During his Labour Party Conference speech, Tony Blair said that retreating from Iraq would be “a craven act of surrender that will put our future security in the deepest peril” and that “there are no half-hearted allies of America today”.
That doesn’t seem to be a view shared by senior British military officers. To the dismay of their American counterparts, they want to withdraw from Iraq, which looks more like a lost cause every day, and focus on Afghanistan where they think there is a slight possibility they might be more successful.
Senior military officers have been pressing the government to withdraw British troops from Iraq and concentrate on what they now regard as a more worthwhile and winnable battleground in Afghanistan.
They believe there is a limit to what British soldiers can achieve in southern Iraq and that it is time the Iraqis took responsibility for their own security, defence sources say. Pressure from military chiefs for an early and significant cut in the 7,500 British troops in Iraq is also motivated by extreme pressure being placed on soldiers and those responsible for training them.
Political arguments, including strong US pressure against British troop withdrawals, have won, at least for the moment. US generals in Iraq privately made it clear they were deeply unhappy about British talk of troop reductions and complained that the British seemed interested only in the south of the country.
The only people now believing in the Iraq mission are the Bush administration and Tony Blair. When the top military brass think that the war is lost, it really is time to give up.