Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bahrain Folly

Britain's new military base being built in Bahrain seems like a complete waste of money. We are unlikely that we will be intervening in the Middle East on our own, without the USA, any time in the medium term future so it is fairly pointless. I suppose if we get more in arms sales to Bahrain than it costs to set up the base it may be worth it, but when people talk about the base being "symbolic" it's probably a euphemism for waste of money.

In our last two wars east of Suez, Iraq and Afghanistan, the British Army was overstretched and achieved little, as this review* from the LRB puts it:

The September 2004 draft of Fry’s plan for the switch from Iraq to Afghanistan featured a graph showing British troop numbers in Basra smoothly falling away as numbers in Helmand gradually rose. There was a cross on the chart where the two lines met. This would have been fine if Basra had stayed quiet, but as the time approached when the first troops were due to land in Helmand, it became more and more evident that the British had failed to bring anything resembling order and justice to southern Iraq. Even before the Helmand operation started, it was obvious Britain needed more troops in both theatres. But it didn’t have enough even for one.

By 2005 British forces were well on the way to ceding Basra and the surrounding area to armed Shia groups; they would end up hunkered down and isolated behind the ramparts of their main base at the city’s airport. ‘To rectify the situation in Basra, the British would have to send more troops,’ Fairweather writes. ‘And yet their pivot to Afghanistan required them to do the exact opposite and withdraw. Rather than confront this gaping hole in their strategy, the British opted to carry on regardless.’

The beginning of Britain’s deployment in Helmand coincided with the belated realisation by British high command that their American patrons considered them to have been beaten in Iraq. Their much vaunted light-touch counter-insurgency skills had failed and the US was going to have to bail them out.
Since then the armed forces have undergone further cuts, so  pretending that we are a significant independent player in Middle East doesn't seem like a good way to use scarce resources, especially if the status that goes with it tempts our illustrious and wise leaders into further missions in the region that are testing our capacity. Either fund the military well or cut back what it is expected to do.

* Via iSteve.

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