Cutting and running

by Chris Bertram on May 9, 2006

bq. The sole aim, let us not forget, of the British military deployment in Iraq is to facilitate the establishment of a stable government in Iraq. But if, as now seems increasingly likely, that goal is unobtainable, then the sooner that they pack up and come home, the better.

So writes “Con Coughlin in the Daily Telegraph”: . Now I’ve no brief for Mr Coughlin, whose absurd stories “Saddam had advance knowledge of 9/11”, blah blah blah … have regularly been picked up by Powerline, Instapundit and the credulous Euston left in Britain. My guess is that Coughlin is best seen as a relay for what “intelligence sources” want us to read. If British “intelligence sources” are now promoting the idea of abandoning Iraq that’s worth noting. (Btw, googling “Con Coughlin” and “intelligence sources” gives a useful sample of past reports.)



John Quiggin 05.09.06 at 3:16 am

I was interested to see Coughlin’s claim, if it all fails, it will be the Iraqis’ fault.

To point out only one level of absurdity in all this, Coughlin denounces Iraqi politicians for failing to form a government, but forgets to mention that the US Embassy vetoed the first choice, Jaafari. The Americans are at least as deeply involved in the mess as any Iraqi faction.

There’s also an interesting rhetorical slide between “it won’t be the fault of the British soldiers in Basra” (true enough) and “it won’t be the fault of those who ordered and cheered on the invasion” (100 per cent false).


joel turnipseed 05.09.06 at 3:23 am

Well, the money quote for “conservatives” (or anyone even mildly aware of the nature of state/social authority) is:

“Having done all the hard work of drafting, approving and implementing the new constitution, it should then have been a relatively straightforward task for the victors to form a new government. Instead, the country has been seized by political paralysis as the various factions have reverted to the politics of the bazaar, with Kurds, Sunnis and Shia trying to shape a government that will serve their factional interests rather than those of their country.

The resulting power vacuum in Baghdad has led to the growth of rival militias seeking to take the law into their own hands, so that even those areas of Iraq that were relatively peaceful – such as Basra – are now in danger of becoming ungovernable.”

Heh. There have been many tactical mistakes (from not enough troops to disbanding the Ba’athist infrastructure to exceptionally stupid city-clearing exercises like Fallujah), but the strategic error–obvious from the start–of thinking that we were going to be welcomed by an up-n-ready democracy has to be one of the all-time stupidest moments in US/UK foreign policy. Sadly, everyone involved (a few wonks and Halliburton contractors excepted) must face a steep price for this mistake.


joel turnipseed 05.09.06 at 3:24 am

I call “dibs” on John!


abb1 05.09.06 at 4:09 am

Come on, surely democracy will solve all the problems; how quickly we forget the purple fingers and (4 or 5 so far) heroic Iraqi elections.

Hear me, faithless skeptics: all they need is another election!


joel turnipseed 05.09.06 at 4:14 am


Sadly, the purple fingers were a Marine Corps stunt reconstituted from our failed attempts to hold, uh, “elections” in Nicaragua while chasing Sandino around in the jungles. While the Marines may have learned a thing or two (the 1940 Small Wars Manual is still essential reading), it does’t appear that anyone else in a position of power in this ridiculous country of ours did.

But then, you know, with so much that’s unbelievably funny happening with this clusterfuck, I’d hate to seem humorless….


Kevin Donoghue 05.09.06 at 4:31 am

John Quiggin: I was interested to see Coughlin’s claim, if it all fails, it will be the Iraqis’ fault.

I was more interested in the fact that he found four ways to implicate Iran: via al-Sadr, the missiles, Hizbollah and Iran’s hostility to Britain’s stance at the UN. If Coughlin is a channel for the spooks and loonies of the intelligence service that’s the aspect of their thinking I’d worry about. It’s another straw in the wind, if the former Foreign Secretary will excuse the pun.


abb1 05.09.06 at 4:55 am

Kevin, I thought the gist of it was: ‘the Iraqis are bastards and they are in cahoots with the Iranians who are, obviously, bastards too, so let’s just get out of there quickly’ – as opposed to ‘we need to bomb Iran to win this thing’.


lurker 05.09.06 at 5:13 am

It burns and burns and burns. Yet kicking and yelling when told to not touch. Touch fire. Burn hand. Apply balm. Wash. Wring. Repeat. Bloody masochists, the lot.


Cian 05.09.06 at 5:50 am

Con Coughlin was exposed as an MI5 relay in a court case back in the late 90s. That he still has a job at the Telegraph, tells you something about their priorities.

Mind you there’s also that BBC correpondant (Frank something), who occasionally slips up and actually discusses the security services as if he’s a member…


Mike 05.09.06 at 7:08 am

Con Coughlin was exposed as an MI5 relay in a court case back in the late 90s

Well, MI-6, at least:,2763,339990,00.html


nik 05.09.06 at 8:11 am

I think the 66% of Parliament to form a Government rule is worth mentioning. I can see why they put it in place – to stop a civil war – but if they’d rather a goverment than no government, and a civil war is brewing because there is no government, then it’s getting in the way.


Uncle Kvetch 05.09.06 at 8:47 am

Bloody masochists, the lot.

I don’t see it that way. In what way have the architects of the invasion been “burned”? Quite the contrary: the war has been very, very good to certain people–specifically, it’s brought enormous wealth and power to a certain subset of the already wealthy & powerful. The president has neatly resolved his great Oedipal drama (Daddy didn’t have the cojones to go to Baghdad, and he couldn’t pull off a second term), his cronies are raking in money hand over fist, and the presence of US troops on hostile foreign shores provides an ironclad pretext for all kinds of dark shenanigans, while effectively neutering the political opposition.

Given all that, it’s no wonder “Who else wants a piece of us?” is what passes for foreign policy these days.


roger 05.09.06 at 10:20 am

I’m opposed to replacing the hilarious “decent left’ with the all too sober “credulous Euston left.” Decent is better on oh so many levels. There is the ruling class blindness of it — there is the contrast between decency and the advocacy of maximum deceit on the home front, and maximum force in foreign policy — there is the lunatic combination of the cheers for “lets make Iraq a killing field” and the continual allusion to aiding progressive movements (unions and such) in Iraq. And finally there is the odd idea that getting behind the thieves and thugs the coalition generously imported into Iraq, the Chalabis and Allawis, is the kind of missionary work that is self evidently blessed by the spirits of ‘progressives’ past, from Tom Paine to Trotsky.
For all of these reasons — I say, save the ‘decent’ label. It fits like a body bag.


Ted 05.09.06 at 10:21 am

Perhaps it is because the British are considered to be anti-social louts. From today’s Guardian online:

“Britain is perceived as one of the most loutish countries in Europe, according to a new survey published today, just a month before the start of the World Cup in Germany.

The poll, taken in six European countries including the UK, found that 76% of respondents thought Britain had a “big or moderate problem” with antisocial behaviour – a higher percentage than for any of the other countries involved.”

You Brits always did think strappng foreigners to cannons and then firing them off was an effective tactic. Or that dropping mega-tons of bombs on civilians was the height of strategy.

And now you are whining that the Iraqi’s don’t like you? That they actually cheered when one of your helicopters was shot from the sky?

Change your behavior and maybe even the Scots will think you’re warm and cuddly.


Daniel 05.09.06 at 10:58 am

hmmm, ted, if you’re not a rightwing troll trying to create the impression that lots of CT readers support victory for the insurgency and cheer at coalition casualties, then you’re doing a reasonable impression of one.


bi 05.09.06 at 11:19 am

What, “facilitate the establishment of a stable government is Iraq”? I thought government is the root of all evil. Or so ESR says.


Peter 05.09.06 at 11:49 am

I think you guys miss the impact that Barnett’s books Pentagon’s New Map and Blueprint For Action have on the neoconservative universe. Two of the loudest supporters of the philosophy espoused in these books are Rice and Rumsfeld. These 2 books make an interesting (and I can see how the imagery can overwhelm some people) argument for invading pretty much every country that isn’t part of the Functional Core (usually just called Core). The other countries, not fully integrated into the global economy are called the Non Integrated Gap (usually called Gap, but since the NIG are all dark skinned, I can also imagine a 6-letter word that starts with NIG that will be on the mind of the audience for his seminars and books).

I liken the philosophy in PNM and BPA as the New White Man’s Burden. And we’ll spread globalism at gunpoint, as necessary. Barnett claims that one every country in the gap has been brought into the core, then terrorism will wither away (hmm, where have I heard that “wither away” argument before? Fukuyama? Marx? Or was it Hegel?) and be a nuisance like organized crime, instead of a major threat.

A cynic might suggest that the United States can’t even do this in New Orleans much less in foreign countries. In fact, as the FMFM 1-A, Fourth Generation War, argues strongly, even if an outside force does everything right, the probability of success in such endeavors remains low. Why? As Russell Kirk wrote, there is no surer way of making someone your enemy than to announce you will remake him in your image for his own good. To many of the world’s peoples, what Barnett argues for in such blithe simplicity represents Hell, and they will fight it literally to their dying breath.


And the insurgents in Iraq are fighting it to their dying breath. Just like the “insurgents” in Iran will fight it to their dying breath. Have folks forgotten the riots that happen pretty much anytime the WTO happens to have a meeting? If first world people are so opposed to globalization, why should third world people be interested?

And before you poo-poo the notion that Barnett’s books have an influence on the folks in this administration, you might want to read the parts where he drops names and goes on and on and on and on about all those powerpointless presentations he gives. Or his own site where he talks about all the presentations and meetings he has with the folks in power. If you’re left wondering what his “sysadmins” and “development in a box” mean, then you’re not alone.


Matt D 05.09.06 at 12:08 pm

Um, Ted?
Scotland is part of Britain.


luci 05.09.06 at 12:29 pm

What’s up with the timing of this reconsideration of the prospects for success in the war?

So, a British helicpoter crashes and kills 5, while locals express sentiments “less than grateful”, and this is a cause for soul searching about the mission?

While the US and British initiated a war based on lies, obvious even at the time, the Iraqis face chaos, insecurity and fear, daily, the sorrow of the relatives of the approximately 100,000 EXTRA dead people, and the roughly 50/50 probability that the death rate will drop below “Saddam levels” even ten years from now?….not as much?

It’s like burning a village to save it, while in the process stubbing your toe, so THEN deciding that the mission might not be worth it, and the locals are to blame (those ungrateful wogs might not deserve our help!).


abb1 05.09.06 at 12:34 pm

Every pro-war book or opinion article or piece of journalism is a variant of White Man’s Burden.


trotsky 05.09.06 at 7:34 pm

John Quiggin,

Perhaps I’ve been duped by intel-agency-relay journalists, but I understand that other Iraqi politicians couldn’t abide Jafari, and after months of political deadlock the U.S. Embassy lent its weight to suggestions that he should step aside.


nick s 05.09.06 at 8:49 pm

That he still has a job at the Telegraph, tells you something about their priorities.

Actually, if you believe Private Eye, he recently got sacked by the Torygraph and then reinstated.


John Quiggin 05.09.06 at 9:37 pm

Trotsky, of course a lot of other Iraqi politicians couldn’t abide Jaafari, but they were in the minority. The US was on the anti-Jaafari side from very early on, and helped to create the deadlock, which they then demanded be broken. Here’s Juan Cole back at the beginning of March.


derrida derider 05.09.06 at 11:32 pm

John’s right, Trotsky. It might have something to with the fact that Jaafari was elected on a platform of demanding immediate American withdrawal.


abb1 05.10.06 at 4:33 am

He made a deal with Al Sadr in February/March. The deal full of various populist items – geting rid of the US/British foreign fighers right on the top of the list, of course. And immediately he became unacceptable.


Ted 05.10.06 at 11:51 am

Matt D.:

“Scotland is part of Britain.”


Scotland is part of the United Kingdom.

The British occupied it in an illegal war.

I think calling a Scotsperson a britisher is a very rude insult.

It was forcably taken by arms the same way the brits stole Wales, Northern Ireland, the Malvinas, Diego Garcia and Gibralter and many other places they had to give up. Think Hong Kong.

So when will those fascist limey hooligans give these stolen lands back to their rightful owners? Not very sporting of the lobster backs is it?


Chris Bertram 05.10.06 at 12:10 pm

So British = English according to you then Ted?? I noticed by the way that you also posted a comment identical to your first on other blogs (so it wasn’t really an attempt to contribute to the discussion here (or there).

FWIW: Great Britain/British = England + Scotland + Wales and came into being when King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England.

United Kingdom = Great Britain + Northern Ireland.

So Scots are British but Ulstermen are not (much to the chagrin of many of them).

Whether any of us (English, Welsh or Scots) actually like being British or strongly identify as such is another matter.


guthrie 05.11.06 at 4:04 am

I think Ted is joking, but if not, heres an impromptu (And possibly slightl innacurate) history lesson:

Or at least I would if Chris Betram had not already done so.

So Ted, when did the word British come into use?

Note also that many people in Enlightenment Edinburgh were calling themselves North Britons, back in the 18th century.

And which illegal war was Scotland occupied in? You do know that large numbers of Scotsmen fought on Cumberlands side at Culloden?


Chris Bertram 05.11.06 at 4:20 am

And which illegal war was Scotland occupied in?

Isn’t there a quite brilliant historical documentary, starring Mel Gibson, that answers this question?


engels 05.11.06 at 8:26 am

And which illegal war was Scotland occupied in?

The one just before the British invaded Hong Kong, but after they expelled the indigenous Malvinos.


abb1 05.11.06 at 9:58 am

John Dolan at has this joke:

An Irishman has been bayoneted by a British soldier, and as the Mick dies slowly in a ditch the Brit kicks him over and over, cursing him and wishing him a painful, slow death. With his last breath the Irishman asks, “Why are you so angry at us?” The Brit leans down, whispers, “You swine, we will NEVER forgive you for what we’ve done to you.”

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