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Friday 9 October 2009

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier ... Politician

Why should anyone be surprised? Hardly had he stepped down as head of the Army, in which capacity he was persistently criticising the Government, than General Richard “Morny” Dannatt has joined Young Dave’s chaps as an advisor. Denials all round.

It’s an assumption that some make, and maybe make wrongly, that the Army top brass are closet Tories. But in this case, given the apparently indecent haste with which Dannatt has joined the Tory cause, the assumption looks to be spot on.

Will it make any difference to the conflict in Afghanistan? Probably not in any significant measure. As with Iraq, the USA is taking the lead in the number of troops they are putting “into theatre”. The UK’s role is to some extent merely fitting in to the overall plan.

Will Dannatt’s presence make our troops better equipped and otherwise resourced? That rather depends on whether all the stories of poor equipment are true, and whether the Tory idea of cutting the Ministry of Defence by 25% - but maintaining the troop levels – will work.

Cameron’s talk of increasing those levels, and then bringing the troops home (in yesterday’s speech to the party faithful) isn’t a good sign: there are centuries of evidence of what leaving the Afghans to their own devices means. Whether the Afghan Army is trained well, badly, or indifferently, they and their Government (whatever form it takes) will, after we have gone, choose its own direction.

That direction may not leave us best pleased. Dannatt’s tactics will not matter.

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