just finished reading most of British Generals in Blair's Wars, a fascinating volume,
one of the most interesting I've read this year. As the title indicates, it is
a compilation of talks and essays by generals who played various senior roles
over the last 10 years in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
views are remarkably diverse. For example, some generals look to the Americans
as an example of a military that was more adaptive than the British, while Gen.
(ret.) Sir Michael Jackson calls the U.S. military "intellectually bankrupt."
(That may be due to a time difference: Jackson led British forces in Kosovo in
1999, while others saw the U.S. Army and the Marines finally get their act
together in Iraq eight long years later.) Maj. Gen. (ret.) Andrew Stewart, who
served in Iraq, states as a given that "aside from the USA, there are no armed
forces in the world that have all the capabilities needed to wage modern
warfare." Gen. (ret.) John McColl, who was deputy commander of MNF-Iraq, also
says enviously that American soldiers have more pride than do their British
counterparts. He adds that he found the American military to be generous and
also are candid about each other in ways that American generals rarely are in
public. "The majority I would rate as fair," Lt. Gen. (ret.) Graeme Lamb, says
of his peers, "a few I would gladly join and assault hell's gate, and some I
wouldn't follow to the latrine."
talk by Lamb, who did four tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan, is for me the
high point of the collection, in part because he addresses issues I spent much
of the last three years contemplating as I wrote The Generals. He says that generalship is about three things:
character, competence, and communication. "So do we select our generals on such
criteria? Don't be daft, of course we don't. We pull them up through patronage,
misplaced loyalty, self-promotion and a host of other rather tawdry reasons
and, occasionally, on ability; but it is not always the brightest and the best
that are selected for high office." The majority of people disagree with him,
he notes, but adds that they "lack the balls to say so."
book would be even more candid except that the Ministry of Defence refused to
allow the editors to publish the remarks of generals still on active duty.
"Indeed, even this book has had chapters by serving officers withdrawn on
orders of the MOD, including a chapter by the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff
on the difficulties of making strategy in the twenty-first century." All told,
six chapters were ordered withdrawn.