Wednesday, October 20, 2004

British troops and Fallujah

Having talked about the situation in Iraq for the last couple of posts, what about one of the leading stories in Britain in the last couple of days, the possible deployment of some British troops to just south of Baghdad ? Let's start at the beginning, at least where I first heard it.

Blair is 'using our troops to boost Bush', Sunday Telegraph.  They also had a more detailed and more balanced story : 'I need to ask you for a favour'. The first, however, was presumably the front page one.  Quite why the Telegraph saw fit to hand that out, complete with quotes from Alice Mahon, Peter Kilfoyle and Robin Cook, I don't know. It was picked up by the BBC's Broadcasting House, as usual one-sided, review of the Sunday papers, which also chose to highlight approvingly a story about Bush's behaviour proving the delayed effects of his former alcoholism. The Telegraph's leader later came out in favour of the deployment (Monday. The Times amd the Sun were also supportive, the rest of the media, in some cases viciously, opposed).

Sir Menzies Campbell : "Why is Bush making this request now? If Blair says 'yes' and Kerry is elected then the first meeting between Blair and Kerry could be very interesting." Think about that for a moment : it implies that Kerry cares more about his political advantage than about British troops helping Americans. Perhaps he does.

As for other countries seeking to influence the US election, this cuts both ways : one story that made the headlines briefly last week, at least in the FT, was Peter Struck, Germany's Defence Minister, saying they might deploy troops to Iraq, 'if circumstances changed', though the 'offer' was later withdrawn. Still on the issue of timing, a few weeks ago most of the speculation about Fallujah was that Bush would wait until after the (US) elections and then flatten the place.

So, we come to Monday and Geoff Hoon's statement to parliament. Another argument is advanced : why, when there are 130,000 US troops in the country, do 650 British need to be used ? The obvious point, as I argued in the previous posts, though Hoon (C4 Monday) and Straw (BBC Tuesday) did not use it for obvious reasons, is that the troops are needed further North, the US troops are overstretched.

On this thread on Harry's Place , Gerard , somewhat off-topic, asked, 'Could Harry take a break from Trot-bashing to condemn the bombing of Falluja? ... I'm sorry ..., people are being killed in Falluja as I write.' I might equally ask, are those who condemn the bombing of Falluja going to support this deployment, which might contribute to US and Iraqi forces being able to deal with the insurgents on the ground, rather than through allegedly indiscriminate bombing from the air ?

Wednesday, British military spokesman says US troops in Iraq are "fully deployed" (BBC).

Update (23 Oct) 'Sarah Baxter' 'democrat for Bush'  From last Sunday's papers, another front page. I thought it was from The Telegraph. In fact, it's from The Times, but what the hell.


Blogger lenin said...

Hi David P - thank you for the link, I have returned the favour.

On this topic, I just wanted to intrude one point. In my view, the deployment of troops in Iraq is a political matter, not merely a military technicality. You suggest that it might be less calamitous for Iraqis if the troops take Fallujah in a ground offensive rather than repeated air campaigns. If you know about ground operations, you will be aware that they not only require soldiers heavily armed and advancing into hostile areas under extreme pressure, but also tanks with shells to obliterate buildings and anyone who happens to be in them. Further, the deployment of ground troops is not incompatible with the use of airpower - rather they are often used in a complementary manner.

You say that air bombardment is 'allegedly indiscriminate'. I think that choice of words needs some interrogating. Do we not now have video evidence of precisely such a bombing? It clearly shows a bombing being quickly authorised, without detail being asked for (about the nature of the target etc) and executed - to the apparent delight of the pilot. I have to infer from the casual way in which this incident was carried out that it is probably a regular occurrence. Don't forget what a brutalising experience war can be, as well as just how easy it can be to carry out horrendous crimes from a distance. It certainly feels more hygeinic than a suicide bombing, but its consequences are no less grievous. In particular, remember how occupying armies can come to see the population itself as the enemy (correctly so, in this case, since the residents of Fallujah self-evidently do not wish to be 'liberated' again).

There are obvious problems of consistency for anyone who supported the war, wishes the occupation to somehow be a success and yet opposes this particular deployment of troops. However, since the occupation is a transparent disaster, I have to welcome moves that will limit the efficacy of 'coalition' operations there.

7:52 pm, October 21, 2004  
Blogger DavidP said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:41 pm, October 23, 2004  
Blogger DavidP said...

Of course political judgements are paramount. If you don't believe in the political objectives, then no military tactics seem justified. If you do believe in the political objectives, then a proportionate use of force is important.  

Use of air power alone offers only the prospect of continued bombing. The use of ground forces at least offers the chance of an end point - the control of the city by the Iraqi government and Iraqi police. Of course, air power will be used to support this. As for tanks blasting everything into rubble, I don't know, this isn't the Russians in Grozny. The use of infantry to take the city block by block, building by building, seems more likely. That was what was happening in April. Personally, I find The New York Times the most useful source of information, though I don't have time to follow every detail. They have reporters on the front-line, on the US side obviously. They are hardly pro-Bush, in fact I understand they came out strongly in favour of Kerry on Monday, but they are not as determinedly negative as much of the coverage in the UK. I also understand that the US tried to negotiate the surrender of the foreign fighters, but talks broke down.

To get back to the political objectives, even people like Tariq Ali and Naomi Klein agree that elections should be held. They just want the US/UK troops to be withdrawn first. In my view, that would only lead to more loss of life, as foreign islamists or ex-Ba'athists, either way the Arab Sunni minority sought to re-establish their former political dominance, at the expense of the Shi'a and the Kurds. That's my understanding of the situation, anyway.

On the links from 'lenin', I'm under 'new blog roll'. Bafflingly normblog is a 'sceptic', whereas Harry's Place, Hari etc are 'enemies'.

5:46 pm, October 23, 2004  
Blogger lenin said...

To explain the linking policy - You are in new blog roll because that is my way of bringing maximum attention to someone I've just linked to. I'll probably classify you as a sceptic.

Normblog is a sceptic along with the Virtual Stoa although they are both socialists because I think they share something with the conservative Paul Craddick (of Fragmentica Philosophica), which is a willingness to interrogate their own views, or at least to properly account for the appeal of others. Stoa complains that I'll have him listed as "The Virtual Epicurean" next - well, there's time.

As for HP Sauce and Hari, I must admit I like them both for reasons that have nothing to do with their views on Iraq etc. But the 'enemy' status is a tongue-in-cheek reference to their militantly anti-Trot views. If I really was to call anyone an 'enemy', it would be Oliver Kamm, because he's so mean and horrid. Truth is, though, if I met him I'd probably give him a big cuddle.

8:09 pm, October 23, 2004  

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