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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Liberal Democracy and its Limitations
British intervention in Iraq was a war of choice, not a war of necessity. As early as 1999 Tony Blair argued it was legitimate for one country to intervene in the affairs of another. This fitted in with New Labour's "ethical" foreign policy, a policy which unravelled almost immediately when it transpired the Foreign and Commonwealth Office knew about an arms deal with the...
Published on 11 April 2012 by Neutral

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unremarkable
"War of Choice" is the Daily Telegraphs former Baghdad correspondents take on the British occupation of southern Iraq between 2003 and 2009.

The book commences with a cursory look at manoeuvrings that led to the war, as well as the paltry post war planning. The focus is at the higher levels of the political and military establishment with little mention of,...
Published on 28 Feb 2012 by S Wood


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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Liberal Democracy and its Limitations, 11 April 2012
By 
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: A War of Choice: The British in Iraq 2003-9 (Hardcover)
British intervention in Iraq was a war of choice, not a war of necessity. As early as 1999 Tony Blair argued it was legitimate for one country to intervene in the affairs of another. This fitted in with New Labour's "ethical" foreign policy, a policy which unravelled almost immediately when it transpired the Foreign and Commonwealth Office knew about an arms deal with the deposed President of Sierra Leone contrary to a United Nations embargo. Prior to New Labour focus was was on the defence of Europe, Blair switched this to one of expeditionary warfare and rapid deployment into war zones and humanitarian crises. This laid the foundation for Blair's self-belief that he was a player on the world stage. Blair himself "more than any other figure, drove the country to war."

He received support from Lawrence Freedman, Professor of War Studies at King's College - and now a member of the Iraq Inquiry - who argued the removal of Saddam's regime would enable Britain to wield more influence in Iraq and the Middle East generally. This was based on the premise that force has to be combined with political, socio-economic and cultural leverage. However, as logistics expert Tim Cross discovered a month before the war began, there was no post-war plan for Iraq. The issue had not been high on the agenda when Blair attached himself to Bush's coat tails. Blair set three conditions for British involvement which "reflected his preference for grand strategic thinking and preoccupation with the media". He wanted time to convince the electorate who were opposed to war and overcome the skepticism of the Cabinet. After meeting with Bush at Crawford, Blair spoke of "regime change" although the United Nations' founding charter stated that, "no country can invade another unless acting in self-defence or with the authorisation of the United Nations." Britain and the United States both pushed for a second UN resolution to justify the invasion but realising they would not get one acted without UN approval and contrary to the UN Charter.

Jack Straw, who claimed he could have stopped the war, told the Cabinet evidence that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) was "thin" and Attorney General Peter Goldsmith wrote 'that current intelligence suggested there "would not be any ground for considering Iraqi use of WMD as imminent.'" Clare Short was adamant she would not support an invasion unless the UN authorised it then temporised in the hope she could influence the post-war situation. Robin Cook made no such compromise and resigned. Whether Peter Goldsmith was forcibly held by his lapels to make him change his mind will never been known but the senior legal adviser to the US National Security Council John Bellinger boasted, "We had a problem with (Goldsmith) who was telling us it was legally doubtful under international law. We straightened him out." Alistair Campbell was doing the same to dissenting ministers.

Blair had already privately pledged his support to Bush no matter what the evidence showed. His deception had serious consequences. The Ministry of Defence asked for 37,000 suits of body armour in September 2002 but these were only ordered in November which left British troops unprotected during the invasion. Cross noted Blair was running on adrenaline believing he was "at the zenith of his power, the world statesman who had put Britain at the heart of the American war on terror and who was now marching bodly with his allies to confront the enemies of Western liberalism." Seven years later when Blair faced the Iraq Inquiry "he struck a defiant pose saying he did not regret the war or its aftermath" a line adopted by his cohorts Alistair Campbell and Jonathan Powell. His motive, his memoir revealed, was "he had no intention of giving the newspapers a headline such as "Blair Apologies For War". "At Last He Says Sorry."

He was not the only politician for whom power outweighed responsibility. In 2003 six Red Caps, lacking ammunition and a satellite telephone, were murdered by a mob in Majar al-Kabir police station. A Board of Inquiry concluded the deaths were "not preventable". It was a predictable cover-up, faciliated by the Minister of Defence, Geoff Hoon, who denied the families access to the report until thirty minutes before he met with them. Reg Keys, whose son was one of the Red Caps, stood against Blair in the 2005 election, polling ten per cent of the vote. Ignored by Blair, Keys told the cameras, "I hope in my heart that one day the prime minister will be able to say sorry". Some hope!

Over time information has emerged which has exposed Blair's deceptions. The "dodgy dossier", the refusal to treat "intelligence" with the skepticism a single source requires. Blair foolishly endorsed Gordon Brown's comment when Britain finally withdrew from Iraq that the war had been a "great success". Presumably the 179 British soldiers who were killed, the 222 who suffered debilitating injuries, the additional 5748 soldiers injured in the conflict would disagree. Many taxpayers would argue that 44.5 billion was too high a financial price to pay for overthrowing Saddam while failing to bring peace to Iraq. Britain's international influence has weakened and Blair's reputation shattered.

Fairweather argues "Blair is not the only one who should shoulder responsibility for Iraq and Afghanistan." He blames the military for providing bad advice and the Ministry of Defence for defending its own turf. Ultimately, responsibility lies for those who wanted war, over-rode opposition to their intentions and the craven politicians who lacked the backbone to oppose their leaders' policies. The recent Libyan campaign suggests the "myth of progress" still prevails in policy-making circles. Fairweather concludes, "until Britain's leaders recognise the limits of intervention, the country is bound to repeat the mistakes of the past." Iraq was one such mistake. Five stars for an outstanding book with extensive notes and bibliography.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A War of Choice: Honour, Hubris and Sacrifice: The British in Iraq, 5 Dec 2012
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This is a brilliant and readable account of the British involvment in Iraq and Afghanistan. Very few people or organisations come out of it with much credit, the government and senior army officers least of all...... though they are probably pipped for incompetence by certain U.S. individuals. You couldn't make it up.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and well researched, 3 Jan 2012
This review is from: A War of Choice: The British in Iraq 2003-9 (Hardcover)
This is an impressive read; well structured, knowledgeable and very well researched. The background details and the failings of the British are well laid out, particularly the lack of preparation and exit strategy. It is in the small human details that the book comes alive however. The travails of an Iraqi translator whose story counterpoints the arc of the war, is gripping and makes very clear the human cost of the conflict. An excellent book - highly recommended.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vibrant and informative: This book is alive!, 31 Jan 2012
This review is from: A War of Choice: The British in Iraq 2003-9 (Hardcover)
As a student of Politics at both Princeton and Oxford, I especially appreciate books that are both academic and readable. Jack Fairweather's "A War of Choice" is one such book. It provides valuable insight into one of the major wars of our time and leaves us questioning the decision-making process that leads to the use of force. It is especially relevant in this day and age where war is becoming increasingly lethal due to modern military advancements. The character portraits and occasionally (darkly) humorous conversation exchanges lend personality to this book, bringing it alive with the feel of the place itself. Fairweather's personal experience as an embedded journalist clearly shines through. It is a great pleasure to read a book that is at once vibrant, informative and beautifully written. It is a highly commendable first book by an excellent journalist and a must read!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pandora's box, 13 Jan 2012
By 
R. Fairweather (Wales) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A War of Choice: The British in Iraq 2003-9 (Hardcover)
Reliving the horrors of Blair's War through this book proved both harrowing and enlightening. Based on first-hand experiences and extensive interviews and research, Jack Fairweather provides an authentic and balanced account of the events that dominated our headlines for six years. He eschews the polemic - authorial comment is largely left to the final chapter - choosing to unfold the narrative with a detachment that allows readers to form their own judgements. Some of the chapters are unbearably vivid: the chilling and preventable murder of six Red Caps, or the ambush by Fartosi's men of a British patrol described with all the raw drama of a Wild West shootout. Nor are the conflicts confined to the battlefield. Elsewhere in the book, we gain insights into the prevarications and rivalries in Whitehall, the mounting tensions within the Coalition, the never-ending reversals of policy, the paramountcy of saving face. Commanding Officers are changed with the frequency of Managers in struggling football teams and like them, with inadequate resources and inconsistent strategy, are invariably replaced in a matter of months. A War of Choice measures the war in human terms, but nowhere more engagingly than in the vicissitudes of fortune encountered by an Iraqi translator whose tribulations underscore the main narrative. To find out whether he survives, and for a behind-the-scenes understanding of the war, you must read this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A War of Choice, 27 Mar 2013
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Excellent analysis of a shameful period in the history of the British Army. It would not be so bad if so many people had not suffered as a result of the egos of a few. Let's not gloss over this. Let us see those responsible held to account!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Balanced Review of the Iraq Campaign, 26 Dec 2011
This review is from: A War of Choice: The British in Iraq 2003-9 (Hardcover)
Jack Fairweather has arguably delivered the most comprehensive review of the ups and downs of the Iraq conflict to date. He approaches the subject in a factual manner and attempts to shine a light of explanation as to why things happened using a mixture of interviews with those who were in Command on the ground, historical reference material and reports in the international press at the time. The result is a balanced, time sequenced, comprehensive review through the lens of the British perspective. I initially considered that this was an analysis but came to the opinion that the book just lays the identified facts out to the reader to allow the individual to make up their own mind. The reader is not exposed to Fairweather's own thoughts until the epilogue of the book. There are 4 themes that run throughout the book being Whitehall politics, insufficient resources provided to the military, the failure to rise to the reconstruction and development (R&D) challenge and the over optimism of the senior British officials in the South.

Politics. The Whitehall politics are grounded in the `humanitarian interventionism' doctrine laid out by Tony Blair before the war, underpinned by a steadfast belief that all human beings want self-determinism and a democratic way of life. This is then fused with the realities of British domestic politics, New Labour and the personal career requirements of those politicians. It is ironic that in a counter-insurgency campaign that the British allowed home-grown politics to influence their activities on the ground when the real political influence to the campaign should have focused primarily on Iraqi politics. The Whitehall political meddling, a confused foreign policy, lack of understanding, interest and even boredom of the political hierarchy are all exposed. This is a theme that is consistently identified in recent publications best highlighted in Sir Hilary Synott's 'Bad Days in Basra' Bad Days in Basra. This is the first book I have read that attempts to look at the shift in political interest from Iraq to Afghanistan and suggests that the deployment to Helmand was the political and military `face-saving' Basra exit strategy. The book sides with the argument that the British military was strategically defeated in Iraq by its own government in the United Kingdom.

Resources. Jack Fairweather observes on the dramatic reduction of troop numbers from the initial invasion that effectively neutered any chance of rebuilding the country post conflict let alone winning an unanticipated counter-insurgency. This is as much a fault of the military planners as the politicians desire to do interventionism on the cheap. There is a delightful chapter in the book that describes the US and British military's slow realisation of the Iraq campaign being a counter-insurgency, their development of doctrine and training that culminates in a young officer stating in the field `why is this the first time I have heard of counter-insurgency?'. The observations made on lack of resources are not as scathing as Richard North's `The Ministry of Defeat' Ministry of Defeat 2003-2009: The British in Iraqbut are commented upon through the example of the deadly mixture of Iranian sourced Explosively Formed Projectiles (EFPs) and soft skin British Snatch LandRovers.

R&D. The failure to meet the R&D challenge is described in the book by the fact of a confused Foreign Policy and the Department for International Development's (DFID) lack of engagement. The continuous frustration of military commanders' who were told and believed that the R&D line of operation was a civilian responsibility is a sore throughout the book. The creation of the Post Conflict Reconstruction Unit as a cross-government response to the challenge, its subsequent `sidelining', rebranding and resuscitation as the Stabilisation Unit in Helmand, Afghanistan points to the British confusion. The final ignominy and reflection of the British R&D story was trying to run this Main Effort work strand by remote from Kuwait.

Optimism. The book observes on the almost continuous fascination of British officials to `look through rose-tinted glasses' and only deliver good news to Baghdad and Whitehall. The effect was to further confuse and strangle the resources so badly needed to defeat the insurgency. The friction created by British officers telling the US commanders how to conduct a counter-insurgency is eye-wateringly arrogant, misplaced and damaging to the military reputation. Rory Stewart and Gerald Knaus likewise observe on this unlikeable British military trait in their book `Can Intervention Work?'Can Intervention Work?: Amnesty International Global Ethics Series.

`A War of Choice' suggests that there was a choice to be made without offering what the alternative would have been. The implication of course is no war. On reflection I think the reader will rather worryingly conclude that there was no choice to be had. The US and UK spiralled to this point in history because of a lack of clear Foreign Policy where the Iraq invasion and campaign was a product of a rudderless ship, with multiple influences placed on the tiller on the seas of fate.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Iraq war from the perspective of the British, 26 Dec 2011
By 
LINA (Burlington, VT) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A War of Choice: The British in Iraq 2003-9 (Hardcover)
The British used to think they were the best at counter-insurgency - and roundly annoyed their American colleagues telling them how they were getting things wrong in Iraq. But in Iraq, it was the Americans who went back to the drawing board to learn how to fight war among the people and win, while the British retreated to their bases,and only managed to leave following a controversial deal with an enemy of the American and Iraqi governments. If that wasn't enough, the British army then barged into Afghanistan creating the current mess there. This book admirably describes how the US has finally taken the lead in counter-insurgency. As Vietnam served as a weight around the neck of the US military, so Basra may prove the same for the British. This book is a great, page-turning introduction to these issues, and an important addition to our knowledge of the last decade of war
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unremarkable, 28 Feb 2012
By 
S Wood (Scotland) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A War of Choice: The British in Iraq 2003-9 (Hardcover)
"War of Choice" is the Daily Telegraphs former Baghdad correspondents take on the British occupation of southern Iraq between 2003 and 2009.

The book commences with a cursory look at manoeuvrings that led to the war, as well as the paltry post war planning. The focus is at the higher levels of the political and military establishment with little mention of, for example, the anti-war movement in Britain that culminated in the remarkable demonstrations of early 2003. The quality of analysis on the road to the war in Iraq, including a discussion of the difference between wars of choice and wars of necessity, is rudimentary and easily surpassed by works such as Dilip Hiros Secrets and Lies and Sheldon Ramptons and John Staubers Weapons of Mass Deception.

"War of Choice" continues with a short look at the invasion before going into a more detailed account of the occupation itself which is the strongest part of the book. To his credit Fairweather takes on issues such as British forces mistreatment and abuse of Iraqis, the problematic US-British relations below the Blair-Bush level, the fluctuations of policy with regard to the British occupation, the treatment of Iraqis who had worked for the British occupation, the degree of collusion between British forces and the Shia militias in and around Basra in order to give the impression of peace to prior to the pre-ordained British withdrawal, and the pressure on resources due to the escalation of British involvement in Afghanistan.

On the downside Fairweather indulges in some horrific clichés: the leader of the Shia militia in Basra is described as having the "self important swagger of a classroom bully"; a British officer has "blond hair and a ruggedly handsome face"; the demeanour and facial hair (and much more besides) of a substantial number of Dramatis Personae are described in loving detail. None of this adds one iota to the readers comprehension of the occupation, barely more so does the endless narrating of individual events, particularly military actions including detailed accounts of actions in Afghanistan, which leave the reader with the details of so many trees and little concept of the entire wood.

In comparison to works of analysis such as Gabriel Kolkos monumental history of the Vietnam War Anatomy of a War, or Robert Fisks history of the War in Lebanon Pity the Nation which successfully combines detailed analysis of the war with extremely well written accounts of individual events, "War of Choice" can only be considered as unremarkable. Accounts of what Bush said to Blair, or what various military and political figures said to each other or the press are not a substitute for a sustained analysis of historical events. The prose, though generally readable, contains enough clichés to make wincing an obligation on the part of the reader. If this book has some value it would be as an introductory text to the reader who knows little of and wishes to know more about the British experience in Iraq.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, thorough, and readable, 7 Jan 2012
By 
Gerard (London, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A War of Choice: The British in Iraq 2003-9 (Hardcover)
I think this is probably the best book I have read so far on the Iraq conflict. It's written by a talented writer who knows Iraq from having lived there, and who has done years of research.

Best of all is its insight into the people who were involved in Iraq, both British and Iraqi. The pen-pictures of the individuals who feature are amazingly good at giving you a sense of what the people are like, in just a few words, and the accounts of events are lucid and pacy. Because so many people were interviewed, it gives a picture that is both top-down (clearly, a lot of senior generals and officials talked to the author) and bottom-up (accounts of battles by the people who were taking part in them). The author spent a lot of time in Iraq and has included Iraqi perspectives as well, which is a welcome change from most British and American books about Iraq and Afghanistan.

There can never be a definitive history of something as complicated as the Iraq conflict, where there are so many different perspectives and interpretations, but this is a very fine portrait of the people who were involved. Definitely worth a read.
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A War of Choice: The British in Iraq 2003-9
A War of Choice: The British in Iraq 2003-9 by Jack Fairweather (Hardcover - 27 Oct 2011)
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