and a related Chatham House report
further updates and comments on UK-US military relations down the page
latest: June 21 2007

Robert Gates is formally sworn in today, December 18th 2006
I take this opportunity to explain to readers one of the reasons why the previous Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was able to so dominate the control of the operation to remove Saddam Hussein, and the military timing and mis-timings of the 'War Against Terror", that he was impervious to advice and to his own removal till the situation in both Iraq and Afghanistan had been prejudiced to an extent that demanded his resignation and more importantly its acceptance by George W. Bush. The paragraph below from Wikipedia says it all.

Donald Henry Rumsfeld (born July 9, 1932) is the 21st and [previous] United States Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush, having served as such since 2001. Rumsfeld was also the 13th Secretary of Defense under President Gerald Ford from 1975 to 1977. He is both the youngest and the oldest person to have held the position, as well as the only person to hold the position for two non-consecutive terms. Except for Robert McNamara he has served in the position longer than anyone else. On December 6, 2006, Robert Gates was confirmed as Rumsfeld's successor to the office of the Secretary of Defense, and formally replaces Rumsfeld when he is sworn in on December 18.

Rumsfeld has also served in various positions under President Richard Nixon, served four terms in the United States House of Representatives, and served as United States Ambassador to NATO. Rumsfeld was an aviator in the United States Navy between 1954 and 1957 before transferring to the Reserve. In public life, he has also served as an official in numerous federal commissions and councils.

The man was born in 1932. He had been there, done it and got more than T shirts.
George W Bush was born in 1946, had been nowhere and bought his own T shirt as Governor of Texas for 5 years. The politicians and military men who had to face up to Rumsfeld were many years his junior. Tony Blair was born in 1953. Rumsfeld, an entire generation his senior, had at his disposal an armoury of personal authority against which Bush, Blair, Powell and others were defenceless. In any debate with other advisors, military or diplomatic, Rumsfeld could claim, truthfully or with uncallable bluff, that he had indeed taught their fathers to walk - if not their grandmothers to suck eggs.

So before we hear more paroxysms of criticism of Blair for his 'lack of influence' over the US administration in the run-up to the invasions if Iraq and Afghanistan, bear in mind that we should not expect young and inexperienced people, however excellent and well intentioned they may be, to tell such a man as Rumsfeld when he is in the most powerful position in the world, dominant in his own country, to button his lip and do as they suggest when he (a) disagrees and (b) is paying the tab.

What has been done is done. It was not stoppable and thanks to Rumsfeld was not adjustable. Now we must move on. We have a new man in Robert Gates who is not interested in proving any revolutionary ideas and is open to listening to any information that he may not know he doesn't know. Since he has been in the business of finding out what he doesn't know as a profession, it may have prepared him well for using intelligence rather than personal predilections for focussing on essential goals, the big picture and the details that can make or mar it.

DECEMBER 19th 2006

Honestly, I had no idea this was about to be published today..
‘Blair’s Foreign Policy and its Possible Successor(s)’, a new report, published by Chatham House, which assesses British foreign policy since 1997. The report’s author is Professor Victor Bulmer-Thomas who steps down this month as Director, Chatham House, after almost six years.

Margaret Becket has already said on the BBC's Today programme all that needs to be said - that the conclusions of this report are just plain wrong. I would add that had Professor Bulmer-Thomas been writing a report in London during the Blitz I have no doubt he would have been saying that declaring war on Germany had been a terrible mistake, that the world was now an incredibly dangerous place, and that our influence with The United States was less than zero. Had he been a doctor holding the hand of a woman dying in childbirth, would he have been able to resist saying: "I am afraid getting married and having sexual intercourse was a great mistake" ?

I am reminded of Douglas Adams' wonderful list of 'God's greatest mistakes', On Prof Bulmer-Thomas' list these would be endless, one damned thing after another, culminating with a personal appearance that was booed off the stage. No doubt he would like to hoist me with one of my favourite sayings: "We proceed by trial and error, you are fond of explaining, Baring, and I am saying the invasion of Iraq was one of the errors. From this error flows a diminution of Britain's influence in the world."   Sorry Prof, the invasion of Iraq was full of errors, as is the world, but the world is not a mistake. The vehicle handling of a serious-minded novice with a load of backseat drivers is how I would describe Blair's performance, with overall command of the course in control of an authoritarian grand-father with a hearing deficiency called Rumsfeld who didn't know what he didn't know. But it had to be done, it had to be done then.

As sometimes with childbirth Iraq is in agony and its future is uncertain. But it was not rape, it was rescue, by a bunch of white knights draggin' a lot of weed and still drowning in places. But if you think this is difficult and dangerous, you ain't seen nothing yet. Of course Prof Bulmer-Thomas knows all this, but it is his job to stick to the orthodox analysis. He has already admitted this morning in a Humphrys grilling that leaving Saddam Hussein in place was not necessarily his preferred alternative. As the original argument went before the Big Bang: To Be, or Not To Be....     That was when the effort was made, and there are those who say to hell with it and those who say no, To Be was right.

Indeed it was. That is why we have the incredible privilege to share in the debate as individual humans. Chatham House Rules, OK, even if the retiring Director's report is not the final word. What is undoubtedly true, but was not the subject of the report, is that The United States influence in the world, in Europe and even in the UK has been, for the moment at least, very greatly diminished. Two American Presidents have contributed to this. Richard Nixon, whose diplomatic steps with China have nevertheless been seen as a most important and lasting achievement, and George Bush, who failed to convice the public world, that was America's ally at 9/11, that he knew what he was talking about and, hence, knew what he was doing.

JANUARY 12th 2007
Gates was part of the Baker-Hamilton Report Team which has just assessed the situation in Iraq. It seems odd to some, therefore, that he has now recommended the 'surge' policy of increasing the number of US troops in Iraq. However, this increase only restores the number which was earlier withdrawn and is part of a plan to back up the Iraqi government in a serious programme to restore order in Baghdad. Some Democrat senators are talking about reinforcing failure and 'the greatest mistake since Vietnam' but in reality this is the only possible sensible move at this time. The situation in Baghdad is at a tipping point and the President's advisors are realists. The Iraqi government knows that this is its last opportunity, and the US is duty bound to let them step up to the challenge. It may fail, but it is right to try.

JANUARY 21st 2007

Pentagon's Gates mild-mannered but no soft touch

By Andrew Gray 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates' mild-mannered public persona could hardly be more different from his outspoken predecessor Donald Rumsfeld but his early decisions indicate he is no soft touch.

"One of my favorite quotes is from Frederick the Great," he said on a seven-nation trip including stops in Afghanistan andIraq that wrapped up on the weekend. "Negotiations without arms are like notes without instruments."

In his first month in the job, he has approved an increase in the size of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, backed a new Iraq plan that involves more than 21,000 extra troops and indicated he favors more forces for Afghanistan too.

Those moves suggest more than just a change in style from Rumsfeld to Gates, a former CIA chief called out of academia by President George W. Bush to run two struggling military campaigns crucial to U.S. national security and credibility.

Although Rumsfeld was a strong proponent of projecting military might, he argued that a lighter presence in countries such as Iraq prevented local forces from becoming too dependent on U.S. troops and undercut accusations of neo-colonialism.

Gates has also approved the deployment of a second aircraft carrier and Patriot missiles to the Gulf region -- moves widely seen as a warning to Iran.

Yet the white-haired former university president has undertaken all those changes while giving the impression of an affable newcomer still learning the ropes.

"To the extent that this is a fact-finding trip, I've found at least one fact," said Gates, 63, near the end of a trip that featured 13 plane flights and a helicopter ride over snowy mountains to a remote outpost of eastern Afghanistan. "I'm too old to do seven countries in 5-1/2 days."


Repeatedly on the trip, which also took him to London, NATO headquarters in Brussels, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, Gates deflected questions by saying he had not been in the job long enough to answer them.

He has presented his decisions simply as the result of advice from military commanders and other experts.

"If the people who are leading the struggle out here believe that there is a need for some additional help to sustain the success that we've had, I'm going to be very sympathetic to that kind of a request," he said in Afghanistan.

That can also be seen as a change from Rumsfeld, often accused of ignoring the advice of his commanders, although his supporters have denied that charge and suggested it was a convenient way for military chiefs to avoid blame.

Gates's friendly, low-key public style has also won him a honeymoon with reporters and members of the U.S. Congress, both of whom had a prickly relationship with Rumsfeld.

That could soon change, however, above all if the new plan to stabilize Iraq is not successful. In an unpopular war that has already killed more than 3,000 U.S. troops, his decision to increase force levels is a high-stakes gamble.

"Sure, there's a risk," Gates said. But he added, "I think if you put your personal interests -- including protecting your reputation -- ahead of a sense of duty, you've got your values screwed up."

JUNE 21st 2007
The news from our troops in Basra is that the United States CIA and Military have been outstanding in their support. Whatever our men have needed in the way of materials and vehicles was always offered and supplied in rapid time. The US opinion of our forces and their performance in Southern Iraq is the highest. Regardless of anyone's views on Bush and his ideas of diplomacy, America and the world, the US is our ally on land, sea and air and will remain so through thick and thin. When it comes down to the wire, while all free countries are by nature of their freedom competitive, we will always work together for a progressive, free and peaceful world.

UK signs defence treaty with US
The UK has signed a defence trade deal with the US which will make it easier for the two nations to work together.

The treaty, agreed by Tony Blair and President Bush, will also give the UK access to sensitive US technical data.

The PM said it was important for the two nations to co-operate because their forces were working closely together in military operations around the world.

The MoD said it would make it easier to buy equipment which might be needed at short notice in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fighter deal

Mr Blair said: "This will enable our two countries to share defence information, goods and services more effectively.

"Achieving this agreement has become more important than ever before.

"At a time when British and American forces continue to work closely in defence and security operations around the world, both governments believe we must continue enhancing our ability to co-operate together."

The Ministry of Defence said the agreement was far wider than the one at the end of 2006 to share technical codes which saved the Joint Strike Fighter deal.

The US satisfied demands to reveal technical details of the fighter before the UK committed to the £140bn project.

British defence chiefs were under pressure not to go ahead with to plans to buy 150 of the aircraft unless the US released details to allow the jets to be operated independently by the UK.