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General Sir Richard Dannatt

How one Interview Blew Apart
Blair's Disastrous Foreign Policy

FRANCIS ELLIOTT / The Independent (UK) 15oct2006

[Bio below]

 

General Sir Richard Dannatt: How one Interview Blew apart Blair's Disastrous Foreign Policy FRANCIS ELLIOTT / The Independent (UK) 15oct2006

The General was no innocent abroad. His comments were born of frustration at the Prime Minister's failure to stick to an agreed timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

For a man supposedly so unversed in the ways of the media, General Sir Richard Dannatt had strong views about how he wanted to conduct his first proper newspaper interview in his new job.

Despite being the incoming Chief of the General Staff and head of the armed forces, Sir Richard had, like all soldiers, to ask for permission.

But when he raised the possibility of speaking to the Daily Mail, the Ministry of Defence press office became jittery. Wouldn't he prefer to speak to a newspaper less opposed to government foreign policy?

After several weeks of haggling, Sir Richard raised the matter directly with Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence. Put on the spot, Mr Browne reluctantly agreed to his request, warning the general to be on his guard.

So it was that Sir Richard came to give an extraordinary 90-minute interview to Sarah Sands. Whatever else the interview was, it was not guarded.

He spoke about how the presence of British troops in Iraq was making the situation there worse and called for a clear commitment to an exit strategy from the country.

The general suggested it had been a "naive hope" that it was possible to install a liberal democracy in Iraq and said that we should now be aiming for a "lower ambition".

Most damaging of all, he said that the Iraq operation "exacerbates" the "difficulties we are experiencing around the world" - a direct contradiction of Tony Blair's claim that the UK would have been targeted whatever had happened with Saddam Hussein.

This weekend, Downing Street and the MoD are seeking to portray Sir Richard as an innocent among rogues, a plain-speaking soldier who was misrepresented by an unscrupulous tabloid.

The truth, according to those who know both Sir Richard and Mr Browne well, is rather different. Frustrated at the Prime Minister's failure to stick to a timetable of withdrawal from Iraq, military chiefs decided to fire a warning shot in public.

"I'm quite convinced that what he was doing was part of a co-ordinated attempt to tell the emperor he has no clothes," said one former colleague. "I'm not saying Des authorised it but I'd bet he doesn't disagree with much of what he said."

Other well-placed figures suggest that the interview had been a genuine attempt by the incoming head of the armed forces to reconnect the Army with a public sickened by years of government spin.

Whatever the truth, once Sir Richard had given his interview it was immediately clear that he had put himself beyond political protection.

On Thursday night as the presses began to roll, the Chief of the General Staff, at that time in Cornwall, was required to attend a phone conference with Mr Browne, who was in Scotland, and senior media advisers in London.

Sir Richard agreed that he had used all the words ascribed to him, but complained that the newspaper had left out the "context" of his remarks. Mr Browne said that he would have to appear in the media the next day to repair the damage, but the head of the armed forces said that he himself should face the cameras.

As Sir Richard was travelling overnight back to London, Washington was waking up to his words. The MoD flatly deny that the Pentagon was furious or that it tried to reprimand the general directly. It is clear, however, that the MoD and the US Department of Defense agreed a media strategy that sought to agree with as much of what Sir Richard had said as they could, while ignoring the rest.

This strategy was employed by Mr Blair on Friday to great effect, when he said that he agreed with "every word" of Sir Richard's broadcast remarks. The omission of prime ministerial approval for those comments made in the Daily Mail but not repeated the next day on radio or television was obvious - and meant to be so.

Senior MoD figures dismiss out of hand suggestions that Sir Richard is about to sacked. They admit his remarks have been damaging - particularly those suggesting that the situation in Iraq is stoking anti-British sentiment around the world - but say they show only a lack of political polish, not a fundamental rift.

As the smoke clears from the battlefield it is clear that Sir Richard is still standing despite having strained to breaking point the constitutional convention that the Army serves the politicians.

Mr Blair, powerless to sack him, forced, even, to agree with him, may wonder whether he can really carry on until next summer if even the Army has deserted him.

For a man supposedly so unversed in the ways of the media, General Sir Richard Dannatt had strong views about how he wanted to conduct his first proper newspaper interview in his new job.

Despite being the incoming Chief of the General Staff and head of the armed forces, Sir Richard had, like all soldiers, to ask for permission.

But when he raised the possibility of speaking to the Daily Mail, the Ministry of Defence press office became jittery. Wouldn't he prefer to speak to a newspaper less opposed to government foreign policy?

After several weeks of haggling, Sir Richard raised the matter directly with Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence. Put on the spot, Mr Browne reluctantly agreed to his request, warning the general to be on his guard.

So it was that Sir Richard came to give an extraordinary 90-minute interview to Sarah Sands. Whatever else the interview was, it was not guarded.

He spoke about how the presence of British troops in Iraq was making the situation there worse and called for a clear commitment to an exit strategy from the country.

The general suggested it had been a "naive hope" that it was possible to install a liberal democracy in Iraq and said that we should now be aiming for a "lower ambition".

Most damaging of all, he said that the Iraq operation "exacerbates" the "difficulties we are experiencing around the world" - a direct contradiction of Tony Blair's claim that the UK would have been targeted whatever had happened with Saddam Hussein.

This weekend, Downing Street and the MoD are seeking to portray Sir Richard as an innocent among rogues, a plain-speaking soldier who was misrepresented by an unscrupulous tabloid.

The truth, according to those who know both Sir Richard and Mr Browne well, is rather different. Frustrated at the Prime Minister's failure to stick to a timetable of withdrawal from Iraq, military chiefs decided to fire a warning shot in public.

"I'm quite convinced that what he was doing was part of a co-ordinated attempt to tell the emperor he has no clothes," said one former colleague. "I'm not saying Des authorised it but I'd bet he doesn't disagree with much of what he said." Other well-placed figures suggest that the interview had been a genuine attempt by the incoming head of the armed forces to reconnect the Army with a public sickened by years of government spin.

Whatever the truth, once Sir Richard had given his interview it was immediately clear that he had put himself beyond political protection.

On Thursday night as the presses began to roll, the Chief of the General Staff, at that time in Cornwall, was required to attend a phone conference with Mr Browne, who was in Scotland, and senior media advisers in London.

Sir Richard agreed that he had used all the words ascribed to him, but complained that the newspaper had left out the "context" of his remarks. Mr Browne said that he would have to appear in the media the next day to repair the damage, but the head of the armed forces said that he himself should face the cameras.

As Sir Richard was travelling overnight back to London, Washington was waking up to his words. The MoD flatly deny that the Pentagon was furious or that it tried to reprimand the general directly. It is clear, however, that the MoD and the US Department of Defense agreed a media strategy that sought to agree with as much of what Sir Richard had said as they could, while ignoring the rest.

This strategy was employed by Mr Blair on Friday to great effect, when he said that he agreed with "every word" of Sir Richard's broadcast remarks. The omission of prime ministerial approval for those comments made in the Daily Mail but not repeated the next day on radio or television was obvious - and meant to be so.

Senior MoD figures dismiss out of hand suggestions that Sir Richard is about to sacked. They admit his remarks have been damaging - particularly those suggesting that the situation in Iraq is stoking anti-British sentiment around the world - but say they show only a lack of political polish, not a fundamental rift.

As the smoke clears from the battlefield it is clear that Sir Richard is still standing despite having strained to breaking point the constitutional convention that the Army serves the politicians.

Mr Blair, powerless to sack him, forced, even, to agree with him, may wonder whether he can really carry on until next summer if even the Army has deserted him.

source: http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/article1873836.ece 15oct2006


A Soldier Fights Back

BRIAN BRADY / The Scotsman (Scotland) 15oct2006

 

'I AM a soldier. Speaking up for his army." Britain's top general made this humble declaration from the grand steps of his empire at the Ministry of Defence, standing opposite Downing Street and surrounded by a gaggle of journalists hanging on to his every word. Sir Richard Dannatt was front-page news on Friday morning. But, unshaven, with sweat beading his forehead and with greying hair curling out of his open-necked shirt, the new Chief of the General Staff (CGS) had never looked more like the regular soldier he claims to be.

And, despite all the vitriol raining down on his head from his political masters, if Dannatt really wanted to draw attention to the unbearable demands being placed on his soldiers in all parts of the world - and his closest colleagues insist that this was his prime motivation - then he can return to his desk tomorrow morning and consider a mission accomplished. Rarely has a general had such an explosive impact so far beyond the battlefield.

While Tony Blair was attempting to celebrate a hopeful new future for Northern Ireland represented by the St Andrews Agreement on Friday, he found himself hauled back, persistently, to the terrible past and present of his Iraqi adventure. The achievement the outgoing Prime Minister hopes will form the centrepiece of his political legacy remains overshadowed by the deadly conflagration that threatens to become his most lasting bequest.

Dannatt, the man charged with conducting a campaign characterised by Blair as a mission to spread liberal democracy overseas, warned instead that the expedition was merely "exacerbating the security problems in Iraq". He claimed the Coalition's glorious entry into Baghdad had "effectively kicked the door in" on a reluctant host.

Above all, the general insisted that the operation, and the presence of over 8,000 British troops in the country, would have to end "soon" - or risk "breaking" the army.

"I've got an army to look after, which is going to be successful in current operations," Dannatt said, in a government-approved interview on the BBC, which was supposed to defuse the row from his earlier talk with the Daily Mail. "But I want an army in five years' time and 10 years' time. Don't let's break it on this one. Let's keep an eye on time."

Sir Richard is clearly a general uncomfortable with carrying out the Prime Minister's orders. His acknowledgement of the fact represented a political, as well as a military, challenge to the government. And what should really worry Tony Blair and his successor is that he was merely scraping the surface of the deep anxiety felt throughout the British armed forces today.

The general's concerns about the state of affairs in Iraq were genuine, his fears for the future of his forces desperate, but the real target of his invective was not the politicians surrounding him in Whitehall, but their counterparts thousands of miles away in Washington.

"We did call and say: 'What did he say?', and we received transcripts, especially this morning's interview," White House spokesman Tony Snow told a gaggle of American reporters as Dannatt's words began to make waves in the United States on Friday. "What he said is that the comment was taken out of context and his general point was that you know when your work is done you hand over authority to the Iraqis."

Apart from its enduring ability to put the best gloss on any difficult eventuality, the fact that the White House intervened so rapidly and readily in an imbroglio made in the UK said much about the reach of Dannatt's remarks, but also their motivating factors.

One senior officer who has shared the grand suites now occupied by the general at the summit of the MoD building made it plain that, although Dannatt's words condemned British policy, his real target was American strategy.

"He believes we are being held hostage by American policy in a number of ways. There is no doubt at all about that," said the officer, who asked not to be named. "And he is far from the only senior figure in the military who feels like that. I can say that with certain knowledge.

"The Americans had not done enough planning for the peace that would follow the war-fighting phase. We know, for example, that it was American pressure that meant the Iraqi police force was disbanded and that has proven to have been a disaster. We have been the prisoners of American policy failures ever since. That is what a large proportion of our senior military officers think and it is what lies behind Sir Richard's comments."

The military's crippling overstretch, in terms of finance and personnel, is not something that suddenly dawned on the General after three months in the big chair at the MoD. Earlier this year, before he took up his post as CGS and while he was still Commander-in-Chief of the UK's Land Command, he gave a barely-noticed interview to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) which hinted at the depth of concern about the army he had served for almost four decades.

"The British army at the present moment is busy - everyone can see that," he said. "People ask me: 'Can you cope?' My answer is: 'Yes.' Then I pause for a moment or two before I say: 'Just.' I wouldn't wish to continue indefinitely at the current level of operations because it carries a penalty."

Ministers might balk at the observation, but Dannatt is telling a familiar story of stress at the modern MoD. The Iraq campaign alone is swallowing up over £4bn of UK reserves, it has claimed the lives of 119 British service personnel - almost three-quarters of whom have died since the successful invasion campaign three years ago.

Some 25,000 soldiers are on "active service" in Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland and the Balkans. This means that, effectively, 75% of the 99,000-strong standing army is taken up by operations - the number on "active service" is matched by the number recovering from an expedition and again by those preparing for one.

Scotland on Sunday has learned that the military has admitted to a decline in its ability to switch swiftly from peacetime mode to mobilising troops for battle, amid the stress of service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The MoD missed its "readiness" target in the year up to April, as the demands of both theatres escalated - and the situation is getting worse. Only seven out of 10 "force elements" reported "no serious or critical weaknesses" hindering their ability to deploy rapidly.

Sir Richard's outburst was a cry of pain from the military leadership, heard throughout the entire regimental structure. "After years and years, AT LAST someone at the top, who makes the headline on the news, has had the b@lls to stand up and be counted," crowed a contributor to the British Army Rumour Service message board amid the fall-out from the series of outbursts. "I knew the CGS when he was a [brigade] commander and was always really straightforward and what he said was always intelligent. I just think he has had enough of politicians raping HIS army, and has decided to do something about it."

The widespread view throughout the service is that Dannatt is the perfect man to represent those at the sharp end of military life. He is from the ranks, a "crap-hat" compared to elite predecessors like General Sir Mike Jackson, the ex-para who occupied his office immediately before Dannatt moved in.

While Jackson was roundly condemned for allowing the restructuring that saw the end of a series of traditional regiments, Sir Richard was a Royal Green Jacket for 37 years and suffered the pain of seeing his regiment merged with several other units. "Cap-badges mean an awful lot in the army," a former deputy chief of defence staff said last night. "Jackson was often accused of only being interested in the red berets of the paras."

A number of Dannatt's colleagues were bewildered by the fact that his prescription for Iraq was greeted with such astonishment. Such plans exist for a significant withdrawal of the 8,000-plus British presence in the British-controlled zone around Basra some time next year. The British army has already handed over to the Iraqis two out of the four provinces it administers, and it is engaged in Operation Sinbad, in a bid to root out the last of the significant insurgents in Basra city.

"What he said broadly about troops needing to leave Iraq soon isn't a surprise to anybody in the armed forces," said Louise Heywood, head of the UK Armed Forces Programme at RUSI. "We all know that in the next 18 months we'll be withdrawing from Iraq. Sinbad is the last big effort to try and stabilise the city. It's the last big foray into a major security operation."

The prime complicating factor, however, is that the scale of the insurgency shows no signs of abating. Even Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett admits to fears of civil war, and Heywood, who has served as a territorial officer in Iraq, claims "the military commanders themselves aren't convinced that [Sinbad] is going to be successful".

She added: "Most of the Iraqi citizens don't know why we're there any more. They don't see us painting schools like we did at the start and they don't see the work we do training their police. But we aren't quite ready to leave."

Scotland on Sunday understands that a significant number of Dannatt's senior colleagues would prefer to concentrate on the campaign in Afghanistan, which is regarded as one with more achievable goals. "There is no 'out by Christmas' brigade," one said last night, "but it is better to concentrate on an operation that can be accomplished and is, frankly, more popular, than one that is so difficult."

Dannatt himself appeared to draw his own distinction between Iraq and Afghanistan before taking command of the operations. "The reasons for us being in southern Afghanistan are clear-cut," he told the RUSI. "There is an absolute determination to prevent Afghanistan from falling back to failed-state status ... and provide again a breeding ground for al-Qaeda. As 90% of the narcotics that come to this country are from Afghanistan ... there is a strong self-interest in doing this in order to do something about the drugs on the streets of our own cities."

The obstacle to any switch in attention from Iraq to Afghanistan is initially political. Scotland on Sunday revealed in July a senior Cabinet minister's warning that the army was being put under intolerable pressure by maintaining a huge presence in Afghanistan as well as Iraq, and claimed that the concerns of defence chiefs were not being heard. But, above all, defence chiefs now regard the influence of President George Bush as the main inhibitor to any change. The Americans still have some 140,000 troops in Iraq and the White House will not countenance an early retreat.

The developing Iraq approach within the higher echelons of the MoD, the yearning for an exit strategy and a timetable for withdrawal, is wholly out of line with US strategy. Where Sir Richard talks about the need to leave soon, the latest Department of Defence update to the US Congress declares: "Arbitrary deadlines or timetables for withdrawal of Coalition forces - divorced from conditions in Iraq and the region - would be a serious strategic error, as they would suggest to the terrorists, the Rejectionists, and the various illegal armed groups in Iraq that they can simply wait or stall to win."

The report added: "The absence of a specific timetable does not mean that the Coalition's posture in Iraq is static. On the contrary, the Coalition continually reviews the situation in Iraq and adjusts its posture and approaches as conditions evolve and Iraqi capabilities grow."

However, the suggestion of movement does not bring much consolation to British military planners - hidden away elsewhere in the update is a disturbing reference to "the first peaceful transfer of power in 2010". Heywood added: "It's fair to say that we are suspicious of the Americans."

There is much to be suspicious of. Sir Richard Dannatt's career may perish over his outspoken remarks - and MoD insiders last night predicted that he would be "quietly pensioned off" within six months - but the impact of his outburst will remain.

"This might help us to start to break free of that American military influence," a former colleague suggested last night. "Even if he doesn't turn out to be our longest-serving chief of defence staff, that may be the greatest service Richard Dannatt ever does this country."

source: http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/opinion.cfm?id=1526932006 15oct2006


Lieutenant General Sir Richard Dannatt KCB CBE MC (UK Army)

Commander Allied Rapid Reaction Corps

Lieutenant General Sir Richard Dannatt was commissioned into The Green Howards from Sandhurst in 1971 and has served with 1st Battalion The Green Howards in Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Germany. He commanded the Battalion in the Airmobile role from 1989 – 1991. In tours away from Regimental Duty he has been a Company instructor at Sandhurst, Chief of Staff 20th Armoured Brigade, Military Assistant to the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and Colonel Higher Command and Staff Course/Doctrine at the Staff College.

From 1994-1996 he commanded 4th Armoured Brigade. During this period he was deployed from Germany to Bosnia as Commander Sector South West in the final months of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) and then commanding his Brigade at the start of the Implementation Force (IFOR) with Multinational Division (South West). From 1996-1998 he was Director of Defence Programmes in the Ministry of Defence. He took command of 3rd (United Kingdom) Division in January 1999, and served that year in Kosovo as Commander British Forces. In November 2000 he was appointed Deputy Commander Operations of the Stabilisation Force (SFOR) in Bosnia. He was the Assistant Chief of the General Staff in the UK Ministry of Defence from April 2001 to October 2002, and assumed the command of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corpson the 15th January 2003.

Lieutenant General Sir Richard Dannatt and his wife, have their permanent home in Norfolk and are both graduates of Durham University. Married in 1977, they have three sons and a daughter whose ages range between 15 – 25. In addition to his current appointment, Lieutenant General Sir Richard Dannatt is Colonel Commandant of The King’s Division, The Royal Military Police and Army Air Corps. He is President of the Army Rifle Association, and the Soldier’s and Airmen’s Scripture Readers Association, and Vice President of The Officers Christian Union. He enjoys all sports, in particular cricket, tennis, skiing, shooting and fishing.

source: http://www.arrc.nato.int/biographies/dannatt.htm 15oct2006

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