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British Generals in Blair's Wars (Military Strategy and Operational Art) [Hardcover]

Jonathan Bailey , Richard Iron , Hew Strachan
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
RRP: 80.00
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Book Description

1 Aug 2013 Military Strategy and Operational Art
British Generals in Blair's Wars is based on a series of high profile seminars held in Oxford in which senior British officers, predominantly from the army, reflect on their experience of campaigning. The chapters embrace all the UK's major operations since the end of the Cold War, but they focus particularly on Iraq and Afghanistan. As personal testimonies, they capture the immediacy of the authors' thoughts at the time, and show how the ideas of a generation of senior British officers developed in a period of rapid change, against a background of intense political controversy and some popular unease. The armed forces were struggling to revise their Cold War concepts and doctrines, and to find the best ways to meet the demands placed upon them by their political leaders in what was seen to be a 'New World Order'. It was a time when relations between the Government of the day and the armed services came under close scrutiny, and when the affection of the British public for its forces seemed to grow with the difficulty of their operational tasks. This is a truly unique and invaluable book. For the first time, we are offered first-hand testimony about Britain's involvement in recent campaigns by senior participants. In addition to touching on themes like civilian-military relations, the operational direction of war and relationships with allies, these eyewitness accounts give a real sense of how the character of a war changes even as it is being fought. It will be essential reading for those in military academies and staff colleges, not only in Britain but throughout NATO, and especially in the USA. It also has profound policy implications, as both the UK and NATO more generally reassess their strategies and the value of intervention operations. It will also become a primary source for historians and students of the wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan in particular.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 404 pages
  • Publisher: Ashgate (1 Aug 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1409437353
  • ISBN-13: 978-1409437352
  • Product Dimensions: 26.2 x 18.6 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 778,684 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

'Generals may talk, but rarely write self-critically: this collection of essays is a remarkable exception. Jonathan Bailey - himself an exceptional soldier-scholar - along with Hew Strachan and Richard Iron have assembled an extraordinary array of senior officers (and one or two civilians) who reflect on Britain's last decade of war. The resulting essays are often excoriating - of politicians, but also of the military institutions from which these soldiers have sprung. A British audience will find the generals' self-examination sobering, even disturbing; Americans will take away insights into our most important ally; students of military affairs more generally will wish to ponder carefully these reflections on generalship in the twenty-first century.' Eliot A. Cohen, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, USA 'This excellent book contains a revealing collection of papers, written by senior officers and officials charged with the command and direction of British forces in the last decade. They record the efforts and decisions made within circumstances of: controversial and ambivalent political direction, uncertain popular support, scarce resource, unsatisfied planning assumptions and unrealisable expectations; complicated by the nature of coalition operations. This book is recommended to all who wish to understand the atrophy of Britain's strategic faculties.' General Sir Rupert Smith KCB DSO OBE QGM 'This collection must be almost unique in military history. Seldom if ever have senior military commanders discussed so frankly the difficulties they have faced in translating the strategic demands made by their political masters into operational realities. The problems posed by their enemies were minor compared with those presented by corrupt local auxiliaries, remote bureaucratic masters, and civilian colleagues pursuing their own agendas. Our political leaders should study it very carefully before they ever make such demands on our armed forces again.' Sir Michael Howard, formerly Regius Professor of Modern History, University of Oxford, UK 'How military forces adapt to changes in the international environment and the tasks it sets for them is a significant factor in whether wars are won or lost. In this long-overdue book, a number of prominent British practitioners and thinkers on war take a hard-eyed look at how well Britain has adapted to the wars of the past decade. The answers are not always pleasant, but capturing and learning them now is a blood debt owed to those who have fought so fiercely in Iraq and Afghanistan.' John Nagl, Center for a New American Security, USA "This book emphasises the intelligence and imagination of senior officers who recognise that Blair's wars have given them "no end of a lesson", some of the reasons for which were their own fault. It will be a bad day indeed if the next time politicians want to take Britain to war the soldiers who must do the business are prevented from telling them - and us - home truths before we are waist deep in mud, rather than afterwards.' Sunday Times The book describes the growing frustration among military commanders about inter-departmental rows within Whitehall and inadequate co-operation with the Foreign Office and Department for International Development. The much-mooted "comprehensive" approach - co-operation on conflict prevention, peacemaking, and peacekeeping - has not materialised. Tim Cross, the senior British officer in the US-led post-invasion reconstruction office in Iraq, writes: "We do need to have a fairly radical shakeup, both in the [defence] ministry but also pan-government".' The Guardian ' - 24 senior military and civilian practitioners give their unique personal perspective on Britain's recent wars, the better to educate those, faceless or not, who want to understand why and how these campaigns worked out the way they did - These accounts were first given as a series of seminars at Oxford University between 2005 and 2011, and in some ways they reflect their origin. The best retain the immediacy and fluency which comes when an expert speaks to an attentive audience about something he knows and cares about. Some read as a sort of catharsis, the author struggling to make sense later of what was at the time a messy sequence of events - there is much here of great value, including a masterly concluding essay by Hew Strachan.' International Affairs 'With some of the personal testimonies of senior level commanders drawn from a series of seminars delivered as part of the Changing Character of War lecture series at the University of Oxford between 2005 and 2011; the book provides a unique and penetrating insight into higher command decision making, the evolving nature of the campaigns, the political-military relationship, and role of the British military and the subsequent challenges for adaptation in the post cold war expeditionary era.' Professional Reading Bulletin 'This short review can do scant justice to this exceptionally interesting volume of 26 contributors, including first-hand accounts and commentaries, by a selection of those who held senior positions in the recent campaigns fought under the premiership of Tony Blair. - Anyone reading this book cannot help but be impressed by the overall standard of articulation of analytical thought presented by this group of senior commanders. Clearly, at the most senior level, the desired transformation of British military thinking is already underway. It is unfortunate that there is no comparable institutionalised educational process for the politicians responsible for their deployment.' New Zealand International Review --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Review

'Generals may talk, but rarely write self-critically: this collection of essays is a remarkable exception. Jonathan Bailey - himself an exceptional soldier-scholar - along with Hew Strachan and Richard Iron have assembled an extraordinary array of senior officers (and one or two civilians) who reflect on Britain's last decade of war. The resulting essays are often excoriating - of politicians, but also of the military institutions from which these soldiers have sprung. A British audience will find the generals' self-examination sobering, even disturbing; Americans will take away insights into our most important ally; students of military affairs more generally will wish to ponder carefully these reflections on generalship in the twenty-first century.'

Eliot A. Cohen, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, USA


 'This excellent book contains a revealing collection of papers, written by senior officers and officials charged with the command and direction of British forces in the last decade. They record the efforts and decisions made within circumstances of: controversial and ambivalent political direction, uncertain popular support, scarce resource, unsatisfied planning assumptions and unrealisable expectations; complicated by the nature of coalition operations. This book is recommended to all who wish to understand the atrophy of Britain's strategic faculties.'

General Sir Rupert Smith KCB DSO OBE QGM

 

'This collection must be almost unique in military history. Seldom if ever have senior military commanders discussed so frankly the difficulties they have faced in translating the strategic demands made by their political masters into operational realities. The problems posed by their enemies were minor compared with those presented by corrupt local auxiliaries, remote bureaucratic masters, and civilian colleagues pursuing their own agendas. Our political leaders should study it very carefully before they ever make such demands on our armed forces again.'  

Sir Michael Howard, formerly Regius Professor of Modern History, University of Oxford, UK

 

‘How military forces adapt to changes in the international environment and the tasks it sets for them is a significant factor in whether wars are won or lost. In this long-overdue book, a number of prominent British practitioners and thinkers on war take a hard-eyed look at how well Britain has adapted to the wars of the past decade. The answers are not always pleasant, but capturing and learning them now is a blood debt owed to those who have fought so fiercely in Iraq and Afghanistan.’

John Nagl, Center for a New American Security, USA

 

''This book emphasises the intelligence and imagination of senior officers who recognise that Blair's wars have given them "no end of a lesson", some of the reasons for which were their own fault. It will be a bad day indeed if the next time politicians want to take Britain to war the soldiers who must do the business are prevented from telling them - and us - home truths before we are waist deep in mud, rather than afterwards.'

Sunday Times

 

The book describes the growing frustration among military commanders about inter-departmental rows within Whitehall and inadequate co-operation with the Foreign Office and Department for International Development. The much-mooted "comprehensive" approach - co-operation on conflict prevention, peacemaking, and peacekeeping - has not materialised. Tim Cross, the senior British officer in the US-led post-invasion reconstruction office in Iraq, writes: "We do need to have a fairly radical shakeup, both in the [defence] ministry but also pan-government".'

The Guardian

 

'… 24 senior military and civilian practitioners give their unique personal perspective on Britain’s recent wars, the better to educate those, faceless or not, who want to understand why and how these campaigns worked out the way they did… These accounts were first given as a series of seminars at Oxford University between 2005 and 2011, and in some ways they reflect their origin. The best retain the immediacy and fluency which comes when an expert speaks to an attentive audience about something he knows and cares about. Some read as a sort of catharsis, the author struggling to make sense later of what was at the time a messy sequence of events… there is much here of great value, including a masterly concluding essay by Hew Strachan.'

International Affairs


'With some of the personal testimonies of senior level commanders drawn from a series of seminars delivered as part of the Changing Character of War lecture series at the University of Oxford between 2005 and 2011; the book provides a unique and penetrating insight into higher command decision making, the evolving nature of the campaigns, the political-military relationship, and role of the British military and the subsequent challenges for adaptation in the post cold war expeditionary era.'

Professional Reading Bulletin

 

'This short review can do scant justice to this exceptionally interesting volume of 26 contributors, including first-hand accounts and commentaries, by a selection of those who held senior positions in the recent campaigns fought under the premiership of Tony Blair. … Anyone reading this book cannot help but be impressed by the overall standard of articulation of analytical thought presented by this group of senior commanders. Clearly, at the most senior level, the desired transformation of British military thinking is already underway. It is unfortunate that there is no comparable institutionalised educational process for the politicians responsible for their deployment.'

New Zealand International Review

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
This unique book has clearly been misunderstood by some reviewers, possibly because they have no or very little knowledge or experience of the responsibilities of senior military in a democracy. It is the government that decides on war. It is then its responsibility to provide the military with the means to conduct operations. The evidence is overwhelming,including that given at the Chilcote hearings by senior civil servants, senior military of all three services and Blair and Brown (the latter two after much prevarication), that the military, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, were badly let down. Lies were told about equipment, equipment was inferior and in short supply (Helicopter shortage was a scandal). Also, outlandish comments by the Defence Secretary and Brown demonstrated ignorance of the nature of counter-insurgency ops.

A book such as this has never ever been published by British military personnel. As Professor Sir Michael Howard has said it is 'unique in military history'. No wonder during the vetting process by the Ministry of Defence there was a deal of pruning. What a pity we cannot, and probably will never, see what was cut. The frankness about the difficulties faced in translating strategic demands laid down by politicians into operational realities is astonishing and also worrying. The chiefs of staff are not whining they are rightly demanding the tools for the job. They also again rightly were concerned about false expectations.

The book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the last decade of war, and why and how the military got enmeshed in the disaster in Iraq and the Afghanistan fiasco.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dull but essential read 4 Sep 2013
By Tim
Format:Paperback
Hard work; who am I to comment on the work of such eminent authors?

A series of academic papers by various Generals, ascribing their views in a direct military manner and unfortunately a leaden and dull read .. it isn't an enlightening 'military history' work by the like of Antony Beevor. An issue is hammered repeatedly and the reader is bludgened into submission. The military LOVE acronyms especially to designate their myriad commands - one gets the impression that many of the UK's wars in the last 2 decades were hampered by too many chiefs / not enough Indians (that's TMCNEI in army-speak)

What is fascininating, are the diverse personalities of the Generals: Sir Mike Jackson in particular comes across as a leader who one feels could have succeeded anywhere; where less capable officers petulantly vent their frustration at conflicting coalition imperitives, lack of resources and poor political strategy. This absence of (or unrealistic) strategic direction is a recurring theme. And yet, this is something which most Generals throughout history have had to contend with! (Montgomery in Europe - working to Eisenhower/ Churchill's various instructions? or perhaps Wellington at Waterloo with a multinational army?) - just my opinion - I'm sure other reviewers will differ.

Early in the book criticism is levelled at Tony Blair - which may /may not be fair - however there is no 'case for defence'. I thought the General Staff had a responsibility to advise the Prime Minister against zero budget warmaking without a strategic 'exit plan' - however their culpability is skirted around (wouldn't do for a General to criticise his superiors!) and I do not recall a single General officer resigning their commission in objection.

Overall - I think a good book that needed to be written and historically it will be an essential read. There are clear lessons within, which gives hope for a new and better purpose for the British Military in the 21st C.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A War Criminal? 28 Mar 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I understand that serving Generals were not permitted to contribute.
I think it was Napoleon who said that we were a Nation of Lions lead by donkeys. Our soldiers were Lions but to describe the politicians as donkeys is to do that breed a gross injustice.
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11 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Blair's War's Review 18 Oct 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a sad book. It's let's bash Blair although Brown possibly has more to answer for, all ok in theory but the Generals all seem to suggest they could have won if they had the resources. We were never going to be able to win and they should have known that and then spoken up. None of them take responsibility for anything that went wrong. They totally miss the point that war is changing. The book lacks any views from the government of the day, the treasury and the FCO. It's a one sided " it was not our fault" whine. The Iraq/ Afghanistan conflicts were strategic disasters, we all went along with it and the self serving articles by some Generals who did not speak up when serving to protect their own careers is a sad indictment of the lack of moral courage in senior army officers.
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