Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Two soldiers lightly hurt

As Robert Gates (pictured) delivers his verdict on the Iraqi war and the Iraqi Study Group reports to president Bush, the amount of material stacked up in my virtual "in-tray" related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is getting excessive.

In order to pull it together, I am attempting to write a cover-all post here, in order to explain why we are losing (if we are) - the fashionable topic of the moment even amongst cuddly Tories.

But do not run away with the idea that this is an exercise of offloading surplus material all in one posting. Friends of this blog will know the keen interest we take in defence, and the material has been saved for a purpose. Now is the time to use it.

Even amongst those who will trouble to read it though - and many will not because it appears to be about "toys" - not all will fully understand the fascination with the subject.

Here, it is not as my co-editor would assert (but only in jest) that it simply reflects an obsession with "toys". What is really fascinating about them, for a political analyst, is that military equipment is the ultimate in functional tools. Their procurement is nine parts a political process and, therefore, in their design and construction (as well as their deployment) "toys" are a window into the soul of those - usually the politicians - who control them.

By contrast, with a great deal of social legislation, it can be many years before one can see the effects of actions taken by politicians, and the effects are often diffuse and difficult to interpret. With defence, though, there is a clean, direct cause-and-effect relationship between a decision to buy (or deploy) specific equipment (ot not to buy, as the case may be), and the end result. Thus, as a "tool" to measure the effectiveness of a government (and opposition), military equipment has few parallels. Amongst other things, we can see how much the kit was intended to cost, how much it did cost and, crucially, whether it is performing as intended.

Most often, we are also talking about huge amounts of money. The adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq have already cost us, the British taxpayer, £7.4 billion and today, in his pre-budget report, Gordon Brown has allocated another £600 million to a special reserve to pay for these conflicts. A very significant amount of that money goes on equipment, and it is increasingly clear that the money is being very badly spent.

In the main post, we continue our exploration of this issue, but what begins to emerge is a question not previously addressed. If so many of the pundits are so sure we are losing (or not winning) that question is not so much why we are losing, as why we seem to want to lose?

This in part explains the unlikely title, the reason for which comes clear in the main post. In order to win, I wrote in an earlier post, we must first stop losing. And the first thing in this context we must do is ensure that our own casualties are minimised. But what we seem to be doing is going out prosecuting these wars in a way which will ensure unnecessary deaths and, in the end, guarantee failure. Can this really be incompetence?

For the moment, though, this is work in progress. I have nevertheless published the incomplete work with a comment thread - and invite comments, references to further material and anything else relevant. This, for me, is always a healthy process as I am able to feed comment back into the work as it develops.

Anyone else, who might be offended or disturbed that this blog should be used to write about such nasty things, can always move on to the far more important subject of David Cameron's triumphs as Conservative leader.

The post, as it is emerging, can be read HERE.


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