Saturday, April 14, 2007

Niall Ferguson on the Iranian UK-Hostage Taking

Distinguished Professor Niall Ferguson has authored an exceptional opinion piece in the Telegraph (UK) discussing the act of surrendering to the Iranians without a shot as emobodying traits heretofore not seen in the British navy, and the incompetency of Britain's Minister of Defence, Les Brown, a man with no military experience:

Captain Christopher Air of the Royal Marines declared after his release: "From the outset it was very apparent that fighting back was simply not an option. Had we chosen to do so, then many of us would not be standing here today."

I have some sympathy with Capt Air, who has at least resisted the temptation to flog his story to the tabloids and Trevor McDonald. But can you imagine a Victorian naval officer talking this way? "Our rules of engagement stated," Capt Air explained, "that we could only use lethal force if we felt that we were in imminent danger of a loss of life." That's certainly how I would have characterised their predicament, surrounded as they were by RPG-toting members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. "In addition," added Capt Air, "any attempt to fight back would have caused a major international incident and an escalation of tension within the region." Whereas being taken prisoner by the Iranians didn't cause these things?

. . . Having risen through the ranks of the Scottish legal profession, Mr Browne [the Minister of Defense] was handed the safe Labour seat of Kilmarnock and Loudon in 1997. His area of expertise - as befits a man who is "the Ruler of the Queen's Navee" - is child law. He has come into his lawyerly own in the row over who authorised Faye Turney to sell her story.

It is, of course, a great English-speaking tradition to undervalue military experience in politicians. In the days of Gilbert and Sullivan, frock coats were supposed to out-rank brass hats. Countries where the opposite was true - such as Prussia - suffered from "militarism".

Yet there is a lot to be said for militarism where military matters are concerned. The besetting problem of both the United Kingdom and the United States before 1914 and again before 1939 was the tendency to leave decisions about grand strategy to hacks like Sir Joseph. Neither Stanley Baldwin nor Neville Chamberlain, the architects of appeasement, had served in the Armed Forces. The same was true of their American counterparts, Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt. Their legacy was a near-fatal unreadiness for the greatest conflict of all time.

It was a different story in the Cold War. All but two prime ministers from Winston Churchill to James Callaghan had seen active service before entering politics, as had every president from Harry S Truman to Jimmy Carter. Significantly, five of them (Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter) were naval officers. That helps explain why both Britain and America were able to maintain such a high level of military preparedness throughout the years from 1945 until 1989 - sufficient to deter the Soviet Union from all-out aggression.

Unfortunately, with the end of the Cold War we have lapsed into our old ways: politicians with no military experience whatever (Clinton, Blair) or, in the case of President Bush, military training without the hard test of combat. The effect on the Royal Navy has been especially disastrous. Anyone wondering why there was no fighting spirit - no vestige of the Victorian sense of honour - among Capt Air and his colleagues need only consider how the Senior Service has fared under New Labour.
Read the entire article here.

No comments:


View My Stats