31 May 2011

Dannatt at Hay, Levene at MoD

The Hay Festival (of Literature and the Arts) is currently underway at Hay-on-Wye (Powys, Wales). Hay is now sponsored by the Daily Telegraph, at least to 2013. The events already over (28 May) include Leading from the Front, Richard Dannatt talks to Nik Gowing, “The forthright Chief of the General Staff (2006–2009) reviews his military career and the current state of the nation’s defences.” I’ve noted previously that Lord Dannatt described himself as “a periodic contributor to the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph” (under the byline General Sir Richard Dannatt, as indexed here, rather than Lord Dannatt). His book (same title as the event) has just gone into paperback.

I don’t know whether the Telegraph sponsorship of Hay helped to generate the large and apparently supportive audience, but, if they were expecting Dannatt to be particularly controversial, they might have been disappointed, as the Sunday Telegraph report next day suggests. He expanded on the point he had made in his Daily Telegraph article a day earlier that “May has been a bad month for evil men” – OBL’s demise, Mladic’s arrest, - and talked about Libya, and the contribution which the four UK Apache attack helicopters could make if there were to be no "boots on the ground". (The first priority for our other 60 odd Apaches is Afghanistan and their activities are described here).  He saw no justification for aircraft carriers coming from the Libya operations – other aircraft which couldn’t operate from carriers were needed and would have to operate from land bases. The implications of this constraint were not debated properly, he said, during the Defence Review in 1997/98 which had started the current carrier building programme.

Gowing, who had done his homework (though General Rupert Smith, not Dannatt, popularised “war among the people”), asked Dannatt about remarks by Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, discussed in a post here in January. His response started with “Like him, get on well” but ended less warmly. The billing of “forthright” was lived up to again when Dannatt blamed Blair and Brown for the £B38 overspend (inherent in the plans for the following 10 years)which the MoD had built up by the time of the 2010 election, because of their reluctance to make the necessary decisions. But he also criticised David Cameron for committing to increased defence expenditure only in a second term – which might not happen – when MoD planners needed numbers for 2014/15 now. This was in the context of the UK/US relationship and whether the UK was essential to the US – the US was certainly essential to the UK, and the former did not want further erosion of the UK’s defence capabilities.

Some other points of interest: Dannatt clearly felt that his outspokenness in defending the army, which he did not regret, had cost him the top job, Chief of the Defence Staff. The Army had wanted a family of medium-weight, multipurpose vehicles (FRES) – these were cancelled by the Defence Board in 2008 to fund the carrier programme. There was a risk after Afghanistan of the army being left with a mix of vehicles which would be unsuitable for whatever came next. Much had been done to rectify past equipment deficiencies in Afghanistan (body armour), and this meant that coroners’ judgements on shortcomings could be a couple of years in arrears of the current situation. He thought the Army needed a strength (“critical mass”) not much below 100,000 (as opposed to 95,000 post-SDSR).

The questions included a dignified and thoughtful point from a woman who had lost a son in Afghanistan in 2009. A man who said he was a brigadier’s son asserted that the UK had four times as many generals as the US (pro rata, presumably) – their soldiers weren’t as good as ours, but their generals were better! Dannatt pointed out that the UK had to fill a lot of senior posts in NATO and the like, but as deputies to US staff when there was less opportunity to shine. In conclusion he commented that while forces from the air and sea could enable, it was on land that things could be brought to a decision – that was where “war among the people” took place.

There was no mention of Trident. Perhaps if the Guardian were still sponsoring Hay, Dannatt might also have been asked about Nick Hopkins’ article which appeared that morning: “Armed forces face radical changes under Lord Levene plans”.
A blueprint for the services and how they should be run is being drawn up by Lord Levene, who was appointed last year by the defence secretary, Liam Fox, and tasked with coming up with root-and-branch reforms. Levene is due to submit his final report by the end of July, but early drafts of his main proposals, and the principles behind them, have started to circulate around Whitehall.
The suggestions include:
  • Thinning the ranks at the very top of the military. At the moment each service has, effectively, two chiefs – one responsible for strategy and management, the other for operations. Levene believes that there should only be one chief for each arm.
  • Establishing a new appointments committee that would be responsible for choosing the highest ranking officers in the army, RAF and the Royal Navy. The committee would be chaired by a non-executive director, chosen by the defence secretary. At the moment, the services make most mid-ranking and senior appointments in-house.
  • Creating a new defence board that will have only one member of the military sitting on it. This would be the overall chief of the defence staff .... At the moment, chiefs from all three services sit on the board.
These proposals are likely to receive a ferocious response from the senior service echelons (perhaps already starting with a leak to the Guardian). If the new appointments system were implemented, it is difficult to imagine a man (or woman) as “tribal” (to use the term applied by Blair to died-in-the-wool Labourites) in their service attachment as Dannatt, rising as far as he did - see Jonathan Powell’s view of him in an earlier post.

Levene was Chief of Defence Procurement from 1985 to 1991, and appears in Alan Clark’s first volume of diaries (In Power) during his defence ministership (1989-1992). Clark, who wasn’t slow to form a poor opinion of his fellow-men, seemed to like him: “… Peter Levene, is thoroughly congenial. A quick mind - and so important – a sense of humour” (page 263). In February 1990, Clark was at odds with his boss, Tom King, over the conduct of the defence review addressing the new post-Cold War world.
Peter had an ingenious solution. To set up a ‘review Controllerate’ with him in charge, three Young Turks form the three services, reporting to me. Mouthwatering. … But Tom would see it a mile off. (page 280).
In April, Clark was in a state of exasperation after challenging senior army officers over a new piece of equipment:
I want to fire the whole lot. Instantly. Out, out. No 'District' commands, no golden bowlers, nothing. Out. There are so many good, tough keen young officers who aren't full of shit. How can we bring them on, before they get disillusioned, or conventionalised by the system? If I could, I'd do what Stalin did to Tukhachevsky. [Footnote: The purges of the Red Army in 1938-9 when three-quarters of all officers of field rank and above were put to the firing squads.] (page 291)
Five years later, Michael Bett (then with BT and who has recently stood down as Chancellor of Aston University) delivered a report to the MoD, Managing people in Tomorrow’s Armed Forces. This proposed a much simpler rank structure (see below for its impact on the army).

The rationale was given in paragraph 3.11:
Looking forward to 2010, we have identified a number of developments which suggest that significant rationalisation of the rank structure is necessary. … Most organisations in industry, commerce and government … have found that [such] 'horizontal' co-operation can be more effective if levels of authority are not emphasised and. the number of layers is kept to the minimum. This reduction in the number of layers is facilitated and enhanced by the availability of much better communications and by the higher level of general education attained by the work force. Simpler and often leaner structures, and more able people exercising more individual discretion seem to act very positively with modern information and communication technology.
Bett recommended the disappearance of the “five star” rank of Field Marshall, but apart from that, no significant changes to the rank structure were made. Whether Levene’s Defence Reform Unit’s equally radical proposals will be adopted should become clear by the end of the year.

26 May 2011

Alastair Campbell and Iraq

In a post in April, I speculated about the impact on the Iraq Inquiry of the UK’s involvement in Libya. On 12 May the Inquiry website published additional witness statements, declassified transcripts and documents. Also, the Inquiry Chairman, Sir John Chilcott was reported as saying “… my colleagues and I hope to present our report to the Prime Minister later this year but not before Parliament’s summer recess.” The Libyan situation may well be resolved by then, Gaddafi’s removal presumably being the crucial factor.

One of the new documents published by the Inquiry was a submission sent on 27 January to the Chairman from a former Major General and member of the Defence Intelligence Staff, Michael Laurie, commenting on Alastair Campbell’s evidence to the Inquiry on 12 January. Laurie stated:
Alistair [sic] Campbell said to the Inquiry that the purpose of the Dossier was not “to make a case for war”. I had no doubt at that time this was exactly its purpose and these very words were used.
Campbell’s immediately responded using Twitter:
@BBCLauraK nothing to add to evidence to inquiry. Dossier not case for war. Set out why govt more concerned re IraqWMD. Never met Gen Laurie
Re media inquiries on Iraq inquiry please see tweet to Laura Kuensberg BBC @bbclaurak. Thanks. No point calling for interviews.
(BBCLauraK is Laura Kuenssberg, Chief Political Correspondent for the BBC News Channel)

On 19 May, Campbell wrote to the Inquiry Chairman:
As his [Laurie’s] letter to the Inquiry was specifically targeted at my evidence to you, and as much of the coverage it generated was inaccurate, I would like to make three points. The first is that I do-not know and have never met Major General Laurie, and was not aware of any involvement he may have had is the September 2002 dossier on Iraq’s WMD. Second, neither I - nor, so far as I am aware, anyone else in Downing Street - was made aware of his views at the time or at any time in the subsequent nine years, until he felt moved to write to you, and his letter was published. The third point is that witnesses who were directly involved in the drafting of the dossier have made clear to several inquiries that at no time did I put anyone in the intelligence community under pressure, or say to them or anyone else that the then Prime Minister's purpose in publishing the dossier was to make the case for war.
The Chairman, as to be expected, made a non-committal reply the following day, so we will have to wait for the report to learn what, if anything, the Inquiry will make of this apparent divergence of views.

I hope to post about the second volume of Campbell’s Diaries, Power and the People 1997-1999, which covers the first three years of Tony Blair’s government, when I finish it. But in the meantime, I think it’s worth pointing out that (as far as I can tell) Iraq first appears in Campbell’s record on 6 November 1997, when Robin Cook informs Cabinet of the dangers of Iraq and Saddam’s WMD (page 200 – note that the indexing of this volume is wrong, showing the first occurrence of “Iraq” per se as being page 280.)

On 27 January 1998. Bill Clinton (engulfed in his Lewinsky problems) rang Tony Blair [Campbell’s TB] (page 275):
TB took a call from Clinton. He said he and C[herie] B[lair] were thinking of them and anything we could do to support him, we would. BC was straight on to Iraq and the need for firm action against Saddam because of his latest challenge to UNSCOM. It was pretty clear to anyone listening that what Tam Dalyell [Labour MP] offensively was calling 'the war of Clinton's penis' was about to begin. He said I hope you can support us if it comes to military action.
In February, prior to Blair’s visit to Washington, what now sounds like a proto-dossier is produced (page 283):
We turned the factual briefing [provenance unclear] into a paper for the media showing the extent of Saddam’s capability and the damage he could do. (4 Feb 98)
On 23 March, there is a great Whitehall flap (pages 330/1):
The main enlivening issue of the day came when John Holmes [Principal private secretary and Foreign Affairs adviser, page xviii] came in to say that there had been a running battle between the Sun and the Treasury Solicitor, Roland Phillips, over a sensitive piece of intelligence the Sun got hold of. It showed up an Iraqi plan to get anthrax into the UK. They had agreed to hold off publication over the weekend but now said they intended to publish. Stuart Higgins [Sun editor] was at the Oscars so I was dealing with Rebekah Wade [deputy editor]. I said we did not want to injunct but we were going in that direction, unless we can come to some arrangement.
I spoke to TB who said we should try to do some kind of deal. I spoke to Jan Polley [Cabinet Secretary's office] and got agreement to get the Sun in. So by 4.45, with a 5.15 court deadline, we were round my table, me, various intelligence and security folks, with some other people from the Foreign Office, Tom Crone, News International lawyer, Rebekah and Trevor Kavanagh, John Holmes and Roland Phillips. Our bottom line was that we wanted to avoid any reference to sensitive intelligence which might damage relations. I raised the option of doing it as an all-ports-warning story, i.e. something they could have got from a source at a port or in the security services here, rather than from intelligence. They went for it straight away, if reluctantly.
I gave them a PMOS [Prime Minister's Official Spokesman] quote and after to-ing and fro-ing they agreed not to refer to intelligence at all, other than to say it was intelligence from Baghdad. They were pretty reasonable. Trevor stayed and wrote the story at my desk, based on the Sun saying they had a source with access to intelligence in Baghdad.
Iraq then recurs frequently, reaching a climax on the weekend of 14/15 November. On 12 November (page 560) the Cabinet had been told that Saddam had broken the ceasefire agreement and was rebuilding his WMD programmes, but on the Sunday Blair was unhappy with the US attacking Iraq (pages 564/5):
He said we had got the assurances from Iraq - whether meaningless or not they had been given - but the US were still talking about going in today. This was a nightmare, he said. Having taken the wrong decision, they think they can put it right by taking the decision they should have taken in the first place. But the circumstances have changed and they may be making the wrong decision again. Then word came through from the MoD that the US were preparing plans based on the assumption that the UK would not take part. Jonathan [Powell] and I went back up to tell TB. We cannot let that happen, he said. Whether we think they are in the right place or not, it would be disastrous for the transatlantic relationship if we pulled out on this.
Bill Clinton in My Life (2004) provides a succinct summary of the outcome (page 833/4):
The Anglo-American assault lasted four days, with 650 air sorties and 400 cruise missiles, all carefully targeted to hit military and national security targets and to minimize civilian casualties. After the attack we had no way to know how much of the proscribed material had been destroyed, but Iraq's ability to produce and deploy dangerous weapons had plainly been reduced.
Within a month, Downing Street was unhappy with the BBC’s Iraq coverage (page 605/6):
I called Tony Hall [Director of News, BBC] … to say we had a lot of trouble with some of their coverage of Iraq - particularly [Jeremy] Bowen and [Rageh] Omaar [BBC correspondents]. He blathered on as he always did about how they always took our complaints seriously, but they felt their reporters were doing well in difficult circumstances. I said it was getting to a point where we would have to go public with our views that there was an inbuilt bias against us caused by their refusal to match their scepticism of what we said with scepticism of what the Iraqis said and showed them, in an environment where they were TOTALLY dependent on the regime for access and information. He said that would make it much harder to get any change in approach. (21 Dec 98)
This volume of Campbell’s diaries ends on 30 April 1999. Volume 3, due out in July, will cover the period to 11 September 2001. The Iraq Inquiry’s terms of reference state that “It will consider the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, the military action and its aftermath.” It will be interesting to see, in the light of Campbell’s account, whether the Chilcot report will consider any aspects of the US/UK involvement with Iraq prior to 9/11, and how they might have conditioned later behaviours.

In the meantime, here is another extract from My Life (page 935) when, on 19 December 2000, Bill Clinton, about to leave office, meets with the president-elect, George W Bush:
He was putting together an experienced team from past Republican administrations who believed that the biggest security issues were the need for national missile defense and Iraq. I told him that based on the last eight years, I thought his biggest security problems in order would be Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda; the absence of peace in the Middle East; the standoff between nuclear powers India and Pakistan and the ties of the Pakistanis to the Taliban and al Qaeda; North Korea; and then Iraq.
[annotations above by me thus]

25 May 2011

Alfred Wallis at Compton Verney

Compton Verney in Warwickshire is a handsomely set Georgian mansion which has been transformed into an art gallery with the support of the Peter Moores Foundation. As well as its permanent collections, it hosts temporary exhibitions. Currently, but only to 6 June, works by Alfred Wallis and Ben Nicholson are on display, exploring “Wallis’ unique vision and his influence on Nicholson’s work, focusing on paintings and drawings by the two artists dating from the late 1920s to the 1940s.”
It is 90 years since Wallis was first exhibited in London, following his discovery as a primitive painter in St Ives (Cornwall, in SW England) by established artists in the late 1920s. Most of the exhibits at Compton Verney are of Wallis’ work, many from the extensive collection at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge.  The three-room exhibition makes a fair case for Wallis’ influence on Nicholson, although there were clearly many others, including major artists such as Mondrian and Picasso and movements such as cubism.

With the recent opening of The Hepworth Wakefield, Barbara Hepworth’s life and work is receiving more attention than in previous years. It is helpful by way of background to some of the Compton Verney exhibits to know that Nicholson (1894-1982) married and divorced three times:
1920-1938 Winifred Roberts (three children)
1938-1951 Barbara Hepworth (triplets)
1957-1977 Felicitas Vogler

Compton Verney has in the past put on some first class exhibitions, for example Van Gogh and Britain: Pioneer Collectors in 2006 and The Naked Portrait in 2007. However, some potential visitors to their next major exhibition, Stanley Spencer and the English Garden, may well be deterred by the pricing. Because this show will coincide with the “peak rate” period, and because exhibition admission is only available bundled with admission to the grounds and permanent collections, the Adult ticket will cost £13.20 (there are concessions). This seems steep for its likely scale, particularly for anyone contemplating a second visit to Compton Verney within a few months, and who has already had an opportunity to admire the restored ice house.
Restored ice house at Compton Verney, Warwickshire

20 May 2011

Speed Limits in France

Last week the UK and French governments made important announcements concerning road safety. The UK produced a Strategic Framework outlining plans to reduce deaths and injuries on Britain's roads. Fig 6.1 from this document is shown below:
The central forecast is what would be expected to happen in the years ahead as the economy recovers with the existing road safety programme. The low variant should be achievable if the new measures are successful. These include better education, both in training young drivers and remedially, tougher measures against dangerous driving not just focussing upon speeding, and more scope for local government action judged against outcomes. Road injuries follow a similar pattern to deaths.

By comparison with the rest of the EU, including France, the UK has already achieved a high standard of road safety. Relevant data are provided in the European Commission’s Statistical Pocketbook 2010 (Chapter 3.7). Fatalities in France reduced significantly between 2000 and 2008, though the total number of fatalities remained higher than in the UK.

The Table below compares the fatalities in the UK and France for 2008, allowing for population and so on.

However, a deteriorating trend in road safety in the last few months in France has led to the introduction of new measures during the summer of 2011.

The measures include:
  • A ban on radar detectors (more than six million drivers use radar detectors in France, according to the suppliers)
  • The end of signs giving advance warning of speed traps (publishing maps of speed trap locations). Plans have already been announced for an extra 1,000 speed camera sites across France.
  • Speeding at more than 50kph above the limit is punishable with jail
  • More points to be taken off the licence for drink driving
  • A heavier penalty for mobile phone use and for using DVDs or computer screens while driving
While there is no reason to think that this is a revenue raising exercise, the French government will probably expect the extra resources involved to be financed by the fines being levied.

British motorists on French roads already have to drive on the “wrong” side of the road and deal with limits in kph rather than MPH, but will need increasingly to pay careful attention to speed limits to avoid uncomfortable and expensive encounters with the gendarmerie.  It is important to remember that town signs (example below) are equivalent to warnings of entering and leaving 50kph zones.
There is no equivalent in France of the 40MPH (65kph) zones common on the outskirts of UK urban areas, so speeds should drop from 90 to 50 kph and stay there until leaving, even if the area is not built-up.  This table attempts to summarise the speed limits in France (for dry and wet conditions) and converts them to MPH.  The “mph” are suggested maxima on UK car speedometers, bearing in mind that these tend to exaggerate.

Actual speeds are provided on satnav (GPS in France) displays. Switching the satnav distance unit from miles to km seems a good idea. There may be a margin above the limit which is ignored before any penalty applies (10% of the limit +2MPH in the UK) but the increasing accuracy of speed measurement based on lasers will presumably reduce this, if it applies.

Contrary to myth, the gendarmerie do not expect fines (about 75€ upwards) to be paid on the spot – a problem if you don’t have a French bank account and chequebook. There is a discount if you pay promptly, and fines can be paid on the internet. Some websites may advise that as a non-resident you should ignore the fine. Motorists are expected to carry various items of documentation and equipment. For details, consult an appropriate website like the AA’s.

If there any errors in the above, please point them out by commenting and I will correct them as applicable.

18 May 2011

Last Tango in New York

In my last post I wrote in passing about Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s chances as a candidate for the French presidency next year. Since then everything has changed. Even if the case against DSK were to collapse totally at some point, which would require something as unlikely as the victim resiling from her statement, there now seems little chance that he will be a presidential candidate or continue at the IMF. Though his closest supporters, Le club DSK, seem to think otherwise.

Toby Young, who worked in New York as a journalist for five years and wrote about his experiences in How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, has made a neat comparison of DSK’s position and the plot of Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. (Bûcher translates as pyre, for being burnt at the stake on!)

Tim King, who regrettably writes less frequently for Prospect magazine than in the past, makes some interesting points about “the cosy elite” who run France and their solidarity with DSK in recent days. An example of this is the attitude of Bernard-Henri Lévy, in translation here. BHL could exist only in France - here he is on BBC2’s Newsnight in March explaining his role in catalysing France’s involvement in Libya.

Tim King is probably right in predicting that the left will now have to vote for Sarkozy to keep out Marine Le Pen in the second round of the presidential election next year.

10 May 2011

So what’s a puisatier?

I haven’t posted for a while, having been in SW France sorting out our house with Mrs WI. We had decided, in a triumph of optimism over experience, to swap the roles of an over-sized salle de bain and a diminutive cuisine. The maçons and other artisans departed as we arrived, leaving a lot to get straight and on-line purchases from Darty (same group as Comet in the UK) to be installed. However, the worst is over and there is now time to look about.

François Mitterand became Socialist President of France 30 years ago (21 May 1981) and was in office until 1995. To judge from the way the media are marking the anniversary, a president of his stature is sorely missed. Certainly Nicolas Sarkozy is poorly regarded. Whether Dominique Strauss-Kahn (“DSK”) will return from the IMF to be the Socialist candidate for the presidential election next year is a hot topic. His wife’s (Anne Sinclair’s) blog, Deux ou trois choses vues d'Amérique, is listed below. The French left is notoriously schismatic, making it easy for the usually united right to deliver for their candidate, but Sarko is currently being outflanked on the far right by Mme Le Pen. If DSK were able to persuade the left to sink their differences and back him, he might stand a chance against a split right.

The most popular French film in France at the moment is La Fille du Puisatier (The Well Digger's Daughter). Maurice Pagnol (1895-1970) was a novelist and film-director now best-remembered for two of his novels, Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, which he had made as one film in 1952. However, it was Claude Berri’s two films of the novels in 1986 which achieved international success. In 1940 Pagnol wrote the screenplay for, and directed, the original La Fille du Puisatier which has now been filmed by, and stars, Daniel Auteil. The plot is a variation on nice girl gets pregnant by Mr Right’s mate Mr Wrong, but will it all come right with Mr Right?

Well-diggers are likely to be in demand in SW France after a dry winter, and an exceptionally dry and warm spring. The vines, like cherries, strawberries, and so on are about three weeks ahead of normal.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Things have come on quickly, even by comparison with their state in February.

2 May 2011

No Bonapartism Please, We’re British

In an article in The Times on 22 April, ‘Job done. It is time to get out of Afghanistan’, Paul Gibson argued that rather than fighting on in Afghanistan until 2014, most British troops could, and should, be withdrawn this year. He concluded:
The wind of change blowing through the Middle East should also be blowing through the Ministry of Defence. Afghanistan is yesterday's war. The Prime Minister needs to bring our troops home now, so we can be balanced for the next one, which may not be far away.
After all in Libya:
If a humanitarian assistance force or UN peacekeeping force is required, current form suggests that Mr Cameron will want to be in the lead and the Armed Forces need to be ready. Apart from the powerful humanitarian arguments, intervention in Libya is clearly in the UK's strategic interests because of its Mediterranean littoral, its oil and potential for trade.
Not everyone shares Gibson’s view on the value to the UK of the Libyan involvement. For example, Max Hastings in the Daily Mail on 23 April, who thought that for the UK to be:
preparing to undertake a long-term military training mission to empower the Libyan rebels to look after their own security, shows the Government still floundering deeper into the swamp it has entered.
The longer this bloody business drags on, the more willing the world will become to blame Britain for the humanitarian tragedy, for which we chose to assume responsibility, rather than Gaddafi who is of course the perpetrator. Finally, there is another, British dimension. As a strong supporter of the Cameron government’s domestic programme, which faces plentiful difficulties of its own, I regret that the Prime Minister has chosen to take such risks in Libya, where Britain has no vital interest.
… We have got ourselves into a fine tangle. Our objective now should be to escape from our folly through a political deal, not a military victory.
Hastings had taken a similar line a few days earlier in the Financial Times:
The western allies are in a fine Libyan pickle. The real mission of the British and French military “advisers” being dispatched to the rebel camp is to explore what the west might do to get out of it. The declared objectives of the national leaderships are much larger than the means available to achieve them. It was because defence chiefs on both sides of the Atlantic foresaw this that they were reluctant to intervene in the first place.
Hastings referred to senior military opinion again in his Daily Mail piece:
From the moment we started bombing, every senior soldier I know on both sides of the Atlantic took it for granted that we had picked up the burden of what happens to the country hereafter.
Hastings' views seemed to be at variance with Gibson’s insiders in The Times:
The understandable focus on Helmand has distorted our defence horizons and ambitions. This must be rectified. The Army must build bridges with the other services, which feel particularly bruised by the cuts to their capabilities caused by ring-fencing the Afghan operation. Inter-service rivalry is an enduring feature of the Armed Forces but the recriminations have plumbed new depths after the flawed Strategic Defence and Security Review and - threaten our ability to conduct joint operations. In Sierra Leone, Brigadier David Richards, now a general and Chief of the Defence Staff, led a world-class operation in which paratroopers were supported by guns from HMS Chatham, Harriers from HMS lllustrious and RAF Chinook helicopters. We must be able to repeat that success - possibly quite soon in Libya.
Hastings’ opinions are based on his extensive experience as a journalist and war historian, but not on military service. The Times’ contributor on the other hand was described thus: “Brigadier Paul Gibson is a former Director of Counter Terrorism and UK operations”. But presumably Gibson is retired, as surely it would be inappropriate for a serving officer to be publicly so at odds with government policy? In particular on the timescale for leaving Afghanistan, criticism of SDSR, and identifying strategic interests for the UK in Libya (oil and potential for trade) in terms way outside the scope of UN Resolution 1973.

Gibson’s photograph in The Times presumably dates from his time in uniform, as he probably doesn’t wear combat gear in retirement.

While the UK is hardly likely to succumb to Bonapartism*, perhaps former military people should encourage the revival of the description “(retd)” attached to descriptions of their quondam rank. Then, when they are expressing their personal opinions in print, dead tree or virtual, readers will not be left under any illusion as to their status, or who they are speaking for.

*According to Wikipedia, "the replacement of civilian leadership by military leadership within revolutionary movements or governments" – not that the Coalition are that revolutionary!