Mali: why does the press have the taste of blood in its mouth?

Beware Britain's military-media complex, always ready to blow the trumpet for the next war

Column LAST UPDATED AT 14:43 ON Wed 30 Jan 2013

WE SEEM to be stuck as a nation in a military form of the 1993 film Groundhog Day, fated like Pittsburgh TV weatherman Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) to wake up every morning stuck in a time loop, repeating the same day over and over. Military Intervention Day we might call it. 

At least Connors gets to wake up to the sound of Sonny and Cher's 1965 hippy hit I Got You Babe. We are forced to wake up to an unfaltering diet of blithely optimistic and irresponsible military analysis.

In 2006, John Reid, then Defence Secretary, infamously said of the British expedition to Afghanistan: "We would be happy to leave in three years without firing one shot".

Yesterday, his Conservative successor Philip Hammond, in reply to some gentle probing on Mali from the Conservative member for Newark (the admirable Patrick Mercer, formerly a colonel in the Worcester and Sherwood Foresters), contributed the immortal line: "We do not expect things to go wrong".

The military talking heads have also been plying their trade. On Tuesday morning General Sir Mike Jackson was on radio and TV giving his gravelly blessing to the Mali intervention. He was, if you remember, Chief of the General Staff at the start of both the Iraq war and large-scale operations in Afghanistan. Seeking advice from him about overseas interventions is like asking General Percival how to defend Singapore.

David Cameron told MPs last week that Britain's contribution to the EU force would be in the "tens not hundreds". The meaning of this is clear – a maximum of 90 – or possibly 99 - if you don't insist on the number being divisible by 10. Yet the real number now appears to be 330.

It is true that many of them will be based in Anglophone West Africa but, crucially, no arrangements have yet been made for 'Force Protection'. The figure will almost certainly rise. Clearly, neither Cameron nor the Ministry of Defence can be bothered to provide accurate figures to Parliament.

Timbuktu has fallen pretty much without a shot being fired – cue much military jubilation. But the fact that Islamist militants have abandoned Timbuktu without a fight is hardly significant. That's what they do in the face of organised Western military force – what any sensible person would do.

It's the next phase that is going to be difficult – the 'IEDs down every dusty alleyway' phase. The 'green on blue' phase to use a particularly depressing euphemism from Afghanistan which describes the killing of allied soldiers by the Afghan military and police they are supposed to be training.

So far, there seem to be few dissenting voices in the media. Once things start to go wrong they are capable of putting the forensic boot in – as they did to both Tony Blair over his Iraq lies and Gordon Brown over equipment shortages in Afghanistan. But for now they are fluttering their eyelashes at all those handsome soldiers off to war - again.

Partly, I suspect, this is through genuine enthusiasm – wars are news and also a welcome release from the iron grip of domestic political correctness stifling and ritualising debate on many important subjects. News channels and newspapers feel they can show a little ankle in supporting British forces overseas. Another reason for this instinctive support is the emergence of the professional war reporter. They like wars too.

The armed forces themselves are partly to blame. There is the suspicion that as Afghanistan heads to its inevitable denouement the top brass seem to be looking to pastures new. Depressingly, some of the rank-and-file seem to have acquired a taste for violence if Prince Harry's canteen coarseness (as revealed in a BBC3 documentary about him on Monday night) is representative:

"As soon as we get a shout, whatever it is, we all run to the aircraft, and at that point you have the taste of blood in your mouth."

President Eisenhower warned in his January 1961 farewell address: "… In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist."

We have something of the same problem in the UK – not so much military-industrial as a military-media complex always ready to blow the trumpet for the next war. · 

Disqus - noscript

Remember Thompson counterinsurgency principles: PRIORITY to defeat political subversion not guerrillas. Need effort in ideological discourse or we repeat mistakes

We did not get an apology from 'Dr' John Reid for the appalling decision to get this country in yet another pointless campaign in Afghanistan. The only thing that has been achieved is the anger across the Middle East against western countries for interfering in a country that has never been a threat. It has to be remembered that neealy all the terrorists involved with the attacks on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia.

I agree, when I witnessed the gravelly General Jackson giving his pro military views, I was waiting for the opposing opinion, which regrettably did not arrive . Once again the BBC have portrayed their lack of democratic balance, opting for prejudice yet AGAIN!

there does seem to be a real thirst for war and war now from the media.

the plan seems like it might work with Professional French forces go in hard and the bad guys melt away. French then pull back and are replaced by West African Forces and in the mean time we train a new Mali Army to replace West African forces,

What the Media seems to want is Britain taking the lead, tales of derring do, and Britain being special.

What has actually happened,

We have provided a single C-17 for 3 months (till needed to support next phase of pull out from Afghanistan),

So has Canada, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Russia, US initially said yes but sent a bill to the French for the daily rate for the aircraft, then withdrew it when it transpired even the Russians were not charging!

We have sent a single Reconnaissance aircraft to be based in Senegal. Getting permission from several African nations for overflights so we can find out exactly what is going on, is no bad thing.

We have offered to contribute to, (NB NOT Lead) an EU training mission for Mali, with us making up 40 of the 200, with the French busy elsewhere that is about as small as we could go without taking it over.

We have offered to provide 200 troops to be based in other West African countries to help them provide the bulk of the forces. this is the odd bit, where they asked for or did we offer. Nigeria has a professional Army and has a history of intervening in other West African civil Wars since the 1990's without our help. Why do they suddenly need support of people, whereas before they have asked the international community for support in terms of cash. But of course we contributed £100 million to the multilateral ECOWAS operation does not make as good a headline as "The Boys are going in!"

Spot on, Beth - I am ex military, after a full career in the Intelligence Corps - we were always encouraged NOT to concoct or distort an interpretation of facts on the ground simply to fit our own cosy theories and assumptions. Blair, Brown, "Dr" Reid et al are guilty of this most fundamental mistake.

Iraq was a travesty - Blair knew what he was doing - he lied and manipulated British political and public opinion into supporting that, frankly, illegal second intervention into Iraq on the most flimsy of excuses - a university student's rather fanciful and amateurish treatise on Iraq's possession of, and readiness to use, "Weapons of Mass Destruction".

Our "intervention" in Afghanistan was very ill-advised - there have been numerous unsuccessful military adventures by the British (and the Soviets!) in Afghanistan - how on earth did Blair think that we would be any more successful than on previous occasions?!!! It is quite obvious that our floppy-haired boy - blunders of public school "educated" politicians have a very flimsy grasp of history!

Apart from the "terrorist" threat to the UK homeland (a specious and very tenuous argument) there was certainly no compelling reason for Britain to commit large numbers of combat troops to Afghanistan - in other words there was "no vital national interest" to justify Britain going to war in that benighted country.

"Mission creep" WILL happen in Mali - the French national pride might compel that country to take the lead in any land combat but Cameron will want to be seen as a "good European" by supporting another European neighbour in the "war on terror" - that, I fear, will be the extent of Cameron's strategic reasoning - and all this in the face of yet more defence cuts.

perpetual war - an attempt to disguise from the population just how close we are, as nations and as a planet, to a collapse of everything - the worlds economy, as designed, must have infinite growth, you cannot have infinite growth based on finite resources...time to wake up people