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 Post subject: Garbled in transmission?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 1:28 pm 
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It is always unwise to taken any official statement at face value – but the same might be said of any statement by the media. Healthy scepticism should be the default mode. So what does one believe when the media charges the government with misconduct, and the government flatly denies the charge? That is the conundrum presented by a piece in The Sunday Times today. Written by a reputable journalist, Stephen Grey, under the headline: "No 10 asked army to delay Afghan attack until after Gordon Brown's visit", it makes a very serious charge.

View full article here

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 Post subject: Re: Garbled in transmission?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 2:10 pm 
"That is serious, a breach of the long-standing constitutional principle that politicians do not interfere with the conduct of military operations."

I agree,but when have "long-standing constitutional principles" ever interfered with the actions of this government? Trouble is,true or not, it smells right.


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 Post subject: Re: Garbled in transmission?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 2:13 pm 
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You never demand directly. The fact the question was asked shows 1. a sense of priorities skewed toward the interests of the incumbent government 2. politicians believe we are fighting a war at the time and place of our choosing

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 Post subject: Re: Garbled in transmission?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 2:52 pm 
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Well...at least one indisputable truth emerges:
Quote:
We, the people, are our own worst enemies.

...and I regret that I'm living at a time when the benchmark for Peter's Principle is set so low.
What has been outlined here is a national shambles &, IMHO, in the larger context the 'details' such as they are are irrelevant; but that has been par for the course for a long time and there's no-one on the horizon who is capable of rescuing us.
Quo bloody vadis?

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 Post subject: Re: Garbled in transmission?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 2:54 pm 
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Peter wrote:
"That is serious, a breach of the long-standing constitutional principle that politicians do not interfere with the conduct of military operations."

I agree,but when have "long-standing constitutional principles" ever interfered with the actions of this government? Trouble is,true or not, it smells right.


The fact that is "smells right" doesn't make it right. Some insect trap plants produce a smell which is attractive to their prey in order to lure them to their deaths. And, for sure, this government had driven a cart and horse through the constitution ... but that does not mean, without further and better evidence, that it is interfering directly in military operations. Sometimes, though, one thinks it should. It is hard to believe sometimes, it could do a worse job than the Army.

therewaslight wrote:
You never demand directly. The fact the question was asked shows 1. a sense of priorities skewed toward the interests of the incumbent government 2. politicians believe we are fighting a war at the time and place of our choosing


There is no good evidence that the question was asked - that is the point. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with clarifying issues which might have political implications. That is what civil servants at a policy level are doing all the time. But there is a difference between "clarification" and "direction". What the paper has not established is which, or whether either, took place.

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 Post subject: Re: Garbled in transmission?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 3:17 pm 
I suspect what we are seeing here is the old 'Fuhrer principle' at work. There is always a tendency in over-centralised and morally corrupt regimes (think Hitler, Stalin, Franco, Mussolini, Castro, Blair, Brown) for the acolytes, bureaucrats and hangers-on to start invoking the name of the leader when they want something done. What they do is to anticipate what the great man might or is likely to want (he does not actually need to personally know anything about it) and then ask or order it to be done 'in the name of the Fuhrer'.

The moral justification is that if the matter were brought to the leader's attention he would support or demand such action. It makes minor functionaries feel important and allows them to throw their weight about. One of the great British military exponents of this was Field Marshal Montgomery, who always had a cohort of thrusting young captains as ADCs. They would cruise around the field army giving colonels and brigadiers a very hard time by arriving uninvited, observing proceedings and then quietly saying "I really don't think the Field Marshal would like you to do that, Sir".

This kept everyone on their toes and prevented issues arising later which the FM would have to sort out, but in most cases Montgomery would be totally unaware of what his juniors were doing or saying. Coincidentally, but perhaps not surprisingly, Monty was hated across most of the Officer Corps. Are we seeing Gordon Brown using his officials and party hacks to do the same thing? It would certainly make it easy for him to deny that he had any direct role in operational decisions.


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 Post subject: Re: Garbled in transmission?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 3:45 pm 
"The fact that is "smells right" doesn't make it right."

We aren't in the world of right and wrong,we are in the world of politics,sad though that may be. This will resonate with the public because it reflects all the other underhand chicanery of the Brown Regime.


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 Post subject: Re: Garbled in transmission?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 4:29 pm 
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Edith Cavell wrote:
I suspect what we are seeing here is the old 'Fuhrer principle' at work. There is always a tendency in over-centralised and morally corrupt regimes (think Hitler, Stalin, Franco, Mussolini, Castro, Blair, Brown) for the acolytes, bureaucrats and hangers-on to start invoking the name of the leader when they want something done. What they do is to anticipate what the great man might or is likely to want (he does not actually need to personally know anything about it) and then ask or order it to be done 'in the name of the Fuhrer'.

The moral justification is that if the matter were brought to the leader's attention he would support or demand such action. It makes minor functionaries feel important and allows them to throw their weight about. One of the great British military exponents of this was Field Marshal Montgomery, who always had a cohort of thrusting young captains as ADCs. They would cruise around the field army giving colonels and brigadiers a very hard time by arriving uninvited, observing proceedings and then quietly saying "I really don't think the Field Marshal would like you to do that, Sir".

This kept everyone on their toes and prevented issues arising later which the FM would have to sort out, but in most cases Montgomery would be totally unaware of what his juniors were doing or saying. Coincidentally, but perhaps not surprisingly, Monty was hated across most of the Officer Corps. Are we seeing Gordon Brown using his officials and party hacks to do the same thing? It would certainly make it easy for him to deny that he had any direct role in operational decisions.


I think there is an element of truth is what you write, but would not confine it to "over-centralised and morally corrupt regimes". We've all played that game, invoking the name of the "boss" to get something done, when personal authority is not sufficient. The worst of the situation here is that our anonymous "official" might have thought he was being "helpful", seeking to resolve a problem way above his pay grade, without realising fully the implications of what he was doing. In many ways - if the narrative is half-way accurate - this was as much down to Houghton as anyone else. He was OC Joint Operations and could easily have refused to convey the message to "theatre", killing the issue there and then. I would not trust Houghton as far as I could throw him and I would not be surprised if this man had been indulging in a little bit of mischief-making.

Peter wrote:
"The fact that is "smells right" doesn't make it right."

We aren't in the world of right and wrong,we are in the world of politics,sad though that may be. This will resonate with the public because it reflects all the other underhand chicanery of the Brown Regime.


Peter - I appreciate that. I am perhaps railing at the tendency of people to believe what they want to believe, instead of displaying healthy scepticism. There is a terrible tendency in all of us to accept that which accords with our own prejudices, and thereby reinforce them. It is very hard not to do otherwise so we accept some claims on the basis of even if it wasn't true - it should be.

The overall problem is the black-and-white narrative being played out here: Army good - politicians bad. This is (and has been for some time) highly damaging, as it is allowing inept military persons to hide behind the skirts of the politicians, and evade either responsibility or accountability.

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 Post subject: Re: Garbled in transmission?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 5:52 pm 
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One can philosophise until the cows (or, more likely, chickens) come home, but the public perception is based, hoodathortit, on what it sees...even when it's spun.
Is the economy in good shape?
Is the incursion into Afghanistan successful?
Are our politicos trustworthy?
Do we have an adequate education system?
...only four of many unfiddled questions to which a public response would be 'No'
Counting angels is displacement activity...we need just one tough angel.

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 Post subject: Re: Garbled in transmission?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 6:02 pm 
A fascinating piece. Its here that we see the currently increasingly odd dynamic between the political worlds and the current British military.

The official (we'll assume that its a civil servant) has every right to ask the question. The Permanent Under Secretary of the MOD has the responsibility for every penny that the MOD gets, and has to report to Parliament on it. Unless the MOD TO&E has changed significantly recently the Permanent Under Secretary of the MOD is ranked as a 4 or 5 star general (Field Marshal), up at the political level. In short people that work for him have a hell of a lot of power in their own rights, just as if they worked directly for the Chief of the Defence Staff (a mere 4 Star General).

As such its quite within his team's remit to ask questions about operations, particular as to whether or not the money has to be spent and when. The PUS expects a "sure, its militarily vital and we've got to go right now" or some such reply. Lets put it this way the PUS is sure as hell isn't expecting a reply saying that the whole thing is a complete waste of lives, doesn't have to be done in any hurry, and frankly we might as well burn the money for all the good it will do. This kind of proforma reply is so that he can go back to Parliament and say that the large chunk of a billion quid he's just spent on retaking some minimally populated Afghan rathole (the whole area has a population around that of Bletchley) that no one in Parliament can find on a map actually achieved something militarily, that's the name of the democracy game. Slamming a knife into the Governments back isn't part of their job, and assisting in the political collapse of the Labour government and the damage of political turmoil to the UK as a nation state isn't on his agenda, rather the reverse in fact.

I suppose the alternative to something like this is that we could just drop a big sack of cash off at the front door of the Army every year, with a post it note of some objectives for the year, and tell them to have fun - but that doesn't sound terribly accountable to Parliament.

Where this gets odd is the reaction of the local commander. That a senior officer, and Mackay was one, should be upset that there is an actual political angle to his work says a lot about his understanding of the fundamental realities of his job. At that rank he should know a bit more about war than "killing people and blowing shit up" as American lieutenants are fond of describing their professional career. Doesn't Clauswitz get a mention at Sandhurst any more, or has John Keegan managed to get rid of all that awkward complexity?


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 Post subject: Re: Garbled in transmission?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 6:41 pm 
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Freeport wrote:
A fascinating piece. Its here that we see the currently increasingly odd dynamic between the political worlds and the current British military.

The official (we'll assume that its a civil servant) has every right to ask the question. The Permanent Under Secretary of the MOD has the responsibility for every penny that the MOD gets, and has to report to Parliament on it. Unless the MOD TO&E has changed significantly recently the Permanent Under Secretary of the MOD is ranked as a 4 or 5 star general (Field Marshal), up at the political level. In short people that work for him have a hell of a lot of power in their own rights, just as if they worked directly for the Chief of the Defence Staff (a mere 4 Star General).

As such its quite within his team's remit to ask questions about operations ...


Yes ... I take your points entirely - this is very much the way things are played out. There are other players here though, the political advisors, who are sometimes in on these meetings. Grey is adamant that there was "No 10 involvement", although he is vague in the details. Any such presence, as a political advisor, would be outside the loop - some of them are resented and there is always an element determined to "manage" them ... i.e., drop them in it.

There is a thought that MacKay would have been very busy at this stage of the op and could do without "silly" questions being thrown at him from London. Although a senior officer, he is pretty low down the food chain, with lots of under-employed brass floating about, keeping the heat off him. He perhaps should not have been troubled with the question in the first place.

Another thought here - this was a multi-national operation, with heavy US and ANA involvement. Karzai was in the loop and ISAF was calling the shots. MacKay would not have he authority to cancel or delay the op ... his job was to plan and execute ... the assets had already been committed from on high, the air plan worked out, etc., etc.. The big cheeses would have had to be involved (consulted, at the very least) if there were to be any major alterations. That would seem to frame any question in the context of "could we?" ... i.e., is it possible? To get the authority to actually do the biz, London would have had to go higher up the food chain.

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 Post subject: Re: Garbled in transmission?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 8:19 pm 
Perhaps the general (and the civil servants and aides) have an inflated sense of self importance. This isn't about carefully planned pursuit of rational and national political objectives by military means. It's much more like a gladiatorial show to promote the Emperor's image to the crowds. If the Emperor is late it would be an impertinence for the manager of one of the teams of gladiators to complain about the delay and insist on starting at the original time. Those who are about to die must accept that they are being butchered to make a Roman holiday.


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 Post subject: Re: Garbled in transmission?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 8:45 pm 
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Odins Raven wrote:
Perhaps the general (and the civil servants and aides) have an inflated sense of self importance. This isn't about carefully planned pursuit of rational and national political objectives by military means. It's much more like a gladiatorial show to promote the Emperor's image to the crowds. If the Emperor is late it would be an impertinence for the manager of one of the teams of gladiators to complain about the delay and insist on starting at the original time. Those who are about to die must accept that they are being butchered to make a Roman holiday.


A slightly cynical view but probaby accurate in part. In the absence of a common cause and a unifying sense of purpose, "self" predominates and those with the biggest egos come to the fore - encouraged by the media which lives by inflating already over-inflated egos. That we are seeing the unedifying display of squabbling, disaffected senior officers, all fighting for their place in the sun, suggests (nay confirms) a deeply damaged and dysfunctional organisation. Instead of pursuing the "task need", the objective becomes self-gratification and self-aggrandisement, with all the other "actors" positioned as supporting cast.

But you are reading Brown wrong. There are three prime ministerial visits to theatre every year - spring, summer and autumn/winter. They are arranged well in advance - and have to be because of the logistics, security and poltiical issues. Nevertheless, they are not announced in advance and thus always seem to catch the media by surprise, as if the prime minister suddenly took it into his head to jump on an aeroplane and do a quick tour of Afghanistan. Therefore, the conincidence of the visit and the Musa Qala operation - the date for which was settled after the visit had been arranged - was bound to be misread by the media. To take that into account was not unreasonable. Brown is a political leader, he is a politician and he acts and thinks politically - that is what politicians do.

Where your comment becomes is cheap shot is that you seem unable to distnguish between Brown, the man and Brown the prime minister. These are not Brown's visits. They are prime ministerial visits - when or if Cameron takes over, he will fall into exactly the same pattern, because that is the one which works and people are used to working around. And, if those visits were not made, there would be hell to pay ... prime minister not interested in the troops, etc., etc.

Given that there is considerable effort and organisation involved in preparing the trips - and a lot of people (not least the press corps) are badly inconvenienced if the date is changed - it is not unreasonable at least to inquire if ops timings can be adjusted if the dates are not critical, and they may affect the visit. Not least, when there is a heavy op going on, the military really do not need the distraction of VIP visits.

Thus, there is no issue here, unless there was a specific attempt (albeit couched as a requuest) to change an operation start date. That was the allegation in the story. It was not proved and no good evidence was offered.

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