The most famous aphorism in Carl von Clausewitz’s study On War defines war as the continuation of politics by other means. Therefore, it is perhaps not too surprising that retired Generals, such as Sir Michael Rose, when not engaged in combat, feel cognisant to make political pronouncements. Indeed, from reading General Sir Michael Rose’s article in The Guardian on 9th January 2006, one gets the impression that the General now feels it is his mission to channel his martial talents, put to such good use in trouble spots such as Northern Ireland and the Falklands, towards eradicating apathy and cynicism within British democracy. Sir Michael laments the British voters ‘who have turned their backs on a democratic system they feel has so little credibility and is so unresponsive.’
His solution, which he contends, would re-engage the great British public with their democratic institutions, and end the erosion of voter turnout, is to impeach Mr. Blair over Iraq. Not only is his political anaylsis misconstrued, the General’s article betrays a mind-set of a defeatist and a pessimist, the same ‘realist’ thinking that emanated from Sir Michael and his political masters at the Foreign Office and MoD in the early 1990s, with disastrous consequences for Bosnia, Western unity and our strategic credibility.
When the General writes of ‘credibility’ it must be pointed out, firmly, that on close inspection of his military record as commander of the United Nations protection force, in Bosnia, throughout 1994, that he both lacks the credibility to make political pronouncements on military matters and lacks the moral authority to make such calls, regarding the impeachment of the Prime Minister.
Before examining the validity of General Rose’s impeachment call, his time as head of UNPROFOR is worth scrutiny. During the Bosnian war, which resulted in the mass slaughter of over 200,000 innocent Bosnian Muslims and over one million people being made homeless (all happening in Europe’s backyard), General Sir Michael Rose was the archetypal ‘man on the ground’. From the moment he arrived in Bosnia – as he makes clear in his memoirs – he was determined to emphasise to the Bosnians that he would do all in his ‘power to prevent the UN from becoming engaged in a war in Bosnia as a combatant.’
Sir Michael displayed an appalling lack of judgement in dealing with his Bosnian Serb counterparts. He considered General Mladic a man who ‘generally kept his word’; though of course, when this statement is seen against the backdrop of Srebrenica, which saw the butchery of more than 7000 men and boys to whom Mladic had promised their lives, and Mladic’s indictment by the UN for genocide, there seems something odd about General Rose’s assessment.
Yet it was not just Mladic where Rose’s judgment was found wanting. Instead of moving against the Serb aggressors after the February 1994 market place massacre, and harnessing NATO airpower to drive the Serb besiegers out of Sarajevo, General Michael Rose had a more limited plan. Rather than use the NATO ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs as a trigger for a wider roll back of Serb aggression – which finally happened in 1995 – he instead lobbied for a ceasefire. Ceasefires by this stage had come and gone. General Rose got his ceasefire but at the cost of a missed opportunity, to end the blood letting for good. That would have to wait until after the Srebrenica massacre.
Sir Michael’s handling of the Gorazde crisis of April 1994 is another example of impaired judgement. He failed to anticipate that the terms of his Sarajevo ceasefire allowed the Bosnian Serbs to redeploy their artillery eastwards against Gorazde. When questioned over the likelihood of a Spring offensive, he asserted that ‘no side was capable of mounting an offensive campaign that would have any strategic significance.’ Then after failing to forsee the military and humanitarian crisis which engulfed the enclave of Gorazde, he attempted to downplay it, reassuring the United States’ special envoy, Charles Redman, that the fighting in Gorazde, although serious, ‘was little worse than elsewhere in Bosnia.’
But United Nations Military Observers (UNMOs) begged to differ. A leaked UNMOs report stated ‘from the BBC World Service news of April 5 we heard a UNPROFOR assessment that the attack into Gorazde was a minor affair into a limited area. We do not concur with that position. It is a grave situation. Saying it is a minor attack into a limited area is a bad assessment, incorrect and shows absolutely no understanding of what is going on here.’ General Rose’s handling of the Gorazde crisis is further highlighted by the UN special representative, Yasushi Alsashi. When asked if there was anything he held against General Rose, Alsashi replied: ‘yes, his handling of Gorazde and the way in which the crisis was under reported.’
General Sir Michael Rose’s tenure as commander of UNPROFOR drew heavy criticism. In the autumn of 1994, all eight Bosnian parties, supported by several ministers, demanded his resignation. The incoming Senate majority leader and future American presidential candidate, Bob Dole, echoed this. The veteran New York Times columnist, William Safire referred to him as ‘the reincarnation of Neville Chamberlain.’ Anthony Lewis labelled him ‘a symbol of the sell-out.’ Patrick Bishop observed that his reputation during the Bosnian war ‘had sunk from peux chevalier to Eurowimp.’ This perception was reinforced in Britain when the BBC journalist Martin Bell commented: ‘by the time he left, there was little muscular or robust about the force he led, or his leadership of it.’
On reading General Rose’s charges against Tony Blair and his reasoning for the impeachment of the PM, he reveals all the hallmarks of the same ‘defeatist-pessimist’ mind-set, evident during his command of UNPROFOR. Sir Michael believes if war is to be fought it must be ‘just, legal and the last resort.’ Concerning Blair’s 2003 Iraq intervention he maintains none of these ‘requirements were met’. Britain was ‘somehow led by the Prime Minister into war,’ resulting in ‘untold suffering on the Iraqi people’ and caused ‘grave damage to the West’s prospects in the wider war against Islamist terrorism.
It is disappointing that General Rose dose not view the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime as a ‘just war’. The Ba’athist regime in Baghdad was one of the most brutal in modern history. During Saddam’s thirty plus year rule, the US State Department has estimated at least a quarter of a million people were killed by Saddam whether it be the gassing of the Kurds in the North, the ethnic cleansing of the Marsh Arabs and the Shiite’s in the south, or the systematic liquidation of political opponents and dissenters. After the failed Shia insurrection in the Spring of 1991, conservative estimates of the Shia fatalities stand at 30,000. Iraq under Saddam was a police state, totalitarian in nature, where torture was an approved tool of regime policy.
Not only was Saddam one of the world’s greatest abusers of human rights, his regime was also a clear source of instability in the Middle East and the wider security of the world. This was a regime which had invaded two neighbouring countries and funded terrorist attacks against the state of Israel. This was a regime which not only used chemical weapons on foreign combatants, but also the Iraqi people, who found themselves unlucky enough to live under Saddam’s grip. Saddam also longed for a nuclear bomb and came close to achieving this, as exposed after the First Gulf War. Baghdad further acted as a haven to the terror masters, Abu Nidal and Al- Zaqarwi and ansar-Al-Islam.
However this catalogue of barbarous activity apparently is insufficient for Sir Michael Rose to deem the 2003 Iraq war and the termination of Saddam’s regime, ‘just’. It is particularly galling to read Michael Rose’s supposed worry for the ‘untold suffering’ that, we, the West, have inflicted upon Iraqis in a post-Saddam environment. Where were General Rose’s letters to The Guardian, throughout the 1990s, when the Iraqi people were suffering far more under the impact of United Nations sanctions and the jackboot of Saddam and his thugs? It would have been far better for the well being of the Iraqi people and the security of the world, to have removed Saddam from power in 1991, rather than condemn the Iraqi people to twelve years of ineffective sanctions, which did not contain him, as the UN oil for food scandal has revealed, but did tremendous harm to ordinary Iraqis.
General Rose during the Bosnia crisis railed against ‘armchair generals’. Now in retirement, he has become an ‘armchair lawyer’, asserting that the war was illegal. Yet the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, who has far more legal expertise than Sir Michael Rose, argued that the War was legal. In the summary of his legal findings, published before the United Kingdom went to war in March 2003, Lord Goldsmith wrote that authority to use force existed from the combined effect of three previous UN resolutions. These resolutions ‘were adopted under Chapter VII of the UN, which allows for the use of force for the express purpose of restoring international peace and security.’ In this crucial passage, Lord Goldsmith argued that ‘a material breach of Resolution 687 revives the authority to use force under Resolution 678. In resolution 1441 the Security Council determined that Iraq has been and remains in material breach of resolution 687, because it has not fully complied with its obligations to disarm under that resolution.’
And of course we must remember, the General has a short attention span: according to him memoirs, this is of precisely fifteen seconds. This might explain why he is incapable of viewing the Iraq War of 2003, as a last resort. The situation with Iraq did not just come upon the international community over the course of 2002-03. This was a historical state of affairs which had been dragging on over the course of twelve years.
Does General Rose remember Operation Desert Fox in 1998? How much more time would he have given Saddam’s regime? The Ba’athist’s had already clocked-up twelve years defying the will of the international community and undermining the West’s credibility, already severely battered after the Bosnian debacle. Perhaps General Rose would have been quite content to give Saddam another twelve years in power? Thankfully, Britain had in Tony Blair, a man of resolute strength and courage, who proclaimed ‘enough is enough’. There is a more profound mistake to General Rose’s logic and his call for Tony Blair to be impeached, than simply his criteria for such an exercise. Due to the constrained nature of Rose’s ‘pessimist-defeatist’ thinking, he is unable of realising that the removal of Saddam and the installation of a more representative government in Baghdad, will in the long term, enhance our own security. Like many other ‘realists’, he has failed to come to terms with a post-September 11 world. Ironic for a ‘realist’, his mind-set is incapable of adapting to a new strategic reality.
The ‘realist’ paradigm which had existed in the Middle East, and was at the heart of Western regional policy, was destroyed in the rubble of the World Trade Centre on September 11. Never again could Western security be guaranteed through a policy of ‘stability’ over ‘freedom’, and sustained via Western support for Middle Eastern autocrats. It is no coincidence that the most un-free, un-democratic region on the planet is also the ideological source of Islamist terrorism. The act of removing Saddam Hussein is only one element in the huge task of draining the Middle East of this ideology of hatred. If it is to be done, we in the West must engage in the battle of ideas and fight this ideology with our progressive and liberal values, backed-up, when necessary, with power.
This will not only enhance the living standards and human rights of ordinary Arabs in the Middle East, but will provide a new strategic-security framework for the West. The ‘conservative-pessimism’ and ‘realism’ of General Sir Michael Rose, failed Bosnia and the Bosnian people in the 1990s. If applied today, it would fail the Iraqi people and fail to meet the momentous challenges that lay ahead. Mr. Blair has rightly jettisoned it. For that he deserves commending, not impeaching.