Cablegate: Defence Secretary Ainsworth Outlines Top

DE RUEHLO #2186/01 2641320
P 211320Z SEP 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 LONDON 002186


E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/18/2019

Classified By: Ambassador Louis Susman for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C/NF). Summary. In a September 24 initial call by the Ambassador, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth expressed his firm commitment to the international mission in Afghanistan, describing success there as his top priority as Defence Secretary. Ainsworth stressed the importance of demonstrating to the British people that there has been demonstrable progress in Afghanistan, especially in light of recent, heavy UK casualties. Top challenges to the mission in Afghanistan are a loss of credibility by the Afghan government and eroding public support in the U.S. and UK for the mission there, Ainsworth asserted. The Defence Secretary said his second priority is launching a successful Strategic Defense Review process. The Ambassador provided Ainsworth an update of the President's plans regarding missile defense. Ainsworth expressed appreciation for the Ambassador's affirmation that the President and Secretary Clinton strongly support rapid ratification and implementation of the U.S.-UK Defense Trade Cooperation Treaty. End Summary.

2. (C/NF) During his September 24 introductory meeting with Ambassador Susman, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth agreed with the Ambassador about the importance of international efforts to promote stability in Afghanistan. Ainsworth identified two "huge dangers" that could help derail that mission: loss of credibility by the Afghan government and eroding public support in the U.S. and the UK for the mission. "The troops can do it," Ainsworth stressed, but public opinion could falter. He concurred with the Ambassador's assessment that it is essential to convince the U.S. and UK publics that the war is winnable. Ainsworth stated that the British public is not as opposed to Britain's commitment in Afghanistan as is the British press. By way of example, he asserted that the populist tabloid "The Sun" was focused on defeating the Labour government in the next general election and had initially used HMG's prosecution of the war effort as a wedge to attack the Labour-led government. However, "The Sun" has lately backed off somewhat.

3. (C/NF) Ainsworth stressed the importance of showing the British people that international forces have made demonstrable progress in Afghanistan. This was especially important given the casualties suffered by British forces in the past several months. Ainsworth noted that a British brigade, which has suffered heavy casualties, is returning home soon. He expressed appreciation for the Ambassador's offer to participate in events demonstrating support for the commitment and sacrifice of British troops, such as a ceremony marking the return of soldiers from Afghanistan or a memorial service. UK planners are awaiting the results of General McChrystal's review, Ainsworth said.

Strategic Defense Review ------------------------

4. (C/NF) Ainsworth told the Ambassador that his top goal as Defence Secretary is "to get to as good a place as we can in Afghanistan." He described his next priority as successfully launching a Strategic Defense Review, which would include "a decent intellectual debate" about the future of UK defense. He boasted that he had used his political skills, honed during service in the House of Commons as a Labour Party Whip, to convince the Conservative Party to agree to appoint a representative to serve on the advisory committee. (Note: In a September 15th speech, Ainsworth stated that "there will be tough choices ahead" and that "major shifts" in defense spending could not be ruled out. He outlined the process for an updated Strategic Defense Review, starting with a Defense Green Paper to be published in early 2010. End Note.)

Missile Defense ---------------

5. (C/NF) Ainsworth expressed appreciation for Ambassador Susman's confirmation of President Obama's plans regarding missile defense. He observed that "Putin is still effectively running the show" in Russia.

Defense Trade Treaty --------------------

6. (C/NF) Ainsworth asked the Ambassador for an update on the status of U.S. ratification and implementation of the U.S.-UK Defense Trade Cooperation Treaty. Ambassador Susman affirmed that the President and Secretary Clinton strongly support ratification and implementation as soon as possible and he outlined steps that have been taken to encourage the LONDON 00002186 002 OF 002 Senate to ratify the Treaty as soon as possible. Ainsworth offered his help in any way necessary to get the Treaty ratified.

Biographical Note -----------------

7. (C/NF) During his meeting with the Ambassador, Ainsworth demonstrated why he has a reputation as a plain-spoken, sometimes blunt Labour Party standard bearer and consummate political insider. He visibly glowed when he described his successful efforts to get Tory participation on the Strategic Defense Review Advisory Committee. Ainsworth acknowledged that he had taken some hard knocks in the press recently, but shrugged off the attacks against him as part of the rough and tumble of partisan politics. "You expect at this point in the political cycle you'll get knocked around a bit. You won't get clipped and polished language from me, you'll get tenacity," Ainsworth told the Ambassador.

8. (SBU/NF) Ainsworth was elected in 1992 as a Member of Parliament from Coventry, the industrial city where he got his start in politics as a trade unionist at the Jaguar factory. He was appointed Secretary of State for Defence in June, having served for the two previous years as Minister of State for the Armed Forces. Reflecting the general tumult within the Labour Party, Ainsworth is the third Defence Secretary in the past year. Ainsworth was embroiled in the parliamentary expenses scandal earlier this year but was not burned (he allegedly claimed the maximum second home allowance). Not surprisingly, the media has given him a tough time in interviews; Ainsworth's characteristic bluntness has sometimes appeared maladroit. It is not clear whether he will play a prominent role in the general election campaign. Visit London's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX

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