I know I keep linking to the Telegraph but it is much the best source for the way that the British Army is thinking — and, in other parts, for the rather different ways that the neocons used to think. Less of that nowadays, of course. In any case, there was a fascinating piece earlier this week showing that the Army now sees its future as a mercenary force for the Americans as a defence against the depradations of the Treasury.
The news of another four years will come as no surprise to military chiefs, who have been quietly planning to be in Iraq until 2010. While Tony Blair has trumpeted troop withdrawals over the past year, defence chiefs have known that a sizeable force will have to remain to support the Iraqi army in its infancy.
Without that backing, the British-trained 8,000-strong Iraqi 10th Division would probably unravel, undoing all the investment of lives and dangerous work of the past three years.
Although American planners in Baghdad are said to be detailing a structured timetable of withdrawal – possibly at moments that could prove helpful to the White House – the British presence will gradually draw down in battle-group size chunks of 800 men every Telic. [year]
By 2010 the force in Iraq – about 3,500 – will equal that of Britain’s deployment in Afghanistan, giving the military two fronts on which to sharpen its professional skills for the next conflict.
(My italics at the end). One thing to note is the colonial roots of the Army coming out: the assumption that we can’t leave these people on their own. But more interesting to me is the idea that wars are their own justification. There is a perfectly good conservative argument, made, by Matthew Parris and Simon Jenkins at various times, which says that we have no business whatever in Afghanistan. It’s certainly not clear that the Iraqi government will never turn around in the next four years and tell us to bugger off. They may do this whether or not their army ca stand by itself.
In any case, the implication of Harding’s piece is that there are people in our Army who think that it is a full and conclusive answer to the question “What do we need an army for?” to say “to fight this war” as if the follow-up “And why do we need to fight this war?” were quite unaskable. These generals are not fools. they may very well be right in their reading of the political logic. I, personally, am very glad that we have an excellent army and don’t want it shrunk. But is is remarkable that the argument works.