Monday, October 16, 2006

Ashdown rebukes army chief over Iraq

As Matthew Parris rightly pointed out on Saturday, the question is not whether one agrees with General Dannatt's views on the presence of British soldiers in Iraq or not - because a constitutional principle, one of profound significance, had clearly been violated.

While agreeing with everything Dannatt said, Parris suggested that he should be sacked for his comments - something, given the Prime Minister's weakness, that isn't going to happen.

Parris also justly lambasts the ridiculous behaviour of the opposition on this matter:
"The opposition parties' response has been pathetic. Sir Menzies Campbell, who ought to know better, seemed yesterday to be siding with the general. How would Sir Menzies have felt if the general had lambasted Liberal Democrat defence policy? I rather think that Sir Menzies would have taken issue not only with the criticisms themselves, but with the appropriateness of a Service chief's having entered the fray at all.

Sir Menzies, at least, may plead that the CGS was echoing Liberal Democrat concerns. Liam Fox, the Shadow Defence Secretary, can make no such claim. Except that, incredibly, he now seems to be doing so. Until yesterday we understood Tory policy on Iraq to be four-square with the Government's: 'Tough it out', 'Stay for the duration', 'As long as it takes' etc. But Dr Fox is now claiming he reached similar conclusions to the general's when he himself visited Iraq."
I don't know if it's better to assume that both Menzies and Fox are merely ignorant of the constitutional principle rather than being willing to compromise it opportunistically - but as Parris says, Menzies Campbell at least really should know better.

Perhaps a belated realisation of this has lead Menzies Campbell to back-track somewhat. That this seems to have been prompted by an intervention by his predecessor does not reflect well on him at all:
""[Dannatt] may be accurate in what he said, he may be cheered to the echo in the army, but he certainly shouldn't have said it," said Lord Ashdown, an ex-soldier. "It's a clear constitutional breach. It opens up a massive division between him and the government, who have been saying very, very different things."

Lord Ashdown told Sky News that military personnel who opposed British policies had a choice of doing so in private or resigning. He added: "I don't like the chief of general staff calling it 'my army' and 'my soldiers' ... in democracies armies belong to the government, to the people.""
Indeed. And that quite so many people have shown themselves to be either ignorant of, or indifferent to, the principle of civilian control of the military is telling - and rather depressing, really.

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