do not. Senior officers and civil servants in the MOD cannot be trusted with these reforms. They are clearly part of the problem. So to whom does it fall to implement these reforms?

1 Losing Small Wars, p.31
2 Losing Small Wars, p.164
3 Losing Small Wars, pp.49-50
4 Losing Small Wars, p.162
5 Losing Small Wars, pp.237-238
6 Losing Small Wars, p.239
7 Losing Small Wars, p.101
8 Rodric Braithwaite, Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-1989, Profile, London, 2011, p.333
9 Losing Small Wars, p.101
10 Afgantsy, p.335
11 Afgantsy, p.335
12 Losing Small Wars, p.110
13 Losing Small Wars, p.111
14 Losing Small Wars, p.111
15 Losing Small Wars, p.111
16 Losing Small Wars, p.112 (emphasis in the original)
17 Losing Small Wars, p.114
18 Losing Small Wars, p.241
19 Losing Small Wars, p.241
20 Losing Small Wars, p.243
21 Losing Small Wars, p.243
22 Losing Small Wars, p.244


  1. I agree and disagree with some of what you have said;

    Were attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan necessary; yes in the context of that time.

    Iraq had been an ongoing problem for some years. Hussein had demonstrated that he posed a serious threat to the stability of this region by his attack on Kuwait and subsequent war with Iran. This region has been a vital producer of oil for which much of the West has been dependent. We are not privy to MI6 intel and without sight of their material and that of the CIA it is impossible to be certain of the exact details of Hussein's intentions. We do know he had developed chemical weapons.

    The attack by al Queda operatives in several locations posed a serious threat to Western interests and the security of Britain and the USA. The attack on Afghanistan was necessary.

    Your analysis should be on post war planning. The attacks should have been punitive attacks with an emphasis to the governments and people to that effect. Destruction of strategic assets and host infrastructure should have sent a message that the West would not tolerate this aggression and destabilisation of our strategic interests and sovereignty.

    The West is so eroded by Neo-liberal standards that they cannot resist the imposition of their standards on other regions.

    What is so strange about the whole issue is that they see the danger of Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan and the threat posed to the West and yet they allow the very same cult plan and execute the same attacks out of Britain. This make no sense. Britain itself is quickly becoming a centre of international Islamic terrorism and yet these same people turn a blind eye to this threat.

  2. Frank Ledwidge12 July 2012 at 12:33

    HI Sarah

    Thanks for this review, certainly the most comprehensive that has been done. I take your point about multiculturalism. If I gave the impression that muilticulturalism, which I agree is a damaging PC shibboleth, should be extended to our operations, then I should not have done. I take the matra of 'cultural awareness' with the essential pinch of salt it deserves. A six month course does not impart such a thing, if it indeed exists.

    Similarly, your critique of my approach to the US is well taken. The point I wanted to get across was that at the very least the US approached the Iraq problem at the very least with a realist eye to the political. The Petreaus strategy can at least be argued to have been a strategy as it appreciated war as a political act. The same cannot be said for McChrysytal or Petreaus in Afghanistan.

    My approach to the US forces was intended to use them as a foil to ours, rather than a peaen to theirs. They have a whole raft of problems only some of which you summarise.

    You are the first person, including many NI former servicemen to have picked up the wrong date of bloody Sunday. No excuses there.

    Anyway, much appreciated, intelligent and well-informed and argued review. Thanks again

    All the best

    Frank Ledwidge

  3. In USA,we know about Walt/Mearsheimer groundbraking book:"The Israel Lobby".
    What about this lobby in GB?