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Moderation is not the way forward

Posted by Richard Saturday, May 05, 2007 , ,

One of Lord Fisher's more famous dictums, we are reminded by a correspondent to The Daily Telegraph today, was that, "The essence of war is violence, and moderation in war is imbecility".

With not a few commentators, not least the BBC, having remarked how the vote in Scotland was influenced by public antipathy to the war in Iraq, the validity of that dictum could do with reinforcement. To that effect, no better example of why it is true comes from an incident reported by Hot Air yesterday and by The Times today.

This was the discovery by US troops of a girls' school under construction near Baghdad, rigged with explosives by insurgents, who had built artillery shells into the walls and ceilings. This was a deliberate plan, the US maintains, to cause as many innocent casualties as possible.

"We found artillery shells that were being literally built into the ceiling," said Major General William Caldwell, the senior US military spokesman in Iraq. "We found artillery shells, again all hooked up with wires, being built into the floors. We found propane tanks – two very large propane tanks – built into the floors under the stairwells."

Caldwell went on to say that, "It was truly just an incredibly ugly, dirty kind of vicious killing that would have gone on here by al-Qaeda … Somebody had clearly taken and planned to take this school, a place of learning for these young children and turn it into a death trap."

Yet these are the people that that fool General Sir Michael Rose believes are "justified", arguing that the US and its allies should "admit defeat" and leave Iraq before more soldiers are killed.

According to The Guardian, he told BBC's Newsnight programme: "It is the soldiers who have been telling me from the frontline that the war they have been fighting is a hopeless war, that they cannot possibly win it and the sooner we start talking politics and not military solutions, the sooner they will come home and their lives will be preserved."

This came in the same week that Geoff Hoon also added his voice to the debate, telling The Guardian that "a catalogue of errors over planning for Iraq after the invasion", and "an inability to influence key figures in the US administration," led to anarchy in Iraq from which the country has not recovered.

This is from a former British defence secretary who in late 2003 completely failed to recognise the extent and lethality of the emerging insurgency in southern Iraq and allowed General Sir Mike Jackson, then CGS, to embark on a series of half-hearted and plainly inadequate measures, while Hoon himself steered the bulk of the defence effort into equipping the Armed Forces to partake in the European Rapid Reaction Force fantasy.

Yet, so deeply has antipathy to the Iraq war become ingrained in the British psyche that a public figure only has to drop the phrase "illegal war", like a well-formed turd, into a discourse – as one does virtually every week on the BBC's Any Questions programme – to get a resounding cheer.

However, if we had politicians of integrity – almost, but not quite, a contradiction in terms – they would be pointing out that, whatever the mistakes made in Iraq, we are dealing with the embodiment of evil, which no amount of planning and foresight would have been able to predict.

What matters, therefore, is not the past but how we now equip ourselves to deal, in the here and now, with murderous thugs who think nothing of slaughtering schoolgirls to get their way, and our determination to ensure that they do not prevail.

It is here, particularly, that the limitations of Conservative strategy begin to be apparent. The populist Cameron, aware that our continued presence in Iraq is unpopular and forever associated with Tony Blair, has soft-soaped the Party's support for the war, He looks back at past mistakes, and never once offering any constructive views as to the way forward.

Much the same goes for the Conservative defence team. It has always puzzled us why Fox and his colleagues are never interested in ideas for the more effective prosecution of the war, especially as archetypal role of an opposition is to harry a government, forcing it to up its game, and thus take the credit for so doing.

The answer is, of course, that the Cameroons do not want to see success. As long as British forces seem bogged down in Iraq, that serves the Conservative cause, attesting to the bankruptcy of "Blair's legacy", from which they can draw political sustenance.

This raises the interesting question of how Gordon Brown, as inheritor of the Blair legacy, is going to handle the Iraqi war. If he disowns it, and seeks to expedite the withdrawal of British troops, he will, at least, shoot a Tory Fox. If, on the other hand, he engages fully and takes on the murderers, he will create a novel domestic political situation.

On the one hand, possibly, more Tory voters would support military intervention in Iraq - given a more clearly articulated justification, divorced from political labels - than Labour's. We could thus end up with a prime minister espousing a policy opposed by his own side, the Party members having more in common with the leader of the opposition, who will not have the full support of his own Party.

If that is too convoluted, it can certainly be said that Iraq is an issue which straddles the political divide, where the colour of the rosette gives no clue as to the view held.

This perhaps is an explanation for the topsy-turvy political environment we see today, one which almost defies analysis. Arguably, though, the conduct of the war in Iraq is a defining issue in British politics – as indeed it is in the United States – so it will be more than interesting to see how the issue develops.

What we need most, in this respect, is a man who sees, like Jackie Fisher, that moderation is not the way forward. We suspect that Cameron is not such a man.

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