Monday, October 16, 2006

Beware Of Generals Offering Their Views

I have been meaning to blog on this topic for some time, so apologies if this feels a little out of sync with the news cycle.

I was very disappointed by the public comments made by General Sir Richard Dannatt the Chief of the General Staff. On the BBC's Today Show he declared his concerns about the current conflict in Iraq. This, in my view, sets a bad precedent, which is not helped by both tabloid and broadsheet agreement with his views.

In a democracy, Generals play a very important role. They translate the will of our elecetd representatives into action, both locally in the case of fire brigade strikes and natural disasters and globally in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. The danger of outspoken generals is that they move from the military sphere into the overtly political realm. They stop acting on our behalf and begin to represent their own interests. We may agree with Sir Richard's comments that the presence of British soldiers in Iraq was exacerbating the violence there and that a prolonged stay in the country could "break" the armed forces, but that is not the point.

The military plays a vital role in a free society, but part of that freedom rests on power being held by the people's elected representatives. How big a step is it from "I just want to comment on the suitability of war" to "I want to utilise the power that I hold to control the nation"? I think Pakistan's unelected President Musharraf would say that the step is sometimes not that far.

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