17 Jul 2009

Afghanistan: Dannatt eschews the real debate

General Sir Richard Dannatt, the retiring head of the British army, has done a remarkable thing.

He appears, single handedly, to have seen off the opponents in the political classes to the Afghan war.

That opposition, neatly encapsulated at regular intervals by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, had every expectation of significant debate in the aftermath of the ending of Britain’s involvement in the more controversial Iraq war.

Instead, General Dannatt has sparked a full scale row about whether there should be still more UK involvement in the Afghan conflict.

The political classes appear to be on the threshold of being shamed into sending still more British troops and still more hardware to a war whose aims have fluctuated throughout the nearly eight years of its conduct.

The voices of opposition to the war have been all but silenced in the mainstream political arena. Instead in the build up to the next election the fight is between, still more, and more.

The Labour government is committing more resources, and the Conservatives are on a course to provide whatever the army asks as David Cameron revealed last night on Channel 4 News.

Is Sir Richard the most successful “political” general of our times? He has certainly been outspoken.

Despite the laying down of the keels for the two new supercarriers (a victory for the Navy and Air Force) it is the army which is in the ascendency.

For the first time in a generation the budget of the Ministry of Defence has become a mainstream issue of political contention… It is a fascinating moment in recession-hit Britain.

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