Tag Archives: Troops

View on Legality of Iraq War: 2002

Sometimes you find something fascinating in your personal archives.  Given Tony Blair’s evidence today I searched my hard drive for anything I had written on Iraq and found this 2002 letter to my then MP:

16th August 2002,  To:  Colin Challen MP


Saddam Hussein is a butcher.  He is a madman.  He shows scant disregard for common humanity.  He has proved in attacking his own people in Halaja in 1988 that he is willing to use weapons of mass destruction.  He proved in his invasion of Kuwait he has no respect for the norms of international behaviour.  He has proved throughout his reign of internal repression he has no respect for international expectations on human rights.  On balance, Iraq and the world would far be better off without him.

I therefore have every sympathy with the Bush regime that the ‘ends’ of a regime change within Iraq is desirable.  My issue is with the ‘means’ of achieving that ‘ends’.

Since the end of the second world war international law has developed to allow the use of force in (broadly) only one of two circumstances: self-defence or with the support of the United Nations Security Council.  The world has been more secure for the development of these rules.  It was the international consensus on exactly these principles that originally gave such weight to the international effort to remove Saddam from Kuwait in 1991.

Before nations reached this understanding justification for resorting to state violence was broadly understood to lie with ‘Jus Bellum’ or ‘Just Cause’.  This dates pretty much to the Crusades.  The problem with this is that “Jus Bellum” has no arbitrator.  The victor will always declare a “Jus Bellum”.  Hitler certainly saw a “Jus Bellum” in taking on Poland for instance.   Yet it seems the US administration is hell bent on taking us backwards to this medieval concept.  They are convinced of the morality of their case and will push ahead regardless.

I reiterate that I agree that in isolation there is a strong moral case.  However, for the love of god, can they not think through the consequences of setting this precedent?  When the only remaining super-power abandons a ‘norm of international behaviour’ then that norm can no longer be considered to be part of the fabric of international law.

Once this genie is out the bottle, what if China sees a clear moral cause in stopping Taiwan?  What if India sees a just cause in taking out the Pakistan leadership?  Do we really have no joined-up thinking on this?

The Prime Minister has been a remarkable and brave ally to our American friends since that terrible day a year ago.  In observing his response throughout I was genuinely proud to be British.

Sometimes though, a friend needs guidance.  Sometimes, a friend needs restraint.  Sometimes speaking ones mind can be a greater show of true loyalty than blind obedience.  I pray all those who influence the Prime Minister will impress upon him the importance not to sleep walk into a war.  I pray that he will use the influence and trust he has with the US administration to put forward another way.  If the moral case for removing Saddam is so compelling then take it to the UN, get approval, and use all the might at our disposal to get the job done.  If the UN cannot be convinced then may I suggest that we take a step back.  The sum intelligence and consideration of all other nations is probably wiser than we give them credit in our western arrogance.  If there is not support for our ‘cast iron’ moral case then maybe the case isn’t as strong as it seems to us here and stateside still so angry about events last year to those who can remove emotion from their thinking.

The undoubted benefit and extra security brought by the US unilateral forced removal of Saddam to the globe, would in my opinion be dwarfed by the insecurity created by the abandonment of international law and a return to a ‘might is right’ nuclear era of international relations.”


On the one hand I am amused at myself for thinking that a letter to a backbench MP was a constructive use of my time.  On the other I find this pretty strong reading.  Between my writing this letter and the start of the actual War – Tony Blair somehow managed to convince me that we ‘had to do it’ – and somehow his ‘trust me Tony’ chutzpah had me as a supporter by the eve of the War.  I’ll watch proceedings today with great interest and try and figure out how he managed to do that.


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Filed under Iraq, UK, UK Politics

Troop Surge in Afghanistan: Reflections

The week’s big ‘War-on-Terror’ story was the announced surge of troops into Afghanistan.  Many on the left have expressed dismay at President Obama’s decision and Gordon Brown’s copy-cat intent to up the British presence. The typical anti-surge rhetoric is that more troops will result in more deaths among both allied forces and the local population, the increased violence will in turn feed more recruits to the Taliban/Al Qaeda making a bad situation worse and increasing the risk of a domestic attack.

Recent precedent shows it may not play out like that.  The flawed leap of logic by the protestors is that more troops must inevitably lead to more violence.  It is not inevitable.  More troops, when deployed correctly bring greater security by denying the insurgents the space to operate, reducing the number of easy targets and by convincing the local population that the insurgents can be beaten.  Get it right and violence decreases.   The challenge is ‘getting it right’. The surge cannot be just about a bigger number it has to go hand-in-hand with a clear plan of what to do with that number.

The obvious precedent for this is the 2007 General  Petraeus Iraqi troop surge.  All the same arguments against that deployment were cited.  We see now that the ‘Iraq surge’ was a success and a real catalyst to allied forces ability to eventually exit the country and the beginning of the decline in allied deaths.  If you don’t learn from history you are doomed to repeat it.  Hopefully then, many of the team from Patraeus era are now involved in Afghanistan applying the lessons there. One key lesson is that the extra troops must be visible.   Locals naturally hedge their bets and try not to piss off insurgents if they believe the insurgents may one day win.  This tacit support isn’t always due to any ideological alignment more often it is simply a survival strategy.  Create an environment where the insurgents look likely to be beaten and you will suddenly reach a tipping point of people feeling bold and helping government forces, this then accelerates the insurgent’s demise.

The real tragedy in only deciding on the surge now is the implicit wasted years we’ve endured. It should not have taken this long to understand the military commitment needed to win both the war and the ‘post-war’.  This was the lesson from Vietnam that America seems to have gone full circle by learning, forgetting and relearning.  Back in the late 80s, early 90s academic strategists used to talk of something called the ‘Powell Doctrine’ named after the then Chairman of the Joint-Chiefs Colin Powell.  I am grossly over-simplifying but the gist of the ‘Powell Doctrine’ was that if you want to put US troops in harms way then you only ever do so with totally overwhelming force.  Find out what your Pentagon strategists say you need to win the war and ‘post-war’ – then literally double that number.  If you don’t get the big number – don’t go.  This leaves no likelihood of anything other than a swift, decisive victory.  The downside is that using these maths mean you have to commit the size of force you once expected to put out against the Soviets against even a medium size Middle-Eastern nation. Obviously this brings horrendous cost.   The doctrine was put to good use and proven in the interventions in Panama and the Iraq/Kuwait situation.  However, the huge cost implications meant that many felt it didn’t afford America ‘agility’, and by its nature meant you always ended up with a sledge hammer to crack any nut. The sad irony was that the Powell Doctrine vanished whilst Powell himself was in the most influential role of his career.  The doctrine was effectively lost in the post-911 Rumsfeld Pentagon.  Rumsfeld’s obsession with doing more with less did not serve his country well.  It’s a false economy to try and save a penny if in the long run it costs you pounds.  And never mind the pounds if it has cost you lives.

We owe it to the people in the field that they have the right number of troops and equipment to ‘do the job’ and this week’s announcement help with that.  The next step (or arguably the step that should have come first) is a public broadside on exactly what ‘the job’ is and what success will look like – but I’ll save my rant on that for another day……….


Filed under Afghanistan, Politics