At the end of the last Gulf War (Part one) we wrote “Wise after the event” in an attempt to look at what might happen after “shock and awe!” There was then a cautious optimism that, after the tragedy of the Kelly affair and the fiasco of WMD, the removal of Saddam Hussein might just produce benefits.
Our focus, as always, was to look at the effect on jobs and opportunities as, hopefully, the country settled down and the allies got on with the task of rebuilding the economy.
We saw possibilities for security (of course), infrastructure re-building, oil industry development, administration, finance and training. We anticipated three phases – clearing up, setting up, training and hand over. Sadly, in most cases - and in most areas - we are stuck years later trying to make an impression on the first phase.
It has been an uncomfortable feeling watching as just about everything that could go wrong has gone wrong in Iraq. The sadness of that country and our well-meaning efforts there is coupled with a growing sense of unease that the situation in Afghanistan is following the same historic course that drove the Russians out - and that, 150 years ago, saw a lone British survivor come over the passes after one of the worst disasters to overcome the British Army.
It is odd, too, to see how time changes perspectives as the “old guard” of Bush Senior is wheeled out to save America and its allies from themselves. Odd in the sense that what are now referred to as “a safe pair of hands” are largely the hands of the same bunch who were discredited at the time to the extent that the first President Bush was refused a second term by his countrymen who preferred the candidature of Bill Clinton.
I admit it was wonderful to hear the sublime “Henry K” bringing to the situation that superb clarity of thought that is as chilling in some aspects as it is staggering in its implications. “Is Iran a crusade or is it is a country?” is a brilliant way to begin a debate that surely ends with –“you do not sign peace treaties with your friends, you sign them with your enemies”.
The chilling thing – at least to my mind – about this superb, strategic view from the top of the mountain, is that it has very little to do with real people. In the words of Mr Spock: ‘It is reality Jim - but not as we know it”. I am talking about bringing in to the Iraq situation its neighbours – Syria and Iran.
It is certainly true that no settlement can be achieved in the region without recognising the realities on the ground. The borders are porous. I recall being in Kuwait City when an American colleague with Northrop said – “Hey, Matt if you look out you can see half of Iraq”. “Nonsense!!” I said, knowing we were 100 miles away from Iraq. Nonetheless, turning my head in the direction he was pointing, I saw a sandstorm about three miles across and a mile high bringing half of Iraq with it - and no natural barriers but distance in the way. For sand and wind substitute, arms and men and the same kinds of porous borders across the region.
IWhat really worries me about Dr. Kissinger’s view is that, whilst he is undoubtedly right - that doing the right thing is always, in the long run, the only thing that puts things right – the means and the interim can be devastating for a generation of the population.
Handing over to the North Vietnamese in 1970 was about the last practical resort open at the time. And there is no doubt that, eventually, real economics and the collapse of the Soviet Bloc improved the lot of the population as the old leaders died and the realities of the global economy took over. All those things may be true but, for many in South Vietnam, the effect was death - and for others much misery lasting many years.
It is probably true that Iraq will need to federate with more autonomy for Kurds, Sunni and Shia. (God knows what happens when Iranian backed Shia take control of an area that is just a couple of hundred miles from the oilfields of Kuwait and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - where much of the population in the east of an otherwise Sunni country is ... a Shia minority!)
But the talk is of declaring a ‘victory’ and pulling the troops back out of harms way into secure barracks “in country” whilst a partial partition – political or geographic – is effected. Whilst strategically that might be right I wonder if we ever learn? Partition and the drawing of maps is a nice tidy exercise in the office and on the maps - but as we saw in the Balkans and my wife’s family experienced in the Punjab - it is not nearly the same for the poor folk on the ground whose lives, assets, history and connections just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So a plea from me to those who make these decisions: Please, when you consider these options, can we for once keep in mind the fate of the people? If you want partition then do it in a way that avoids making things worse because, if you do not, every time a baby is killed or a family massacred, a home destroyed or a farm taken away, we add years to the length of the bitterness of the resultant disputes.
Without meaning to be offensive, some of the perceived differences between these peoples run so deep that, in the heat of the moment, if they run out of weapons they will grab a child by the ankles and beat their neighbours to death with the body. Whatever the solution and whatever the need to get Bush - and poor, well intentioned Tony Blair off the hook - let not the price be the horrible deaths of hundred of people whose only crime was to be of the ‘wrong’ religious sect - or in the wrong place at the wrong time!
Enough politics. theCafé is about employment and lifestyle - and one of the things I have been interested to note is how, in part at least, the British Armed Forces, whilst doing a great job, are beginning to react to employment conditions, pay and allowances, health and safety and resourcing just like any other large work force!
The internet and the mobile phone are making a nonsense of hundreds of years of history, so that the soldier who is about to put his life at risk knowing that someone has made a buggers muddle, or who is asked to go to war without the right kit - personal body armour, fire suppressant in the fuel tanks or the wrong kind of Land Rover - is just as likely to ring home or e-mail the Daily Mail rather than stiffen the sinew and bite the upper lip and say now’t as was traditionally the case; when the eve of battle was days or weeks away from those at home knowing what was happening to their loved ones – or even their husbands.
If faced with a morale-building visit from a senior politician this generation of professionals will stand to attention and they will show both respect and discipline - but they might well ask about pay and tax. Good for them! Not long ago I was appalled to observe how the wonderful Ghurkha’s were treated in terms of pay, pensions and accommodation but it was “just not done” to raise the issue.
It is clear that the internet is making it harder to manage the military - as it is making it harder to manage every aspect of society. The “truth will out” has new meaning and a new urgency. It may not always be a universal truth that starts something off, or starts a particular hare running, but getting stuff out there for others to comment for sure helps ensure debate. Healthy debate is usually the basis of an emergent truth and is the basis of what our lads are fighting to preserve or to establish where it was not previously allowed.
Now, its seems, that in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces' respect, training and discipline are intact - but that being so does not inhibit proper discussion about key issues of employment by and between soldiers. A model that can be adapted elsewhere perhaps?
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