20 April 2011

Puzzling Lord Dannatt

In a previous post, I mentioned the “large cohort of senior officers of all three services, serving and retired, unafraid to speak their minds”.  One of the most prominent of these gentlemen (no-one at this level seems to be female) is the former head of the British army, Lord Dannatt (formerly General Sir Richard Dannatt).  His opinions are called for at present on Libya. On Saturday 16 April on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he addressed the extent of the stalemate in Libya and was subsequently reported by the Daily Telegraph:
Lord Dannatt, the former head of the UK's armed forces [sic], has called for the UN to pass a resolution authorising the training and arming of rebels fighting Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces in Libya. Lord Dannatt urged the international coalition to seek a fresh UN Security Council resolution specifically authorising the move.

He also said that reports that Gaddafi had been using cluster bombs during the siege of Misurata had further weakened the Libyan leader's position.

"We have got to move this one on, we have got to be innovative about the way we do it. I have thought about it long and hard: go back to New York, get a strengthened UN Security Council resolution and arm, equip and train the opposition."

Speaking to Radio 4's Today programme, Lord Dannatt added: "If we thought that Gaddafi had lost the moral right to rule this country a month ago, he has lost it in the last 24 hours, that's for sure."
According to Google news this was one of over 4000 articles generated from the Today piece. (Don’t bother going to the Today website (limited duration) to hear what he actually said, the player link is wrong and you will find yourself listening not to Dannatt, Richard but to Dilmott, Andrew on funding for adult social care.)

The same morning in Tim Walker’s Mandrake column, the Daily Telegraph was running another story:

Walker didn’t explain where and when Dannatt made these remarks, but Dannatt has links to the Telegraph newspapers – in his maiden speech in the House of Lords he described himself as “a periodic contributor to the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph” (Hansard 10 Mar 2011: Column 1815).

Lord Dannatt’s views, whether one agrees with them or not, are always expressed with the clarity to be expected of a former senior officer.  However, it's a bit of a puzzle when, at the same time as appearing on one of the BBC's most influential programmes, elsewhere in the media he is criticising one of its senior correspondents .  The puzzle extends to deciding who is he speaking for.  He may be speaking for himself. On the other hand, he could be articulating opinions on behalf of the Army which it would be inappropriate for serving generals to express publicly. Although in the past he had links to the Conservative party, he sits in the Lords as a crossbench peer (non-aligned).

And the Today programme clearly doesn’t ignore the Daily Telegraph!

David Cameron on Today, 19 April 2011

Text of Mandrake article:

Libya: General Lord Dannatt's concern over BBC giving succour to Gaddafi

A lugubrious presence at the best of times, Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, stands accused of not accentuating the positive in his dispatches from Libya on the British, French and American-led coalition’s efforts to bring to an end Col Muammar Gaddafi’s bloody regime.
“People hang on the words of the BBC in Libya and throughout the Middle East and I do wonder if what he has been saying has been entirely helpful,” says General Lord Dannatt, the former Chief of the General Staff. “Mr Bowen has, of course, every right to report what happens, but when he dwells to such an extent on intangible things — such as how long the operation will take and whether the will is there to see it through — then it sets a tone that could hardly have given heart to members of the rebel forces.”
Dannatt urged Bowen, whose Wikipedia entry already boasts that he was “the first British journalist to interview Muammar Gaddafi since the start of the Libyan uprising against him and the government,” to “weigh his words with care.”

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