Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Will Tony Blair Lead Us Out of Iraq-Nam?

Is the British Prime Minister morphing from
Bush's poodle into 'International' Velvet, the rescue dog?

Blair is expected to clarify details of the U.K.'s progressive withdrawal from Iraquagmire today, after his announcement in the House of Commons.

The BBC reports that Blair says hundreds of troops will return from Basra in the next few weeks. Out of the 7,200 British troops still serving in Iraq, It is expected Blair will say 1,500 troops are expected to return home in months, with 3,000 withdrawn by Christmas. Blair said earlier this week,
The problems remain formidable. What all of this means is not that Basra is how we want it to be but the next chapter in Basra's history can be written by the Iraqis.
If true, this would mark a significant change from comments made just last month, when he called plans for withdrawing troops by October "irresponsible." Speaking in the House of Commons on Jan. 24, Blair said such a plan
would send the most disastrous signal to the people that we are fighting in Iraq. It's a policy that, whatever its superficial attractions may be, is actually deeply irresponsible.
What's changed? A recent poll published in The Guardian suggests the Labour Party is losing its support. When voters were asked who they would vote for, 42 per cent said Conservative, as opposed to 29 per cent for Labour under the leadership of Blair's likely successor, Gordon Brown.

Our own Bush administration is either mired in the river de-Nile or in the land of the great pretenders. National Security Council spokesperson Gordon Johndroe told the AP that Bush views any British withdrawal as a sign troops have promoted security in the region.
The president is grateful for the support of the British Forces in the past and into the future.

While the United Kingdom is maintaining a robust force in southern Iraq, we're pleased that conditions in Basra have improved sufficiently that they are able to transition more control to the Iraqis.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, whose party opposed the war in Iraq, has it right:
The unpalatable truth, Mr Speaker, is this, that we will leave behind a country on the brink on civil war, where reconstruction has stalled, where corruption is endemic and a region that is a lot less stable than it was in 2003.

This is a long way short of the beacon of democracy for the Middle East which was promised some four years ago.
The real story here is that this is a slower withdrawal than many in the British army had hoped for. Head of the British Army, Chief of the General Staff Sir Richard Dannatt was speaking for the army last October when he said:
I think history will show that the planning for what happened after the initial successful war-fighting phase was poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning.

History will show that a vacuum was created and into the vacuum malign elements moved. The hope that we might have been able to get out of Iraq in 12, 18, 24 months after the initial start in 2003 has proved fallacious. Now hostile elements have got a hold it has made our life much more difficult in Baghdad and in Basra.

. . . . The original intention was that we put in place a liberal democracy that was an exemplar for the region, was pro-West and might have a beneficial effect on the balance within the Middle East.

That was the hope. Whether that was a sensible or naïve hope, history will judge. I don't think we are going to do that. I think we should aim for a lower ambition. . . . get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems. We are in a Muslim country and Muslims' views of foreigners in their country are quite clear. . . As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited into a country, but we weren't invited, certainly by those in Iraq at the time. Let's face it, the military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in.

. . . That is a fact. I don't say that the difficulties we are experiencing around the world are caused by our presence in Iraq, but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them. . . .

In the Army we place a lot of store by the values we espouse. What I would hate is for the Army to be maintaining a set of values that were not reflected in our society at large — courage, loyalty, integrity, respect for others; these are critical things.
The ranks of the coalition of the unwilling are increasing. Denmark will also be withdrawing its troops from Iraq by August, Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has announced. The troops, numbering about 460, will be replaced by a unit of nine soldiers manning four observational helicopters.