I was talking the other night to a defence intellectual: I mean an ex army officer who now lectures at a college for real ones. He’s an old, not close, friend, and was pretty drunk as well, so I have no reason to doubt what he told me when I asked him how the preparations for our army’s retreat from Iraq were getting on.
“We’ll be the last men out”, he said. “We hold the country that the Americans will have to pull out through; and it will be our job to cover their retreat.”
I was talking this over, later at the same party with Isabel Hilton. “Go and watch the [“ninth company”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0417397/]” she said. “That’s who we’ll be.”
Certainly, having the British Army there does make it easier for the American to answer John Kerry’s question from the last war they lost: “How do you ask someone to be the last man to die for a mistake?” — it’s easier if you can tell Tony (or Gordon, or David) to do it for you.
That dynamic is not going to leave British politics just because Blair has done so; and the longer the retreat is put off, the worse it will be. If the war goes really badly, it could be the one thing that breaks the myth of the “Special Relationship” in this country.