Previous Section Index Home Page

8 May 2008 : Column 939

I do not wish to take away from the individual work and strengths of DFID and Foreign Office representatives, but those two Departments have totally failed the MOD and the military who are still stuck on Operation Telic many years after those other organisations have disappeared. DFID is no longer to be seen in any sense or form in Basra on the scale that should have been there when we first went in. We have moved from being liberators to being occupiers. I am afraid that our military have borne the brunt of that, and they get very little thanks for what they have managed to achieve.

It could be argued that perhaps if Saddam Hussein had invaded somewhere, or done something proactive, we would have had to expedite a force to go out and rush in there. However, as memoirs are written and the information comes out of the system, we see that General Franks, who led the initial invasion, was approached, as the commander of US Central Command, back in November 2001 to start to create the plans of attack to invade Iraq. There was plenty of time to formulate a plan for what we would do after the invasion was complete. In May 2003, President Bush stood on top of the Abraham Lincoln, saying, “Mission accomplished.” We have failed in Iraq because we did not use that important window of opportunity. Rather than our being able to take advantage of the confusion, the power vacuum has been filled not by us, and not by good Iraqi governance, but by al-Qaeda, which was not there in the first place. That is what has led to our being seen not as liberators but as occupiers. We have lost the hearts and minds of the good people—the Iraqis—who wanted us to move forward.

To confuse matters, we now talk about the militants in Basra. The situation is more complicated than that. The Fadhila party and the Mahdi army are two different operations. The Fadhila party has responsibility and the mayorship of Basra, but the Mahdi army wants that power. The conflict between the two militias is causing the friction, and the only thing that united all the militias in Basra was a hatred of the British. That forced us to move from Basra palace to the airport itself. I am saddened by how we were forced to withdraw. My battalion—the 4th Battalion, The Rifles—was part of that, and it did a fantastic job in trying to patrol in very difficult circumstances. However, we must ask whether it is correct for 750 soldiers to patrol a city of 1.5 million people if those soldiers do not have the support of DFID and the FCO.

The problems manifested themselves in the uprising on 9 April. The Secretary of State said today that the grip of the militias had now been broken, but I beg to differ. As we heard from other interventions at the time, it is clear that the Iraqis could have contained the situation only with the support of the Americans. Indeed, Time magazine has reported this week that US and British planes had to be called in and that medical supplies and even bottles of water were needed to support the Iraqis. According to the Iraqi Government, many soldiers refused to fight. Many surrendered and many switched sides; 1,300 soldiers deserted. That is why UK and American special forces were needed to try to quell the uprising. The situation is not under control; it is very much teetering on the brink of civil war. We have walked away from the issue and it is less in the headlines than it has ever been before. However, there will be a period of uncertainty before there is any long-term peace in the south and in the Shi’ite sector.

8 May 2008 : Column 940

The scenario for the Sunnis in central Iraq is a different one. As I said, ethnic cleansing has taken place in Anbar province, and although there is relative peace there, that is because of the awakening project in which the Americans paid militias and gave them uniforms so that they could patrol their areas. That might have purchased a temporary peace, but what will happen when the Americans depart and that money dries up? When I was on a recent visit to Iraq, the Iraqi Government made it clear that they would not continue to pay the militias for what they were doing. The militias are outside the structure of governance and there is a worry that they will turn their sights on the south and the Shi’ites. We will then have full-scale war. I hope that that will not happen, but it is certainly on the cards. The prospect of things heading that way is very worrying.

I am saddened that we seem to be running away from Iraq with our tail between our legs after we had such an opportunity in the relative peace to do something positive. Unfortunately, we face a similar situation in Afghanistan. Again, a lack of co-ordination within the international community means that money and effort are not getting to the front line. The centralised model of governance means that we do not recognise or celebrate the mixture of tribes, alliances and allegiances that actually make up Afghanistan. The Americanised constitution that was imposed on Afghanistan ignores the Loya Jirgas that set up their own democratic structures, and we rushed into creating an elected system of governance that is limited to Kabul only. We need to look at recognising better the Pashtuns, the Tajiks, the Hazaras and the Uzbeks, and the differences that exist across the nation, and to take a much more federalist approach than the centralist model, which is clearly not working.

Time is against me, and I must conclude. Kinetic activity is not the only thing that the Ministry of Defence needs to be concerned about. It is part of the fight to contain insurgency, but a wave of support must come in behind it. There must be reconstruction and redevelopment. If there is not, all we do is end up killing the bad guys; the good guys wait around for something to happen, and when it does not, they ask, “What have we actually witnessed?” That is the big difference between following through our commitment and leaving it to the military to create a peace of which no one ever takes advantage.

It is clear that the Kabul Government are weak and that we are not harnessing the exports because there is not the infrastructure to do so. The international community needs to do more to get the road and railway systems working so that things can be exported. Afghanistan was one of the world leaders in exporting fruit, which was its main export before the Soviet invasion. Not only is the country now unable to grow fruit in any great measure because the irrigation system was not repaired properly after its destruction by the Soviets, but there is no method of getting it out of the country and linking up with world export markets. We have been there for a number of years, and even today no one is working on those things under the limited and fragile umbrella of security put together by the military.

Fighting asymmetric battles is not just about shooting the bad guys, but about helping, and being seen to help, the good guys. ISAF, in its limited role, needs to expand what it does. I heard General Richards speak at an
8 May 2008 : Column 941
event last night. He was shocked to hear how much Royal Engineers were doing to repair our own barracks again and again, in and around the various Afghan towns and cities, rather than their being sent to do work outside where the civilian contractors refuse to go.

We have the ability in NATO to do more for the reconstruction effort. There is a question mark over NATO’s future. More can be done to expand the peacekeeping mission to include not just fighting, but a proactive approach to peacekeeping itself. Iraq and Afghanistan are our generation’s war. My worry is that the lack of a plan in both cases means that we will be fighting it for much longer.

5.17 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) on his remarks about the lack of co-ordination between DFID and the armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is one of the abiding problems that NATO as a whole and even our own Government have failed adequately to address.

In a wider context, it has become something of a cliché to say that following the tearing down of the Berlin wall, we now live in an age of uncertainty. Increasingly, however, the Government are becoming lost in a fog of their own making about how to engage in the new world disorder. The central policy of this tired Government has become to abdicate their responsibilities, seeking to subcontract their foreign and defence policy to international institutions. While they waste their political capital on such an unrealistic policy, there is almost complete paralysis in the Ministry of Defence. It is so stretched by the demands that are placed on it by the Government’s foreign commitments that it is now living virtually from month to month. The three-year spending round is clearly insufficient to pay for current procurement programmes or to match the stated manning requirement, but the Government seem determined to avoid the consequences of that. There was a meeting in the Ministry of Defence last week to try to resolve the spending difficulties, but substantial decisions still come there none. The Government will do all they can to avoid facing up to the key point that they have not adequately funded the armed forces. While Ministers keep their heads in the sand, the serious point is that the UK is in danger of relegating itself to a third division status among the world powers.

The current Government’s attitude to foreign affairs appears to involve a further retreat into a reliance on international institutions, such as the UN, the EU, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Here, so the Prime Minister told us recently, can our influence be most effective, reforming those institutions to make them more powerful and more effective for the 21st century. The Prime Minister’s foreign policy speech in Boston identified many of the further challenges, but the world’s problems will not be solved by committee meetings in New York or Brussels; they will be solved only on the streets of Baghdad, Kabul and other cities in Asia, Africa and the middle east.

The Prime Minister says that

8 May 2008 : Column 942

However, such truisms do not seem to grasp the fact that the only real actors in global events are not the international institutions but the nations they represent. Hence, China will not compromise on industrialisation in the face of western fears about climate change; Iran will not give up her desire to obtain nuclear weapons, or stop interfering in the security of her neighbour, Iraq; and Russia will not stop pursuing the aggressive, bullying nationalism that has characterised the Putin presidency, such as the threatening of energy supplies to its neighbours. Those very same countries render impotent the international institutions in which the Prime Minister keeps vesting so much of his political capital.

The west is not immune, either. The Government should reflect on the fact that the United States will not recognise the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court because, somewhat justifiably, it wishes to protect its soldiers against malicious legal actions. France will be France; Germany will be Germany. The idea that major international actors such as the US, China and Russia are altruistically going to give up national interest to pursue a so-called global agenda is little more than a cod-Marxist fantasy. If the Prime Minister is to make a real impact on the world stage, he must deal with the world as it now is and not how he wishes it to be, and be prepared to assert our own role on the world stage.

Willie Rennie: What the hon. Gentleman is saying is interesting, but does he not recognise that sometimes there are common interests between countries, and that we should therefore work together where we have those common interests?

Mr. Jenkin: Of course we have common interests on which we should work together, but we cannot allow other nations effectively to veto our own foreign policy by exercising their veto in the international institutions. As the previous Prime Minister, Tony Blair, proved time and again, in the end it may only be the bilateral and multilateral ad hoc options that are available to us. Insisting that the only way to validate one’s foreign policy is to have it stamped by the EU or the United Nations is to tie one’s hands to national agendas that are different from ours—to the agendas of countries that have no intention of allowing us to veto those agendas.

So we see the UK disappearing into the background on the world stage. The Prime Minister’s absence from the Lisbon treaty signing was met with anger on the part of foreign politicians, diplomats and journalists. How can the Prime Minister expect to have any influence if he absents himself? One official said that

At last month’s NATO summit, the Prime Minister was similarly invisible. Where was Britain’s voice when the issue of Georgian and Ukrainian membership was being discussed? We heard strong arguments on both sides from America, France and Germany, but virtually nothing from the United Kingdom. By the time the vital meeting with the Russians took place—on the final day of the summit—the Prime Minister had fled the scene. The last to arrive at Lisbon, the first to leave Bucharest: is that the way to promote the UK on the world stage?

To compound that, the Prime Minister failed to come to the House to give an oral statement on the outcome
8 May 2008 : Column 943
of the NATO summit—a quite extraordinary precedent given the importance of the summit for Afghanistan, for the enlargement of NATO, for missile defence, for relations with Russia and for the unresolved issue of EU-NATO relations. The Defence Secretary told the House last week that everything was going well in Afghanistan, but a report drawn up by the Foreign Office at the Prime Minister’s request and distributed to our NATO allies warns that

That is not the story we are told on the Floor of the House; it is the sort of candour we could do with.

The Prime Minister’s effort to dissociate himself from Mr. Blair means that he has adopted a one foot in, one foot out approach to our deployment in Iraq. Again, this is the worst of all possible worlds. While the Americans surged into Iraq last year—despite all the obstacles and difficulties, they have made a lot of progress—the British Government were looking to get out of Iraq. Even that has failed. In the wake of his pre-election stunt to try to overshadow the Conservative conference, the Prime Minister told the House in October that he was planning to reduce the size of Operation Telic from 5,500 last September to just 2,500 by now. That simply defied the military logic, as explained by the Minister for the Armed Forces to the Select Committee in July. He said that

So it has proved. Operation Telic is now stuck at around 4,000 for the foreseeable future. The Prime Minister has made himself look foolish and devious in the eyes of our servicemen, the British public and our allies. He raised the hopes of our servicemen—who thought they were going to be home soon—and their families, and then dashed them.

Southern Iraq is supposed to be a British responsibility and yet it is the Americans who have had to divert troops from central Iraq to fight in the south. I wonder what it feels like to be stationed at Basra airport watching the Americans do our fighting for us because the British Government have lost the political will and run out of the military capacity. A Labour Member said earlier that overstretch was just a myth promulgated by the Conservatives; he should listen to some of his hon. Friends, who will tell him the truth about how little military capacity we now have. The fact that we are now deploying to the Balkans the 2nd Battalion, The Rifles so soon after their return from Iraq underlines how overstretched we are.

The Government’s bungling in Iraq has seriously undermined our credibility with the Americans as well. The Government’s failure to commit the necessary resources or show the stomach for the fight has caused a sense of private and sometimes public betrayal among the American military and politicians. Of course General Petraeus is going to say something diplomatic when he appears before the press in London, but the disillusion goes up to the most senior levels. Senator McCain has said of the British withdrawal from southern Iraq that he

That is about as blunt as the special relationship gets in public from a US presidential candidate—the one I hope will win. While we are still talking about scaling
8 May 2008 : Column 944
back our forces in Basra, the US army has sent a brigade to the city. Is that what we mean by standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies—indeed, our most important ally?

The underlying problem is that the Government have failed to underline the reality of their foreign policy with their defence policy. Since 1999, the Government have pursued an interventionist foreign policy without providing the armed forces with the necessary resources. We do not need to rehearse all the figures again. The strategic defence review promised, but did not deliver.

The Government point out that they are increasing defence spending, but after the additional spending they have pledged specifically for accommodation, salary increases, council tax rebate, the carriers and Trident’s successor, the increase over the course of the comprehensive spending review is just 0.6 per cent., not 1.5 per cent. per year as published by the Government. The picture is worse when one factors in defence costs inflation, which was raised earlier in the debate. The spending increases are tiny in comparison with those that the Government have found so easily for other public services such as health, education and overseas aid.

The numbers in the armed forces are falling: there are 1,000 fewer soldiers this year than last. Major projects have been delayed and there are endless stories of budgetary chaos at the MOD. The Government have become ashamed to come to the House of Commons to discuss military matters, hence the written rather than oral statements on NATO and our deployment to Kosovo.

The MOD has found itself a prisoner of the Prime Minister’s indecision. It cannot cut one of the big programmes because of the cost in headlines and job losses, but it is not being given the money to pay the bills either. General Sir Kevin O’Donoghue told the Select Committee that he suspected that cuts would have to be made

That was months ago, yet there is no sign of any decisions having been made. When asked how the scale of difficulty in this planning round compared with others, he said:

When asked whether he remembered the situation ever being as much of a challenge as it is today, he replied:

Of course, a Labour Government were in charge in the late 1970s.

Mr. David Gould, the chief operating officer, said:

It was because of that atmosphere that the Committee felt it necessary to conclude in its report that the Ministry of Defence

We see no sign at the moment of those decisions being made.

8 May 2008 : Column 945

The national security strategy says that

Next Section Index Home Page