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British Generals in Blair's Wars (Military Strategy and Operational Art) by [Bailey, Jonathan, Richard Iron, Hew Strachan]
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British Generals in Blair's Wars (Military Strategy and Operational Art) Kindle Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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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 '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 '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 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 '... a remarkable edited volume with accounts by 26 (mostly) retired British military officers, most of them generals. There's a chapter on Northern Ireland, one on Kosovo, and one on Sierra Leone, but justifiably most of the book deals with Iraq and Afghanistan. Inadequate money, numbers of men, and equipment, and a deep sourness in civil-military relations, are the four dark threads running through every chapter, creating a grim account of contemporary British military history.' War on the Rocks '... a fascinating volume, one of the most interesting I've read this year... The views are remarkably diverse.' Tom Ricks in Foreign Policy '... il convient de souligner l'impressionnante liberte de ton des officiers interroges. Ceux-ci n'hesitent pas a critiquer les decisions politiques, certains des leurs collegues ou allies, et l'ensemble donne une impression d'honnetete et de franchise dans la critique qu'il serait difficile a imaginer pour un militaire francais. Le fait que le ministere de la Defense britannique ait tente de censurer l'ouvrage est une preuve de la sensibilite de certains des temoignages ... l'ensemble constitue un document exceptionnel, car la plupart des propos ont ete recueillis juste apres le deploiement operationnel des officiers concernes ... les riches temoignages sont une source exceptionnelle pour comprendre l'armee britannique contemporaine.' [... it is worth noting how impressively outspoken the officers interviewed are. They do not hesitate to criticize political decisions, some of them made by colleagues and allies. This conveys an impression of honesty and frankness in their criticism which would be difficult to imagine for a French military man. The fact that the Ministry of Defence tried to censor the book is evidence of the sensitivity of some of the testimonies ... the book constitutes a unique document because most of the comments were collected just after the operational deployment of the officers concerned ... the rich testimonies are a unique source for understanding the contemporary British army.] War Studies Publications '... 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 'In this volume, two former British Army officers (Major General Jonathan Bailey and Colonel Richard Iron) and a military historian (Hew Strachan) have collected a series of essays from serving and veteran senior commanders, based on papers originally delivered at the 'Campaigning and Generalship' seminars held at the University of Oxford's Changing Character of War Programme between 2005 and 2012. These provide a professional analysis of the armed forces' performance - and that of the Army in particular - in 'Blair's Wars'. Collectively, they make for illuminating and sobering reading ... British Generals in Blair's Wars is a valuable contribution to the debate surrounding Britain's recent experiences of war, and on the future of both the UK's armed forces and its national strategy. It is required reading for historians and political scientists interested in the UK's politico-military relationships, and is also of relevance for comparative purposes for scholars interested in the foreign and defence policies of other states ...' The Round Table 'This book provides a highly thought-provoking insight not only into the contribution of key generals to Blair's wars, but into the execution of command and leadership, and the complexities of the military-political nexus. Further, it prompts important questions about the very nature and purpose of the British armed forces in the twenty-first century, as well as their relationship with other government departments. I highly recommend British Generals in Blair's Wars to anyone interested in the military, political or foreign policy dimensions of the UK's recent military interventions. More importantly, it should be compulsory reading for every prime minister, cabinet minister, Member of Parliament and senior military officer for the next two decades. For the American reader, this book holds up a mirror - perhaps an unwelcome mirror at times - to the actions of US political and military leaders in the recent wars that the UK has supported. The Scottish poet Robert Burns once wrote: 'Oh would some Power the gift to give us, to see ourselves as others see us.' This book provides such a gift, though whether that gift will be welcomed is another matter.' LSE Review of Books '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 'I cannot say this is the best book written on modern higher command. I can say that I have read none better. This candid, self-critical work is a product of British experience, mostly of Afghanistan and Iraq. The lessons identified are not exclusive to the British experience. Allies will say Amen to that. The work is inspirational. The idea of assembling experienced, recently retired Generals to say what they have with such openness and honesty has resulted in the identification of important lessons to be massaged into new doctrine.' Defense and Security Analysis 'The editors of this book, Bailey, Iron and Strachan made a true contribution to the history of this period of wars and to those who will interact with policy makers while crafting the campaigns of the future. This work reinforces the need for politically aware military advice from our Army's senior leaders rendered to our policy makers.' Kevin C.M. Benson, Ph.D, Colonel, US Army (ret) 'This selection of articles written, mainly, by commanders on the ground becomes even more important reading as we move towards the post-Afghanistan era of 2015 onwards. What can we find to guide the next generations of commanders? It is rare to find such self-critical analysis and frank assessment of the direction given from more senior military and political leadership. ... What does come across clearly, and almost unanimously, is that the commander on the ground must deal with the issues confronted daily and does not have the opportunity to measure things against a strategy, especially where that strategy is less than clearly articulated, be that by omission or commission.' War in History

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


Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 10546 KB
  • Print Length: 412 pages
  • Publisher: Ashgate (28 Aug. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00E8GOOH2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Screen Reader: Supported
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #131,353 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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This is a fascinating collection of essays written by many of the generals who held key commands at various times during “Blair’s Wars”: Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan. All are interesting, although not all of them are particularly persuasive. I thought that the chapters on Iraq in the occupation period probably present the newest angle on events because they do tell a hidden story: what the generals in charge made of the situation as it developed from 2004 onwards. What I found very worrying was the disparity between what was being said and what was being done. Iraq was presented as being very important, but the attitude of both the government as a whole and the military commanders doesn’t bear that out. Rather, the attitude seems to have been to try and get out as soon as possible and when that wasn’t achieved, limit the effort to the lowest level that the government – and some of the military – thought it could get away with. The attempts to spin success in Iraq, although well put and certainly giving a more nuanced account of what the British Army was up to in Basra, particularly in the chapters describing Operation Sinbad, ultimately fail to convince. Consider the first main chapter: Jonathan Bailey makes several explicit and criticisms of Tony Blair and fair enough. But it contains no critique of the British Armed Forces and their advice to the Prime Minister at the time, so the contents appear to reflect a view in hindsight and not necessarily those held at the time. It reviews the difficult situation regarding the provision of resources for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan but again fails to drill down into the detail of the military’s position.Read more ›
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Lots of government civil service acronyms, and later a focus on process and bureaucratic worklife slow down and discourage the casual reader. Some interesting anecdotes and good factual information (makes a change from the usual partisan generalisations on this topic, from other sources). More human stories would have broadened the appeal, that said I'm quite sure it was not written to entertain!
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Much food for thought here. Few come out well and the bottom line is that politicians need to stop strutting and consider the long term objective while the military need to reappraise what their modern role is after successful completion of offensive action. This then needs to be agreed politically and adequately funded by the Treasury and properly supported and advised by a more integrated Civil service and Foreign and Comonwealth Office componant. Not one of the wars examined was properly considered at the outset. Much blood and little treasure was expended for few political gains but politicians feel no pain.
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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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By Bill U. on 30 Dec. 2014
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An informative and at times revealing record. It is a shame the MOD would not permit serving Generals to contribute. A useful historical record
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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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