Of Suez and nudity…- 16 June 2011

‘The emperor! He’s got no clothes on! He’s stark bollock naked, doing a dance in the garden… should someone tell him?’

And so it came to pass that the First Sea Lord said out loud (although apparently slightly misquoted) that the SDSR had defenestrated the Navy and that if the Libya operations went on for longer than the 6months originally given to the task of battering a below-par opposition, that we’d be horrendously overstretched. I’m fairly certain this view has been thoroughly aired in the media, in quality outlets like Think-Defence and ARRSE and even in the bits of academia that move quicker than the usual glacial publishing pace, so perhaps the Emperor had just yet to feel the icy tickle of fresh air around the trouser area…

But having told the Emperor that his gentleman’s gentleman was swinging in the breeze the First Sea Lord was summoned to the palace to be debagged and radished (frank exchange of views), and then publicly shown up in the Commons (what else could the Emperor do?).

But two things: civilian control of the military. And we could have a very normal normal seminar room discussion about whether the First Sea Lord should protest inhouse and only inhouse(?), even if he doesn’t get his way (and the three services ignored this ‘rule’ gloriously during the SDSR process) or whether there’s some sort of moral duty for our top brass to speak out when the situation is dire and there’s no relief inhouse (ie the government refuses to listen)? But cutting through that I think one would have to assume that anyone who reaches the top echelons of any profession has not done so because they’re a crass  arse who doesn’t know when to keep schtum (footballers excepted), and thus this would represent an alternative venting opportunity for the First Sea Lord. I think these things often work like an iceberg, and someone like Stanhope speaks out then there’s likely to be a large body of thought and personnel sat beneath it.

Second thing: Gaddafi (mad dog or not) has clearly decided that a war of attrition is likely to bring him rewards; he has effectively re-established control of Tripoli (no protests have been reported there for weeks) and that if he just keeps hanging on we’ll run out steam. At what point will the assorted commentariat start drawing comparisons with Suez? Without overwhelming American support (and let me clarify before the comments get overwhelmed with accusations that I’m doing anyone down – what I mean is the sort of tipping point intervention that only America is capable of generating), which might be a modern variant on the Suez debacle, European powers have been shown to not be strong enough to provide an overwhelming difference on the ground. That’s within the context of what the UN resolution provides. Even today the clear concerns about the ability of Europe to manage the post-Gaddafi moment (should it ever arise) have been publicly aired by the head of NATO.

And the thing is… is you’re going to walk around as a nude emperor, you have to do so with a great deal of confidence. There’s no point setting of on a naked ramble, only to get a mile or so in before realising the unacceptability of the task. For the Libya expedition, Europe is going to have to finish the job soon or it’ll be providing modern historians and assorted peace-niks with journal articles and protest points for the next twenty years. It will have also signalled the end of the Arab Spring


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