The Best Defense

The British Army and the people of Ireland: This is one complex love story

By Henry Farrell

Best Defense office of ethno-military affairs

You asked recently whether the "British Army ever formally recognized and honored the role that Irishmen (not Anglo-Irish aristos) historically played in its enlisted ranks?"

The answer is yes, at least for World War I. Neither the British nor the Irish government was particularly inclined to celebrate the role of Irish soldiers in the British Army until quite recently. World War I split the Irish Volunteers into a majority under the sway of John Redmond, who supported the British in World War I (and in many cases volunteered to join the British Army), and a minority who opposed the war and the threat of conscription (which was nominally led by my great-grandfather Eoin MacNeill). The latter started the Easter Rising and the War of Independence, and won, more or less (the Irish civil war was fought between two sub-factions of this faction; as Brendan Behan once remarked, the first item on the agenda of any IRA meeting was always The Split). The former nearly completely disappeared from historical memory -- nobody, except the Ulster Unionists, particularly wanted to remember the Irishmen who had fought on Britain's side. Sebastian Barry's extraordinary play, The Steward of Christendom, talks to this amnesia from the perspective of the "Castle Catholics" who had sided with the British administration. Frank McGuinness's earlier play, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, talks about it from a Unionist perspective.

This began to change in the 1990s, leading to an initiative to create a memorial to the Irish who died in World War I, which was folded into the more general peace initiative. The result was the building of a tower with financial support from both the British and Irish governments, commemorating the war dead from both parts of Ireland. The British and Irish army bands played together for the first time at its opening. The Wikipedia page on the memorial gives a good overview of the project and the politics behind it.

Henry Farrell is an associate professor of political science and international affairs at the George Washington University. He blogs at the Monkey Cage and Crooked Timber.


The Best Defense

The other rebalance

By Lt. Cdr. David Forman, US Navy

Best Defense guest correspondent

Before President Obama's national security team started their analysis in 2009 that eventually led to the current rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, then-Senator Jim Webb experienced a peculiar event. It was so peculiar that it now helps shape his argument that we need another type of rebalance: one that returns the legislative and executive branches to actual co-equal partners in government.

In December of 2008, Sen. Webb entered a soundproof room to review the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that would shape our long-term relations with Iraq. Though not actually classified, the White House controlled the document as though it was. According to the logbook he signed to enter the room, Sen. Webb was the first member of the legislative branch to review it. The irony of "secretly" reviewing a document that should have been written or thoroughly debated by Congress was not lost on such an experienced public servant.

In his recent article, "Congressional Abdication," in The National Interest, Webb draws attention to three main events he believes indicate Congress is not fulfilling the full range of its responsibilities, including Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution as it pertains to use of the military. First, as mentioned above, the Congress did not play any meaningful role in the development of the SFA agreement with Iraq. Though not an official treaty, the agreement was a unique display of exclusive executive-branch negotiations. Second, and most alarming to Webb, is that the Congress played no part in debating or approving combat operations in Libya in March 2011, a previously unprecedented type of military intervention. And last, the Congress was kept in the dark until the president was ready to sign the strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan in May 2012.

To be clear, Webb's remarks at a recent session at the officers of The National Interest began with, "I'm not on a crusade." He is not trying to throw stones in the Congressional arena now that he is on the sidelines. Webb's goal is to provide an honest and insightful assessment of the current imbalance between the two branches.

After the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in 2001, the president was understandably afforded great leeway to act. No elected official wanted to be seen as unpatriotic in the aftermath of such a penetrating and deadly assault on American territory. However, the complexity and diversity of pursuant foreign policy issues combined with the perpetual need to fundraise has prevented Congress from digging deep into foreign policy issues and recovering the ground it patriotically sacrificed in 2001.

The path to rebalancing is not easy or entirely clear, but recognition by the president and the Congress, the media, and the American people is a necessary first step. Congressional approval may seem like a nuisance in the pace of today's political developments, but it is also vitally important. Not only does this process adhere to our laws, it also shows the resolve of the American government and the nation it represents.

Though the eventual solution will take time, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is a natural focal point to help restore legislative balance to executive branch involvement in foreign policy. The framework for Congressional involvement and genuine oversight still exists, but its members must duly exercise this capability. With American involvement in Afghanistan winding down, issues with North Korea and Iran are most likely front-runners of opportunity for the Congress to reassert its constitutional authorities and work as a co-equal partner to steer our nation through a myriad of upcoming foreign-policy decisions.

LCDR David Forman, USN, is a senior military fellow at the Center for a New American Security. The views presented here are his own and do not represent those of the Navy or the Department of Defense.