Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The fog of war

Talk about creating a diversion – the new “military covenant” is no better than a smokescreen to hide what’s really going on.

Ministers want us to forget our armed forces are fighting one and a half wars while they impose defence cuts and boost foreign aid by billions.

Our armed forces are still dying in Afghanistan in a war we will never win. David Cameron has admitted as much by announcing troops will be withdrawn by 2015 whatever is happening in that benighted country.

We are taking part in fruitless bombing raids on Libya where Colonel Gaddafi is still dodging the bullets and our Government is talking about sending in ground troops.

We are scrapping aircraft and carriers and handing redundancy notices to soldiers on the front line.

No wonder “Commander in Chief” Cameron says he has “robust” debates with service chiefs. They must wonder what planet he is on when he’s ordering our troops into battle while at the same time reducing their numbers and their firepower.

Yet he promises a “military covenant” promising, among other things, free IVD courses and priority housing for ex-soldiers.

Into this mess plunges Defence Secretary Liam Fox, opening up a new front in the Whitehall battle by criticising the Coalition’s plan to increase foreign aid by 34 per cent.

It’s not just the Ministry of Defence which can’t understand why we are throwing good money after bad on foreign aid when every other aspect of public spending in being cut.

Foreign aid is a wasteful bucket with a hole in the bottom. Much of the money ends up funding civil wars or in the Swiss bank accounts of bloodthirsty dictators and their henchmen.

It is hard to tell what good it does. Yet we are already spending £7.5 billion. Some of it is going to countries like China and India which both enjoy massively booming economies.

These countries are so wealthy their billionaires are busy swallowing up bargain basement Britain’s remaining assets – MG Rover and Jaguar Land Rover are a couple of obvious examples.

They don’t need our help; if anything, we should be holding out the begging bowl to them.

Yet Mr Bleeding Heart Cameron proposes to increase foreign aid to £11.4 billion in the next two years.

It’s so embarrassing for International Development Secretary that Andrew Mitchell has won the nickname “Lord Bountiful”. He’s apparently even using the title when he sends text messages.

Unlike his Cabinet colleagues, the Sutton Coldfield MP is wandering the world with an open cheque-book wondering what to do with all his loot.

It’s true that, despite everything, Britain is still an affluent country. And there are places where people’s lives are nasty, brutish and short.

It may be the judicious application of aid from richer nations can make some difference to their lives.

But while we offer these handouts, we are expending billions more fighting losing battles in the Middle East.

Mr Cameron “announced” the withdrawal of 400 soldiers from Afghanistan this week but, as it was planned anyway, it’s meaningless and there will still be 9,000 people risking their lives over there.

We are taking part in half-hearted bombing raids on Libya though nobody can agree whether we’re supposed to be protecting civilians, which is legal, or killing Col Gaddafi, which isn’t.

And while our troops are no longer in Iraq, our depleted Royal Navy is still patrolling the Gulf.

The defence cuts – which, let’s not forget, even envisage sharing aircraft carriers with the French – have been imposed by our politicians.

Yet these same politicians don’t seem to have noticed they can’t afford to strut the world stage any longer as if they owned the place.

The cuts are necessary. Partly because the Ministry of Defence has overspent by a cool £38 billion and partly because the country is broke.

But if David Cameron is reducing our military capability and making front-line soldiers redundant, surely he must accept he can’t go round threatening mad dictators with retribution.

Gunboat diplomacy went out of fashion in the Victorian age yet here we are, ineffectually bombing Libya as if our political masters still think of this country as the world’s policeman.

Even the Americans are wisely taking a back seat during the “Arab spring” while Dave and Nicolas Sarkozy of France come over all belligerently humanitarian.

The “military covenant” is a nice idea. Few people would object to the idea that the Government promises to look after its troops once their active-service days are done.

Free bus passes for the wounded and better schools for their kids are all very well but they should not be allowed to draw attention away from the real battle about Britain’s role in the world.

We are not rich and powerful. We can’t afford to impose our will on “poorer countries”. Nor can we afford to send Mr Mitchell off dishing out money we have to borrow to spend to those same banana republics.

The “military covenant” will cost £45 million a year – the Taxpayers’ Alliance says Mr Mitchell’s department will soon be wasting £1 billion simply administrating its great international giveaway.

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