October 17, 2004


Black Hole: If Tony Blair agrees to send the Black Watch regiment to back up America’s bitter battle against Iraqi insurgents, it could have disastrous consequences for his premiership ... and for the soldiers themselves. But it could prove decisive in Bush’s campaign to get back into the White House (Foreign Editor David Pratt, Westminster Editor James Cusick and Diplomatic Editor Trevor Royle, 10/17/04, Sunday Herald)

The request for British forces was first mooted by US ambassador John Negroponte when Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made a surprise visit to Baghdad last week. It was confirmed by the Ministry of Defence on Friday, and it is unlikely to be refused. They are used to operating under US command and control, and US commanders have a great respect for British military professionalism and judgement.

While it’s not yet clear exactly how the British troops would be used, there are two likely scenarios: they will be deployed to replace US units in the Baghdad area of operations, or they will be part of the defensive screen at Fallujah while US forces attack the city. Both options take them into far greater danger than they currently face in Basra, in the south of Iraq.

The primary targets will be the Iraqi guerrillas who have been operating against the coalition forces ever since the main war of manoeuvre came to an end last spring. It would also aim to neutralise foreign fighters such as Abu Musab al- Zarqawi and other Islamic fundamentalists who have flocked into Iraq to take up the fight against the coalition. [...]

Having almost unquestioningly taken the White House line before, during and after the war, Blair will be expected by Bush to again deliver in a time of need. For Bush, the urgent need – with barely three weeks till the presidential election day, is to see the fight inside Iraq begin to look like an international effort with the burden shared among the main coalition allies.

During the recent presidential debates, where John Kerry succeeded in closing the gap between himself and Bush, the Iraq war was portrayed by Democrat Kerry as almost solely a US fight, with 95% of military casualties American. Republican Bush looked aggrieved at the attack saying the comment denigrated the coalition effort. But it’s clear the Bush re-election team would like the occupation and the fight against the insurgency, especially inside the Sunni triangle, to be seen as an international operation. The regiment of the Black Watch would fulfil that aim.

The deployment decision is also a major political gamble for Tony Blair. But having survived votes in the Commons, the Hutton and Butler inquiries, and the criticisms thrown at him from within his party, the Prime Minister may feel he remains in a position of strength to again risk the unthinkable, namely putting British troops into an arena where casualties will almost certainly increase.

The fight for Fallujah will likely be over by the time British troops get there, but it's certainly the case that Tony Blair wants his partner George Bush to win re-election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 17, 2004 11:41 AM

Mr. Judd;

I fail to see how this would help President Bush. Who, exactly, would view the effort differently if the Black Watch is sent in? Just how many Americans even know who they are? And hasn't the UK already been dismissed as part of the coalition of the "bribed and coerced"?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at October 17, 2004 5:04 PM

I would say anyone who has any basic acquaintance with military history has heard of the Black Watch, one of the most storied regiments in the British Army.

Posted by: Joe at October 17, 2004 6:37 PM

Who cares?

The British army has been little more than a bad comedy routine since Wellington.

Posted by: Bart at October 17, 2004 6:50 PM

Joe, the fraction of Americans who know military history well enough to have ever heard of the Black Watch regiment is miniscule. Heck, I guarentee that the fraction who could name the 2 US Airborne divisions is in the low single digits.

Personally, I would have requested some Gurkhas. Show the Zarqawi gang what knife play is all about.

Posted by: brian at October 17, 2004 8:37 PM

Or if South Korea would send some of their crack RoK commandos...
Judo and Karate experts all.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 18, 2004 9:52 AM

Bart, Keep that attitude up & the U.S. will truly be on their own .

Posted by: warner mackenzie at October 19, 2004 3:22 AM


We are essentially on our own until we strengthen our relations with Russia, encourage Japanese rearmament, and let the Israelis take the gloves off.

You would do well to read Farwell's Mr Kipling's Army or to remember Bismarck's quote that were the British Army to show up on the continent that he would send a couple of Berlin policemen to arrest them. If we had left the ETO up to Monty instead of Patton and Zhukov, we'd still be dug in around Arnhem fighting the Jerries.

Britain is on the same banana peel to oblivion that the rest of old Europe is on. Blair is merely a temporary hiatus. When he goes or is pushed out his replacement will either be a Labourite loony or Edward Heath redux.

Don't overrate yourselves. Britain is at best a third rate country with pretensions of being second rate.

Posted by: Bart at October 19, 2004 1:28 PM

Bart , Despite your history lesson, as an ex Argyll & Sutherland Highlander now resident in Australia ,I find your take on the British army offensive. For us, remember it was the 1914-18 war & the 1939-45 war ( read into that what you will.)I was in Aden & even then the squaddies understood the Arab better than Rumsfeld & co.do 30 years later.

Posted by: warner mackenzie at October 20, 2004 2:36 AM

The WWI British Army was pretty funny, if you like black humor. What else can we say about an army led by a field marshal(Haig) who used to order horse cavalry to charge machine gun nests? Gallipoli was a famous military brilliancy, I'm sure. Had your secret service and agents provocateurs in the US not gotten us involved in a war in which we had no interest, you would have gone down for the count, as Germany was fighting a one-front war after Brest-Litovsk and the French were spent.

WWII? The RAF was truly brave in the defense of Britain. However, one must point to grotesque blunders in France and Singapore in 1940. Once Hitler made the crucially stupid decisions to declare war on US and invade the USSR, his fate was sealed. Had Britain actually been invaded by the Nazis, it would have fallen quicker than France due to its large number of well-placed allies in Britain like Edward VIII and Lord Halifax, and the rest of the Cliveden Set.

What is there to understand about the Arab? My friends and family in Samaria tell me the only thing they understand is the business end of a gun, and that they are incredibly cowardly.

Posted by: Bart at October 20, 2004 9:33 AM