Should the Military Have political Power?

The British army after the Second World War and the emerging of independent states had little involvement in world events. There was the major war with Argentina over the Falklands. This war gave popularity to the British army as well as to the Conservative PM Margaret Thatcher which won the next elections thanks to it.

In 1991, the involvement of the army to liberate Kuwait was hugely popular. It was so because the majority of soldiers quickly returned home. Those who stayed in the Gulf region had monitoring missions, especially checking Saddam’s respect of the air exclusion zones.

But from 2001, the British army has had a new role. It engaged in direct confrontations with the Talibans in Afghanistan. It was among the leading forces that toppled Saddam Hussein from power and took control of southern Iraq. Such involvement was popular. But in recent years, casualties started to rise, coupled with mounting threats of terrorist attacks and the rise of religious extremism in UK itself. The war in Iraq claimed the life of British soldiers, the kidnapped hostages and the civilians on British soil after July 7th deadly attacks. Not to mention public criticism of Tony Blair for being closely allied with George Bush over this war, which made both leaders lose their popularity in the past two years.

Concerning the call by General Sir Richard Dannatt for troops to come home within two years – flatly contradicting the Prime Minister’s policy that the military will stay “as long as it takes” should be seen as a precedent in British politics in the modern era. The army doesn’t decide which policy Downing Street should take as there is the defence secretary who is the liaison between the army and the government whose orders should be obeyed. As there is check and balance within the British political system, the continuation or suspension of the British military involvement in Iraq should be decided by a vote in the House of Commons and the unanimity of British government.

For a military of the status of General Sir Richard Dannatt to make such a public statement can cause division in the ranks of the British army opening the gate for dissent among reluctant soldiers to go to the battlefield. It can be used by Al Qaeda and the like as a propaganda to show the failure of the international coalition in Iraq, giving more zeal to their supporters to carry more attacks.

The withdrawal of international forces from Iraq is linked to the geopolitical situation in the region. If UK has to withdraw from Iraq, it will have to review its alliance with the US on their foreign policy in troubled regions in the world, especially in the Middle East. British generals don’t normally have a say in their country’s foreign policy as their role is to defend the interests of their country inside and outside UK. Generals should refrain from making political statements as there is an elected government which is responsible for state affairs from civilian to military matters.

The situation in Iraq is very problematic. There can be no easy exit for anyone unless full stability is reached and after making sure Iraq won’t remain a backyard for whatever force, especially Iran, to curb the influence of the US and its allies in this turbulent region.

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