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The Dilemma Of The British Deployment To Baghdad

David Miller Online

The Dilemma Of The British Deployment To Baghdad

Whatever Tony Blair tells the British public and the House of Commons there is certainly a political motivation to his government’s decision to deploy forces closer to Baghdad. The case that he and his ministers have given for the move is that it is what is required of a good ally and necessary for a successful prosecution of the war. Yet, even supporters of the war must admit that there is a link between the timing of the re-deployment of British forces and the upcoming elections in both Iraq and the United States. Mr. Blair is President Bush’s closest ally and both men need to see Iraq stabilised before elections there. Yet although this is the biggest gamble of Mr. Blair’s tenure in Downing Street, the risk to his position as Prime Minister is minimal and despite the opposition to the move, he will survive and is unlikely to be the one who has to manage any fall out should things go wrong.

The decision to re-deploy the British battle group comes in the face of much opposition both from members of the public and within the Labour Party yet there is nothing the dissenters can do to except make noise. For one thing, a large majority in the Commons protects Mr. Blair and even if Members of his party vote against the moving of troops north, it is unlikely that they would have the numbers to reverse the decision. Neither of the potential challengers to the Prime Ministers’ job, Gordon Brown and Alan Milburn, has expressed their opposition to the war and apart from former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, no other high profile member of the government has done so. Had either Mr. Brown or Mr. Milburn taken an anti-war stance, then it is possible that the British Government would not have agreed to Washington’s request for this re-deployment, unless of course there had been some kind of a backroom deal.

Another point that could help Mr. Blair walk away from the Iraq war without having to endure the consequences is the distinct possibility that his next term in office will be his last. There have been reports throughout the British media that he plans to stand aside once he has secured his place in History as a 3-term Premier having recently bought a house in central London and his re-admission of Mr. Milburn back into the government fold as his preferred successor. Mr. Brown is still widely tipped to succeed Mr. Blair as Prime Minister yet that task become much harder the longer he remains in number 11 Downing Street rather than the house next door. If he is to assume the top job, then he must mount his challenge during Labour’s next term in office and not allow Mr. Blair time and the opportunity to groom public and party opinion towards accepting Mr. Milburn as Leader.

If Mr. Blair does leave Downing Street amidst the war then it is reminiscent of Lyndon Johnson leaving the White House having increased American involvement in Vietnam. There will be Blair supporters who will say that this is the most suitable time for him to step aside and that to win a fourth term would be unlikely. However, if this is his agenda then he must devise and implement a plan to get British forces out of Iraq before he exits or at least scale back their role in the war. The problem with sending the Black Watch north is that the term ‘mission-creep’ has entered the equation and although the US decision to launch an offensive against the insurgents and murderers of Abu Masab al-Zarqawi’s network is the correct one, Britain has deepened its commitment in the war. The British Government have promised the soldiers of the Black Watch that their deployment will be limited and that they will return home by Christmas and this will be the case. The question is whether the United States will use its own forces to take their place or make another request for British forces. The answer, although uncertain, is likely to be the latter.

Whatever the debate over the war and each countries involvement, Britain had little room to manoeuvre when faced with this request. The fact is that London entered this war as a member of the Coalition built a decade ago and it cannot walk out when the going gets tough or when faced with increased risk. After all, that is the nature of warfare and intra-state warfare especially. However, unless the British sustain heavy casualties in the next few months, then the war will not threaten Mr. Blair’s position as Prime Minister. He escaped the fall out from the debacle over issue of Weapons of Mass Destruction and the 45-minute claim, the rather thin excuse that pre-war intelligence was faulty and has a large majority of Commons Members who support him or at least are not ready to openly support Mr. Brown in fear of damaging their careers. Nevertheless, if the Iraq war simmers on then there could be less incentive for Mr. Blair to remain in at The Top and he always has the option to walk out on a mess that he was very much responsible for creating.


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