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Iraq: British officer's email

  • Newsnight
  • 6 Jun 07, 10:06 PM

Newsnight received the following email from a serving British Army captain with experience in various theatres including Iraq. We know his identity but have withheld it at his request. Watch Mark Urban's report on morale among soldiers serving in Iraq here.

"I am a serving British Army officer with operational experience in a number of theatres. I am concerned regarding the effect of your recent reports from Baghdad (Watch Mark’s report here). I have been forwarded the correspondence between yourself and David Edwards of, and would like to highlight that it is not merely medialens users, who are concerned about embedded coverage with the US Army. The intentions and continuing effects of the US-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq have been questioned by too few people in the mainstream media and political parties, primarily only the Guardian and Independent, and the Liberal Democrats, respectively.

There is a widespread, and well-sourced, belief based on both experience and evidence, in both the British military and academia, that the US is not "just in Iraq to keep the peace, regardless of what the troops on the ground believe. It is in Iraq to establish a client state amenable to the requirements of US realpolitik in a key, oil-rich region. To doubt this is to be ignorant of the motives that have guided US foreign policy in the post-war period and a mountain of evidence since 2003." (quote from medialens)

That the invasion was 'illegal, immoral and unwinnable', and the 'greatest foreign policy blunder since Suez' - to paraphrase the Liberal Democrats - is the overwhelming feeling of many of my peers, and they speak of loathsome six-month tours, during which they led patrols with dread and fear, reluctantly providing target practice for insurgents, senselessly haemorrhaging casualties, and squandering soldiers' lives, as part of Bush's vain attempt to delay the inevitable Anglo-US rout until after the next US election. Given a free choice most of us would never have invaded Iraq, and certainly would have withdrawn long ago. Hopefully, Tony Blairs's handover to Gordon Brown will herald a change of policy, and rapid withdrawal, but skewed pro-US coverage inhibits proper public debate, and is deeply unhealthy; lethally-so to many of us deployed to Iraq.

The [inadvertent] dangers of bias of embedded journalism are well known and there is a risk that the 'official line' can be conflated with evidence and facts. Jon Snow graphically demonstrated the effect of this during the initial invasion of Iraq in his programme The True Face of War. I am conscious that reporting independently, outside of the 'green zone' in Iraq is nigh on impossible, but I would merely request that the 'official line/White House propaganda' be handled with an appropriate degree of scepticism, and be caveated accordingly."

G8: Promises, promises...

  • Newsnight
  • 6 Jun 07, 07:52 PM

From Newsnight's Economics Editor Stephanie Flanders at the G8 Summit. Watch her report here.

merkel203sarkozy.jpgThey say G8 summits are about the numbers. And this one is no exception. We've got 16,000 police, 11,000 soldiers, two minesweepers, a dozen AWAC planes and I don't know how many helicopters - all dedicated to protect the leaders of the seven largest rich countries in the world (plus Russia). If you watch my report you'll see my heroic efforts to get as close as possible to where the action is. Which is not very close at all.

It's all a long way from 1974, when the US invited a handful of finance officials for a chat in the White House library. That "library group" was the precursor to the G8. And I have a strong suspicion that they got more things done.

Of course that's not the official line. The official line is that you can get more business done with 8 leaders sitting in a room for a few hours than you can in months of lower level diplo-chat. But that's only half-right. It's true that the prospect of having such a meeting - and the world and his dog waiting outside to hear the results - means that any leader with voters to worry about will call a meeting of his staff about 3 months before aforesaid meeting to ask them what the "deliverables" are going to be. Then the staff - in the case of the G8, the worthy Sherpahs, devote several months of diplo-chat to finding stuff for their bosses to announce (the deliverables).

This system can work fairly well - with the right leaders and the right issue. The right leaders means people who are either very dedicated to a given cause, or need to get re-elected quite soon, or both. And the right issue is one where either the G8 can deliver on their promises immediately - or give the task to someone else. Because the G8 is an institution that's designed to produce deliverables. It's not designed to actually deliver. Consider what happened two years ago. Say what you like about Gleneagles (and who doesn't?) they DID deliver on most of their promises to write down African country debt. Why? Because it was the IMF and the World Bank that actually had to do it.

Where the promises involved individual governments translating their promises into aid budgets, year after year - they weren't kept. Or many of them weren't kept. The G8 research group at the University of Toronto reckons that governments have stuck by only 65% of the commitments at Gleneagles. Perhaps Chancellor Merkel should look on the bright side - if she doesn't get any big new commitments from the heads at this year's summit, there will be fewer promises leftover for leaders not to keep.

Join the 'How gr8 is the G8' debate here.

Wednesday, 6 June, 2007

  • Newsnight
  • 6 Jun 07, 06:01 PM

From tonight's presenter, Gavin Esler:

bushmerkel_203.jpgMilitary morale
Our diplomatic editor, Mark Urban, has been hearing from serving British soldiers about low morale in Iraq and loss of support from some in the army for the mission there. One serving British Army officer has told us that the "overwhelming feeling" of many of his peers is that the invasion was "illegal, immoral and unwinnable". He describes troops who feel that they are "reluctantly providing target practice for insurgents, senselessly haemorrhaging casualties and squandering soldiers' lives." You can read the full text of the officer's email here.

It's a difficult story to get at - for obvious reasons. But the concerns are real.

Stephanie Flanders is in Germany for the G8 Summit. She'll be looking at what, if anything, can be achieved from summits like these. Is the G8 just a "meaningless photo opportunity", "unrepresentative", "big on rhetoric low on substance" as some of you have suggested on our website?

Stephanie is blogging too and you can read her opening despatch here.

Climate change
Our environment analyst, Roger Harrabin, reports on how far carbon trading really will help solve the problems caused by climate change.

Orange Prize
The winner will be announced tonight - and Newsnight will be there. (Though some of us continue to wonder - when Kiran Desai's magnificent novel wins the Booker Prize) why in 2007 it continues to be necessary to have a women only literary prize. Isn't it rather like netball compared to basketball?)

How Gr8 is the G8?

  • Newsnight
  • 6 Jun 07, 01:28 PM

g8_203banner.jpgOver the next few days Heiligendamm in Germany will play host to leaders of the world's G8 nations, debt relief and climate change campaigners and anti-globalisation protestors - all pursuing distinct agendas. Will any of them come away with what they want? Will the G8 achieve anything of lasting value? In fact - what is the G8 for?

We'll be reporting from Heiligendamm on Wednesday and trying to answer those questions but what do you think? Does the G8 make a difference?

Watch Stephanie Flanders' report from the summit and read her first blog.

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