Archive for the ‘British Army’ Category

Thinking about the political castration of Ken Clarke and the fact that not even the Treasury in its most R.G. Hawtrey-esque mood seems to be able to stop the expansion of the prison industry, it struck me that the political class’s attitude towards the public service known as justice is fundamentally different to its attitude to all the others, including defence and policing.

Since the mid-1980s and the rise of the New Public Management – possibly an even more pernicious intellectual phenomenon than New Classical economics – it’s been a universal establishment consensus, shared by all parties, that any public service can be improved by giving bits of it a pseudo-budget to spend in a pseudo-market. Playing at shops is the defining pattern language of post-80s public administration. (This chap wrote at the time that the whole thing was remarkably like the 1960s Kosygin reforms in the Soviet Union, and perhaps we can induce him to post it up on his blog!)

For example, the 1990s Tory government wanted “fundholder” GPs to buy hospital services in an NHS internal market. Now they want to do something similar again, but more, faster, and worse. All sorts of local government services were put through a similar process. Central government agencies were ordered to bill each other for services vital to their operations. The Ministry of Defence was ordered to pay the Treasury 6% a year of the value of all its capital assets, such as the Army’s tank park, reserve stocks of ammunition, uniforms, etc. As a result, the MOD sold as many vehicles as possible and had to buy them back expensively through Urgent Operational Requirements when they had to fight a war. Supposedly, some vehicles were sold off after Kosovo, re-bought for Afghanistan in 2001, sold again, re-bought for Iraq in 2003, sold again, and UORd in a panic in 2006.

(Off topic, if you’re either a reporter hunting a story or a dealer in secondhand military vehicles, watch closely what happens to the fleet acquired under UORs for Afghanistan in the next few months.)

But there is one public service where the internal market is unknown. I refer, of course, to criminal justice. For some reason, it is considered to be normal to let magistrates and judges dispense incarceration, one of the most expensive products of the state, as if it were as free as air. The Ministry of Justice is simply asked to predict-and-provide sufficient prisons, like the Department for Transport used to do with motorways. Like motorways, somehow, however hard the bulldozers and cranes are driven, it never seems to be enough, and the prison system operates in a state of permanent overcrowding. Interestingly, the overcrowding seems to prevent the rehabilitative services from working, thus contributing to the re-offending rate, and ensuring both the expansion of the prison industry and the maintenance of permanent overcrowding.

The new public managers bitch endlessly about “producer interests” – they mean minimum-wage hospital cleaners, but somehow never GPs – but you never hear a peep about our bloated and wasteful criminal justice system. In fact, now that we have private jails, this producer interest is vastly more powerful as it has access to the corporate lobbying system and a profit motive.

Clearly, the problem here is that the gatekeepers to the system – the courts – have no incentive to use taxpayers’ money wisely, as they face neither a budget constraint nor competition. There is a rhyme with the fact that a British Army company commander in Afghanistan has a budget for reconstruction of $4,000 a month, which he must account for meticulously to the Civil Secretariat to the Helmand Task Force, but in each section of ten riflemen under his command, at least one of them can spend $100,000 on destruction at any moment, by firing off a Javelin anti-tank missile, every time he goes outside the wire. As once the thing is fired, he no longer needs to tote the fucker any further, you can see that a lot more is spent on Javelin rounds than reconstruction, and indeed the task force was getting through 254 of them a month at one point.

But it’s not a precise match. The military do, indeed, have to worry about their resources, as do the police. Only the courts can dispense public money without limit.

What if we were to give every magistrates’ court a Single Offender Management Budget, out of which it could buy imprisonment, probation, community service, electronic tagging, etc in an internal market? This would make it obvious to the magistrate how much cheaper non-custodial interventions are than jail. It would force them to resist the temptation to jail everybody out of risk-aversion or political pressure. If a court was to start off the year handing down 16-month sentences for stealing a packet of fags, and end up in queer street by Christmas, well, that will teach them to waste taxpayers’ money.

In fact, we could go further. Foundation courts would be able to borrow, if necessary, to tide themselves over to the end of the year, although of course they would have to make efficiency gains next year to repay it. It would be possible for a foundation court to go bankrupt and close. This, of course, will drive up standards. Perhaps we could even introduce an element of choice, letting defendants choose which jurisdiction they are prosecuted in.

I am, of course, joking. But not entirely.

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Pakistan Policy Blog speaks sense:

Zardari’s attempt to present himself as a savior belies the reality and the way most in Pakistan and even the United States see him. Billionaire Zardari is part of Pakistan’s feuding oligarchy, not a revolutionary against it.

The sad fact is that most Pakistanis have been hostage to this sadistic version of Bill Murray’s Groundhog’s Day for 60 years. There will be no messiahs in Pakistan. Pakistanis need the rule of law — neither Baitullah Mehsud’s law, nor Farooq Naik’s law — and a system with real checks, balances, and accountability to free them from their malaise.

Read the whole thing; I mean the whole blog, if you’ve got time. I suppose it couldn’t last; the position since the formation of the PPP-PML(N) government was just too good. The government had genuine public support, civil society had given The Tyrant a beating, both the Punjabis and Sindhis were represented, and no bugger voted for the Taliban tribute bands.

Now it’s back to normal service; a weak, unpopular, corrupt civilian president without support from half the country. I confidently predict there’ll be a coup in three or so years. What is genuinely depressing is the role of Zalmay Khalilzad – whether officially or pseudo-unofficially – in egging Mr 10 Per Cent on. The Americans seem to think that Pakistan is a 1970s rightwing military dictatorship, by nature. Says Mr. Douglas State:

Sweating with indignation, as of course they have every right to be, the great majority of the public would go communist tomorrow – and then, what? So, you see, we have to support General Caudillo. I agree he’s unattractive, but, you can’t do everything…

But they won’t – even the NWFP recorded about 15% of votes for the various Taliban tribute bands. They don’t trust the Americans. So what? I don’t. After all, they got new F-16s from the US, to replace the ones they didn’t get the parts for the time before that; they got a couple of spanking new GSM networks from dealing with Norwegian and UAE interests, respectively.

They need exactly the opposite of this kind of government, and this kind of ethic. It’s especially painful that, despite all the “freedom agenda” bollocks, the people who defied the tyrant precisely to defend the rule of law are being sold out. We’re on the wrong side of history, again.

This, meanwhile, is purely irresponsible, unless the game is to bring about a new military government. The upshot is that the Pakistanis turn off the MSR via Karachi; now, their interests and the other side are aligned.

Via Kings of War, an Anglo-Australian spat of sorts.

The British Army has the reputation of being good at counterinsurgency, and in 2003 and 2004 there was lots of fairly snide criticism of the United States by British commanders saying that Americans didn’t understand counterinsurgency [and] were taking too kinetic an approach,” said Kilcullen, who described the British attitude as, “‘Look at us, we’re on the street in our soft caps and everyone loves us.’”

Marston, who was until recently a senior lecturer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst — the British Army’s rough equivalent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. — said that “as an American working in the British system for the last five years” in 2003, he watched the British “act as if they were the best in [counterinsurgency] in the world.” But the British performance on Iraqi and Afghan battlefields since then has not backed up such strident talk, according to Kilcullen and Marston. “It would be fair to say that in 2006 the British Army was defeated in the field in southern Iraq,” Kilcullen said, adding that there were numerous “incidents” in Afghanistan that further undercut the British claims of superiority in counterinsurgency.

“They’ve been embarrassed by their performance in southern Iraq,” Marston said. Meanwhile, the Taliban “almost destroyed” the British Army’s 16th Air Assault Brigade in Afghanistan. In some places, he said, “they just held on.”

The first thing I’d say would be to check out “Ajay” (you really need to get your own blog, mate) in the comments. As he points out, they didn’t “almost destroy” 16AAB or anything close to it. He also points out that the whole discourse of “failure” in southern Iraq is based on the belief that something different occurred in north-central Iraq.

After all, even accepting the American claims of success (well, the ones that aren’t completely deranged), Baghdad is still a war zone, disagreeable, infrastructure-challenged, dangerous, criminalised, ruled in name by a wildly corrupt sectarian government swinging between US and Iranian influence and in fact by whoever has the upper hand in any given street. Kirkuk and Baqubah are much the same but worse. And the improvement, such as it is, has been achieved by paying off both sets of enemies. Basra after the British move out to the airport is – corrupt, criminal, afflicted by tribal/sectarian violence, and governed by a chaotic sectarian authority. (Also, it never got as bad as Baghdad in the first place.)

But the meta-discourse of the Iraq war works like this: “fighting on” is a sufficient substitute for winning. Anyone who leaves must have been defeated, if they are not actually traitors. Therefore, the same endstate is defeat in Basra but victory in Baghdad. Who, after all, could swear to distinguish these guys – ex-NOIA now on our payroll – from ex-Sadrist or Fadhila men operating as Basra police so long as we (through the agency of the Iraqi government) pay them?

Another point here is precisely what tactics Kilcullen thinks the British Army should have adopted in Afghanistan in 2006. After all, his Iraq policy was to deploy lots of small units into permanent positions all over Iraqi cities, matched with units of Iraqi police and ex-insurgent countergangs, thus in order to gain intelligence, deliver economic relief, and exclude the insurgents from contact with the people, spreading out from reasonably secure areas in a classical counterinsurgency. When 16AAB went to Helmand, they sent individual infantry platoons out to as many villages as possible, there to set up an Afghan government presence, deliver economic relief, and exclude the Taliban. Can anyone see the similarities? No-one was willing to use the C-word at the time, but it’s pretty clear what was intended.

The point is well made over at Abu Muqawama; doing this implies being fairly confident that your outposts will be able to look after themselves against any force the enemy is likely to bring up. Among other things, the US Army in and around Baghdad was operating in a large city, so the gaps between units weren’t too big; this just isn’t the case in Afghanistan. The result was that the Taliban counter-attacked powerfully, trying hard to destroy the outposts and forcing the British Army to fight hard to hold on to them. The counterinsurgency policy broke down because the counterinsurgents were busy resisting insurgent assaults on their camps, and the fighting tended to kill, displace, and enrage the people who lived around the “platoon houses”.

Similarly, “Joint Security Stations” implanted in Musa Qala and Sangin would have been constantly under attack, and constantly firing back, producing the same scene of an empty bazaar shredded by gunfire. Which is precisely the result the Taliban were after. Further, it seems that the local force element is excluded by high-level political considerations.

There hasn’t been much progress on my long-term beef with Martin Kettle for a while. But it’s worth remembering that if the Guardian has a major leading article that isn’t a business/economics story, it’s probably him. And Saturday’s second lead (behind a rather competent finance story) bears the Kettle hallmarks.

Forty years ago the Royal Navy came up with a wheeze to persuade the government to buy a new fleet of aircraft carriers – it claimed that they were actually “through deck cruisers”. There was no need for pretence this week when the £3.9bn order for two superships was signed in Govan. The vessels, to be named after the Queen and her son (another naval wheeze – would any government dare axe Her Majesty?), should come into service from 2014 as the oceanic embodiment of British power.

Well, he could have mentioned that the “new fleet of aircraft carriers” weren’t designed as aircraft carriers, either; the Invincible class originally only carried 5 fighters, intended to chase off Soviet Bear reconnaissance planes rather than to provide serious air defence, and their main mission was as a base for anti-submarine helicopters. The Invincibles’ role as light fleet carriers was originally a desperate hack for the Falklands, which the Navy realised could be built upon.

(And if you want a good story about the CVA-01 decision, why not mention the fact the RAF promised they could provide air cover to British forces anywhere on earth, producing a map to support this on which Australia was about 300 miles north-west of where conventional wisdom would suggest?)

The government is proud, the navy thrilled and the army jealous. The problem is that no one seems to know exactly what the ships are intended to do or how they will be paid for.

Wrong; they will provide fleet air defence, the same for British or allied landing forces, close air support for troops ashore, and a significant air strike capability, with secondary ASW, command and control and logistic roles. They are budgeted for in the defence equipment programme. That is a cheap criticism, though. If Kettle means that we won’t ever need the use of an aircraft carrier, or that they are morally appalling in all cases, why doesn’t he say so?

Nor is it clear what sort of plane, if any, will fly from their decks: the Joint Strike Aircraft, which they are designed to carry, will not be ready in time (and will cost a further £12bn), even if the United States goes ahead with the necessary vertical takeoff version, which is not certain. In the meantime the navy will have to make do with its ageing Harriers.

It’s perfectly clear. Harrier until the F-35 ISD in 2014, thereafter F-35. You’ve just said so yourself. Further, note that Kettle is complaining that the Fleet Air Arm’s Harriers are “ageing” and also complaining about replacing them, within the space of two sentences. Is he even aware, I wonder, that there are Harriers in the RAF as well? And that they are no newer? The argument that the cost of replacing Harrier is all the fault of the Navy is dishonest; the Harriers will wear out, whether they are flying from Illustrious and Ark Royal, the future Queen Elizabeths, or land bases.

And if you’re worried about the Army (they are “jealous”, remember), you should be aware that the Harrier force’s central mission is to support the infantry. The aircraft itself was designed back in 1969 as a specialised close support aircraft, a sturmovik as the Russians would say, one that would be small, manoeuvrable, with a lot of space for weapons, and no requirement for airfields at all. This was why the US Marines, probably the most CAS-minded air force in the world, bought them. Letting the Harrier force go isn’t an option – because we already cut half the RAF’s CAS aircraft two years ago when the Jaguars were decommissioned, and the press didn’t really notice.

For a government facing a tricky byelection in Glasgow, led by a prime minister from Fife, it is easy to understand the attractions of ships built partly in Govan and Rosyth. Last year’s Commons statement giving the go-ahead was greeted by MPs cheering news of work going to their constituencies. What was lacking – and has been since the 1998 strategic defence review set out plans for the vessels – was a discussion of why the ships are needed, or how they can be afforded

And you’re not going to get one here. Viz:

No one doubts the importance of carrier fleets in certain circumstances – Britain could not have fought the Falklands war without Hermes and Invincible. Floating off some future conflict zone or humanitarian disaster, the new ships will prove valuable. But so might many other forms of military resource, some of which will be sacrificed to pay for these aircraft carriers. The army lacks secure patrol vehicles and helicopters, but the Future Lynx helicopter programme looks likely to be scrapped in order to bail out a defence budget that is already overspent and must now fund naval gigantism.

Many other forms, eh. Fortunately the Matra-BAE Dynamics Ideological Handwave appears to be cheap and available off the shelf. The FLYNX project ought to be scrapped anyway, because it’s a procurement zombie – it’s been going on for ten years, not a single helicopter has been procured, but no less than three different sets of capability requirements have been written, at astonishing cost, and the current solution is to buy another lot of the same helicopters, which don’t actually cover the LIFT element of the requirement (which is the bit about racing to the succour of the wounded in Afghanistan, Minister), and are rather large and expensive for the FIND element, which is about sneaking about spying, and could better be done by robots, more smaller and cheaper helicopters, or by ones big enough to cover the LIFT requirement with the spooky gear bolted on.

Regarding the “secure patrol vehicle” thing, here’s Armchair Generalist. Sure, everyone would like to see more of them. But they are relatively cheap, and in fact the government keeps buying more of them. Which is a pity, because they are completely useless for anything other than Iraq and some missions in Afghanistan (the ones where you don’t need either heavy metal, or mobility). But politicians love them because they show We Care. As far as Army procurement goes, the generals are more concerned about the FRES project, which is costed at £14bn and has already spent hundreds of millions of pounds without building a single vehicle. Many people think it is actually physically impossible.

Further, the Invincible class lasted 30 years; HMS Fearless was laid down in 1964 and managed to launch Chinooks full of SBS men into Afghanistan in 2001. Will we be in Iraq or Afghanistan in 4 years, let alone 14 or 40?

So we didn’t get a serious discussion of why the ships are needed, did we? Oh well, space constraints. What about the solution?

This does not mean Britain should not have access to carriers; only that it cannot afford to build and support two new ships, three times the size of its current ones, without doing harm to other capabilities. The answer would have been to share the cost of construction and operation with France, which has just pulled back from expanding its own carrier fleet. Talk of this last month led to silly tabloid headlines about an EU navy. But a shared fleet and a capable military to back it up would do much more for global security than two big British ships and a cash-strapped army – even if it meant that the red ensign had to fly alongside the tricolour.

What does “access” to carriers mean? I hate this “access to” meme – it’s a long standing government way of saying “something other than what you need”. Rather than poverty, unemployment, or a terrible diet, your problem is that you “struggle to access finance, employment, and fresh foods”. I fully expect to hear a government minister explain how they “are taking forward an initiative to improve our counter-terrorist capability’s access to ammunition”.

More seriously, how can we possibly “share the cost of construction and operation” with France when France has just “pulled back from expanding its own carrier fleet”? The French government wants to make some quite impressive cuts in its defence budget, and has decided to put off building a ship, so why would they give us money to work on ours? This “answer” is actually self-refuting.

In fact, the French are likely to get assurances of some sort of the use of the British ships for training when the Charles de Gaulle is in dock, and perhaps also of support if something comes up. Presumably they will offer something in return. This is roughly what Kettle is suggesting, but reversed; but it’s impossible for both Britain and France to do this, just as two people with no money cannot help each other out by lending to each other.

And on top of this, we finish with what sounds like a call to revive the European Defence Community of 1954, which is…different. After all, the Guardian’s policy is not actually to support the creation of a single European state, the last I heard. Nobody actually wants this, and there is no evidence the French do. How it would work, who would command it, who would task it…all this is handwaved away.

Worse, this is a common fault of much discussion of British defence policy. On the Right, the assumption is usually that we don’t need a policy because the Americans will provide. On the Left, it’s usually that we don’t because the Europeans will pay, as if there was a great pool of available funding or forces over there. It makes as much sense as assuming that “the Boche will pay” did in 1919.

Here, it’s driven by Kettle’s addiction to Neither-Nor Criticism. He wants to appear decently anti-militaristic and concerned – this is the Manchester Guardian, after all – but he also doesn’t want to accept the policy consequences of this. After all, he’s a sodding Decent! How can you be a fan of humanitarian intervention and the war in Iraq, but also be opposed to having a blue-water navy? If you don’t think we need a navy, or you think that we don’t need armed forces at all, go ahead and make a case. If you think we do, then please suggest a shape of the forces and a foreign policy that would reliably not need the carriers. But he refuses to go anywhere near either. So, what we get is a sort of tepid soup of unexamined assumptions, with the extra feature that he seems to be desperately underbriefed on the issue.

Alternatively, the reason why he dislikes the carrier project is that it might confer too much independence of the United States. Now, this would indeed be consistently Decent. Some sort of half-baked “access to carriers” would be far more likely to prevent independent British – or European – action, and far more likely to compel a future prime minister to march because some ally wanted it. George Orwell attacked the “shabby kind of pacifism common to countries with strong navies”, in a passage much quoted by the Decents. But how much worse is a shabby kind of militarism that doesn’t want to pay for the Navy?

I am currently reading Antonio Giustozzi’s Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop – The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan. I’ll review it more fully when I’ve finished reading it – now there’s an idea – but here’s something that stands out for reasons of pure partisan rage. John Reid has been mocked plenty for saying that he thought the 16th Air Assault Brigade would complete its mission in Afghanistan without firing a shot (of course, he didn’t – he said he hoped it would), but I hadn’t fully appreciated the utter blundering stupidity with which he approached starting a war on two fronts.

Like practically everyone, I’d always assumed the eruption of violence starting in June, 2006 was associated with the deployment itself – that the Americans had believed that this ungoverned space was essentially neutral, until the Paras actually located in the middle of it and found it was teeming with the enemy. Giustozzi provides a mass of evidence that in fact, the tempo of Taliban operations had gone off the charts in January, 2006, with a huge surge in attacks on international and Afghan government forces, a wave of school-burning, and an increase in platoon and larger raids on defended targets rather than IEDs, rockets, and bomb outrages. He argues, with considerable strength, that this should be understood as an attempt to launch the third stage of a Maoist revolutionary war, the general offensive that starts a widespread uprising and eventually overwhelms the state.

Put it another way, Reid sent the army straight into the teeth of the Taliban’s Big Push, with an official concept of operations that didn’t mention counter-insurgency or even combat. I think his current obscurity is well earned. In Giustozzi’s terms, interestingly enough, the strategy General Richards adopted was actually not as crazy as it sounded. He argues that the bulk (40-50%) of Taliban forces come from local communities who are in an alliance of convenience with the movement, having been angered by unfavourable turns in tribal politics, the diminishing strength and authority of tribes in general, the behaviour of government forces, an unfulfilled desire for minimal state functions like local policing and arbitration, or some combination of these.

In this view, the spread of government influence into the villages was precisely the worst thing that could happen to the movement; the local elders who treated with the Taliban one day might treat with the government the next. Hence the aggression and tenacity of the assaults on British camps in Sangin and elsewhere – it was necessary to demonstrate that the movement was determined not to be edged out. As Tony Blair might have put it, they decided to pay the blood price in the hope of wearing out the British, provoking intense fighting among the civil population, and preventing the British from installing a rival authority. Giustozzi also suggests the ultimate leadership was being pressed by its Gulf-based moneymen and Pakistani allies to do something dramatic – a feeling yer man well knew.

A contrarian argument might have been that had the Taliban not been fighting so hard besieging Para platoons in their stronghold of northern Helmand, who knows what their general offensive might have achieved with more men and material concentrated on its target of Kandahar? But this is probably silly. It doesn’t take account of the benefit to the movement of having many, many villages chewed up by the fighting, or the unavailability of troops tied down in defending their perimeters, or the fact that while the soldiers were engaged in a succession of vicious mini-sieges out in the north, they were neither conducting anything that could be described as counter-insurgency or reconstruction there, nor were they doing any closer to home where it might have been possible to make a start.

Said Sir Michael Rose, speaking at the SAS passing-out parade in 1979: One intelligent soldier can achieve more than a fleet of B-52s. There’s some debate as to whether that statement could be applied to Rose himself, but I doubt many would disagree with it.

David Davis apparently agrees. His resignation from Parliament should be understood as an exercise in the struggle for strategic influence, specifically directed at the growing decent/neocon faction in the Conservative Party. I have been a little surprised, and pleased, by how well the Tories have held up on the Counter-Terrorism Bill, ID cards, and related issues; I would have thought the Murdoch influence would be telling by now. And, indeed, there are signs of change within – Boris Johnston’s win seems to have hugely strengthened the Policy Exchange/Michael Gove current, while Cameron’s annoying press chief Steve Hilton has run off to California. His BlackBerry is unlikely to be enough to compensate for the distance, which must strengthen Andy Coulson’s role as Rupert Murdoch’s ambassador to the Tories.

But now: cazart! Davies’ replacement, Dominic Grieve is even talking about repealing the 28 day provisions. Stick that up your punter – I think not. There’s not going to be any cave-in now. It’s part of the Westminster traditional language that, to be considered principled, an act must also be ineffective or poorly executed, which is one of the reasons so many people have been at pains to accuse Davis of Machiavellianism or frivolity. People who want something that isn’t evil or dishonourable don’t get to pull off brilliantly outrageous triple-crosses, do they? Yes, of course it’s Machiavellian scheming – this is politics after all, and that’s how things get done, and the people who complain are usually the ones who were outschemed.

If you needed evidence that the Davis coup is significant, you need look no further than the emergence of an actual Murdoch candidate running against him. Yes, Kelvin McFuck is back, looking to add another name to his litany of post-Sun failures. He is one of very few men to actually fail to make money by underestimating the public’s taste – it’s not like News Bunny ever made a penny… But, this time, he is clutching a promise of actual financial support from News International, plus close air support from the paper itself. Inevitably, the media establishment is busy writing him off as a joke candidate, which makes as much sense as writing Davis off and is being done for precisely the same reasons.

Whether McFuck realises it or not, in a very serious sense Davis was running against the Sun Party from the word go. What does the Sun actually stand for, politically? Well, now we know – we can read it off McFuck’s public statements.

He also told the BBC he would be campaigning on three issues – hostility to the “sense that our country is somehow in the grip of some kind of security vice”, demanding that there be “the referendum for Europe”, and on more populist issues – like seeking changes to government spending on “things I don’t think we care about”.

In a BBC Radio 5 interview, he was slightly more specific about point three, saying that he wanted to ban BT from using “automatic voice responders and call centres”. You have to wonder whether a man who had just come from a late-night dinner with antisocial binge drinker Rebekah Wade was entirely sober, but there is a clear pattern here – he, and it, stand for authoritarianism, the Special Relationship in the worst sense, and fake populist gut-chafing (this latter, of course, is essentially content-free).

Putting it another way, McFuck’s candidacy is an exercise in the promotion of power-worship. It’s Schmittian conservatism; the permanent crisis requires an Ausnahmezustand, which demands a strong leader who may incidentally beat up the odd call centre to demonstrate their compassion for the weak, who are very much intended to stay that way. Note that McFuck’s not interested in the people who work in the call centre. Only a numskull like Geoff Hoon could think the Government ought to field a candidate – it should be clear enough to everyone else that the Government, in many ways, already is.

In this light, it’s clear why Davis is standing and why he deserves your support – it’s only contradictory that he believes in both the death penalty and habeus corpus in terms of generalised progressivism or liberalism, which he doesn’t believe in (or he wouldn’t be a Tory). In terms of classical conservatism, it makes perfect sense to think that the State should have the power to cut your head off, and that its power must be constrained by law as much as humanly possible. (After all, if the State *wants* to kill someone, it’s likely to find a way unless someone stops it.)

And, going by the polling data, this is likely to be your chance to help pour the proverbial vast bucket of shit back over McFuck’s head. Imagine the scene at the Murdoch summer party – McFuck, red-faced, holding forth, James Murdoch explaining to Rupert, ticking quietly on his death-support system, that there’s this thing called the Internet and it’s like TV that you read, Wade drooling slightly over Wendi Deng’s shoulder but still reasonably coherent, the plates of roast baby stewed in the juice of freshly squeezed minority shareholders well dug into but not quite down to the toying level yet. All seems well with the world…and then, the disruption. Forced to show their hand.

This is also to say that Dan Hardie was right. He’s been a Davis fan for some time; I was doubtful, especially after he reacted to the police crime figures going down by suddenly deciding the BCS was right all along. But when the time came…

There’s a PledgeBank here; and what’s this? Bob Marshall-Andrews and Colonel Tim Collins? And Kings of War. And Peter McGrath. It’s like going back to the 2005 general election, maaannnn.

Says Bryan O’Sullivan in his bookmarks:

Kevin Myers, the ne plus ultra of ballbag Anglo-Irish reactionary hacks, surprises us all by writing what might be an essential close-up of the Troubles. Maybe his lunatic, protean nature was a perfect fit for the time.

This was the upshot of this post. I promised, I think, to review Myers’ book once I got it, and here goes. Well, for a start, O’Sullivan isn’t wrong – the young Kevin Myers this book portrays is no reactionary, but he is certainly a ballbag, a hack, and occasionally a near-lunatic. It’s good to read a journalist memoir which isn’t wildly self-glorifying, and a major theme of Watching the Door which runs in parallel, in politics and in life, is shame. Myers admits that his younger self, the RTE journo in Belfast, was at worst little better than a war tourist getting off on the bang-bang, the gangster glam of the paramilitary underworld, and the sexual opportunities the war provided. Not just that – but he admits that he happily let actual journalism slide, in favour of attending to his own self-obsession.

On the other hand, though, what are the accepted moral standards in a society like early-70s Belfast? The city Myers describes is one where several of the forces that keep civilisation going have failed – shame is one, and another is scepticism. People are willing to do appalling things, and also to believe anything, so long as it’s about themmuns. Killers shoot a teenage boy and then give his younger brother, abducted with him, tenpence for the bus fare. This kind of perverted kindness recurs throughout, as the original structures of morality and authority collapse. Similarly, the traumatised seek comfort in other forms of religious bullshit, like the cultist charlatan Oliver Cromwell Whiteside – the sections of the book involving whom are desperately painful.

Not even primarily the official ones of law, the state, the church; one of the most telling moments in the book is Myers’ encounter with a legendary dockside brawler, once a feared enforcer throughout the North, who never hit a man again after a fifteen-year old boy pulled a gun on him. His version of order was hardly desirable, but what came after was infinitely worse. It’s a vision of the classic northern working-class town gone rotten, its social networks re-organised around the new class of mini-warlords and the new war economy based first on extortion and fraud, and later on heroin imports, rather as the process of scarring re-organises the skin’s cellular structure. Peace was impossible so long as the British and Irish governments were still talking to the shells of the old society, rather than the people who controlled the war system.

It’s also a book about youth; when you’re young, shame, scepticism and responsibility are not particularly big concerns. They weren’t for Myers, for his many girlfriends (like the one who let the IRA know his car registration after an unsatisfactory threesome), or for the new men of the paramilitary world. One thing that stands out is how many of these people were enjoying themselves – the transition from ordinary routine, Catholic morality or Protestant propriety, to intrigue, violence, and nervous hedonism was clearly a liberation for a lot of people. In many ways, it was yet another version of the 1968 generation; just conditioned by history to be a peculiarly horrible one. Here, under the combined influence of sectarianism, a particularly dense conservative power-structure, and an existing thug culture, the liberation turned out to be the liberation from freedom that militarism has always offered directionless young men.

In a sense, the great divide wasn’t even so much between the loyalists and republicans, but between a kind of unified paramilitary subculture and everyone else. Other divides were the class divide, between the players, the fans, and the targets on one side, and the garden centre unionists and castle Catholics on the other out in the suburbs, and between the old and the young, those who were quite content with a frozen conflict and those who either wanted to win or end it.

However, I find another strand of the book less compelling. Myers insists on his own complicity in a number of violent incidents I really don’t think he bears real responsibility for. I MUST RECOGNISE MY GUILT!! can be a form of self-dramatising, self-important bollocks too. And insisting on some sort of duty of journalists to cooperate with the authorities…well, that’s reactionary, hackish, and rather Decent.

Az-zaman, via Cole reports that the Iraqi government “honoured” SCIRI…sorry…ISIC militiamen for their role in the Basra fighting, and that some 10,000 of them were officially signed up to the Government’s own forces (I thought they already were). The reason for this step is apparently that large numbers – thousands – of men in the Iraqi Army and other forces deserted rather than take part in the offensive. There is more here; supposedly two regiments did so in Baghdad, but I’d warn that what they call a regiment may just be an example of unit inflation.

Now, over at Kaboom! (officially the Colby Buzzell of 2008), here’s some corroboration.

Day 2: I stand in the streets, looking at a building with a sloping roof and two cannonball-sized holes in the middle of it. We have spent many hours zigzagging through the various Shi’a neighborhood cores in Anu al-Verona, but it is only now, with the light of the morning, that the full scope of JAM’s resurgent spectacle is comprehended. The aforementioned holes are the gift of an Iraqi Army’s BMP (armored personnel carrier) main gun, and the aforementioned building is the local Sawha headquarters. The one Son of Iraq who bothered to show up for work today expresses his displeasure with the situation. I thank him for his devotion to duty and ask him where his coworkers are. He looks at me like I have a dick growing out of my forehead and says, “they are at home, of course. It is not safe here.” I ask him why he isn’t home then. “Because my father kicked me out and told me to go to work and I have nowhere else to go.”

My bold. OK, so not only did some members of the Iraqi Army go over to the other side, but these ones took their BMP with them – and immediately turned its guns on the ex-NOIA guys, with the result that they made themselves scarce (or possibly set off for the nearest concentration of Shia for some revenge). There have been reports scattered around of the Sadrists capturing armoured vehicles from the government, but most have referred to Humvees and such; this is the first heavy armour to be mentioned.

It can be pretty heavy, too; the BMP-3, despite ranking as an infantry fighting vehicle, carries a 100mm gun. I don’t know which version we supplied to the Iraqi government (I think the armour came from Hungarian stocks). Meanwhile, Des Browne says:

At one point, he said, British tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and ground troops were deployed to help extract Iraqi government troops from a firefight with Shiite militiamen in the city.

Extract; as in “cover the retreat of”, “aid in escape of”, or just “save” them. It’s Sadr’s move, it always has been; as far as I can see, the only meaningful exit strategy has always been to recognise the people with actual mass support, so NOIA in the Sunni sector and Sadr in the Shia sector. Half of this has actually been done, although nobody wants to admit it; the problem is that their territories overlap. Lieutenant G’s area of responsibility is exhibit A; he’s far enough north to have 1920 Revolution Brigade NOIA on his side, but this doesn’t mean he doesn’t also have a major Sadrist presence.

Extra points: did anyone else spot Chalabi claiming credit for the ceasefire?

Well, it’s not as if we weren’t warned; the Iraqi government had been threatening to move against Fadhila in Umm Qasr, and there had been increasing tension between the Iraqi government and the Sadr movement going back to Christmas. Not so long ago, there were demonstrations in Sadr City against Sadr; they thought the movement wasn’t standing up to increasing provocation from police/SCIRI as was//Badr Corps men feeling braver now they didn’t have to fight NOIA any more.

You can read the violence in a number of ways; the government/ISCI/Dawa probably briefed it to the Americans as an extension of their counter-insurgency plan to the deep south, with the added twist that this was an operation the Iraqi army would throw all by itself, hence good politics. Sadr of course will consider it an outrage by the collaborationist-Iranian bastards, eerily mirroring Petraeus’s response to the Green Zone bombardment; if you adopt Jamie Kenny’s policy of trying to think like Leonardo Sciascia, you’ll see it merely as a fight for oil rake-offs between (as Douglas Adams put it) rival police gangs. As always, SF leads the way into history.

Daniel Davies has apparently finally taken my much repeated advice and read A Bright Shining Lie, which has apparently led him to conclude that the Dawa-Sadr fighting is a good thing on the grounds that it strengthens the government, even if only as the biggest gang. Well, it has led the annoying look-at-me contrarian Daniel Davies to do so; what the real one thinks I don’t know. I don’t agree; the Sadr movement demonstrated its deterrent capability on day one, when it resumed rocketing the Green Zone and seized police stations across the Big Gap in southern Iraq, as well as the road between Amara and Basra, rather as they did in the first and second Shia risings in 2004. Further to its massive popularity, the Sadrists also have had at least a tacit alliance with some currents in NOIA – there’s a risk of the whole shithouse crashing down. Note that the Dawa and Sadrists, and ISIC, are on the opposite sides of one of Iraq’s worst territorial fights.

So inevitably, the US authorities seem to have swallowed the “southern surge” thing, and are now pressing for more British troops to be sent – not just that, but for an advance back into Basra. This is genuinely bugfuck insane and the Prime Minister has no choice but to reject it; there is literally no-one left. Army planners are already looking at calling out at least 2 TA battalions in their entirety to cover routine tasks; a mass of resources is going into Afghanistan; there is some question as to whether there is another brigade in the tubes for the next but one rotation in Iraq. The inter-allied shit just hit the fan.

Of course, nothing would do more for Gordon Brown’s polls than turning the fan right up…it’s worth noting that officially, the only support MNDSE is giving this operation is aerial reconnaissance; that could perfectly well be provided from Kuwait. However, maybe not.

Despite all the promises, the Government is still achieving nothing with regard to its Iraqi employees. Leave aside, for the moment, the considerable numbers who are being rejected. Even the accepted – in so far as this category means anything yet – are still in Iraq, still on the streets, and still in danger. “I am still in Iraq…I hear nothing from your Government yet!”, wrote one of them to Dan Hardie.

Over at Dan’s, you can read about the fact that according to Bob Ainsworth MP, this man has been accepted; but the Borders and Immigration Agency, the final arbiter, is still doing nothing. You could read about the man who, according to the Government, worked at the Shaibah Logistics Base for two years – and they should know, as he lived on the base itself after being threatened by (as they say) unidentified gunmen until he was served notice to quit before the camp was shut down last year. He’s now in Syria.

But don’t imagine this is anything new. Three days ago, the Second World War secret agent Pearl Witherington died, after a life that included more than a year on the run in occupied France organising the STATIONER resistance network. She had to take over command of the organisation at one point; eventually they were ready in June, 1944 to set the German rear ablaze. She was refused a military decoration, and more importantly (to her) parachutist wings, until the RAF relented in 2006 and issued the badge. But that’s not why I’m dragging her in.

It wasn’t any different in June, 1940, either:

At the time of the German Blitzkrieg into northern France in May 1940, she was working as an assistant to the Air Attaché in the British Embassy, but through being “locally enlisted” was not included in the official evacuation scheme and had to make her way to England through the Vichy-controlled zone (which initially avoided German occupation) then via neutral Spain to Portugal, from where she boarded a coaster to Gibraltar.

And she was a British citizen.

Apparently, part of the delay is because the Home Office – of course, inevitably, them – is responsible for finding accomodation for anyone evacuated. They, in turn, are blaming local authorities. The Foreign Office’s offer of cash looks better and better, frankly; at least it’s actual, immediate assistance.

Well, you know the rules: Please write a letter to your MP. His or her address is The House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA. If you don’t know who your constituency MP is, go here and type your postcode in. When you’ve sent a letter, follow it up with an email: his or her address will normally be SURNAMEINITIAL@parliament.uk – for example BROWNG@parliament.uk

Two or three days after you have written the letter, call the Parliamentary switchboard on 0207 219 3000 and ask for your MP’s office. Repeat your concerns to the secretary or research assistant you speak to (and be nice: most of these people work damn hard for little reward), check that your letter has been received, and politely request that the MP ask questions of Ministers and reply to you. In your email, your letter, and your phone calls, you must be courteous: insulting an MP or a research assistant will discredit this cause.

Full talking points are over here. But here’s one more of my own; if it’s the local authorities who are the problem, let’s find out which ones. Why not call your local council member for housing too? And tell us all about it.