Voltaire satirised the scapegoating of Admiral Byng in Candide, whose prudence at the Battle of Minorca, in which the French escaped and the force at Fort St Philip were left in peril, led to the surrender of the garrison and eventually to the loss of the island to the French. This temerity in action led to his court martial and he was shot on board HMS Monarch ,14th March 250 years ago.
Candide's judgement as he watches an officer shot at Portsmouth .."Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autre " , is usually quoted as, "In England they shoot an admiral every now and then to encourage the others".
If this were the case then the widow of Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral Adrian Johns would already be collecting his well upholstered widows pension entitlement.
Let us just recap the sitrep re the ongoing UN Shatt al Arab Interdiction and Anti Arms Smuggling Force or UNSAIAASF scenario.
1. A Corvette, the HMS Cornwall, with probably the most fearsome sea to air missile armoury of MRAAM and SRAAM (Medium and Short range Anti Aircraft Supersonic missiles - 60 miles plus range) with supporting targetting radar but low manouverability and deep draft unsuitable for the shallow waters of the Gulf is on station for traffic duty onnthe Shatt al Arab. They have two inflatable lightly armed assault craft and one Lynx helicopter.
2. The Royal Navy has destroyers and frigates and crews, mothballed in Portsmouth that are more suitable for such coastal patrolling. 21 of the 44 RN vessels are currently mothballed. When asked in December, Adam Ingram, Defence Minister refused to name the vessels that were out of action. (This is part of a grand money saving policy to save £1 Bn by April 1st 2008 in the "jam tommorrow" policy which will deliver Astute submarines (on which there are serious build problems through skill shortages), Type 25 Destroyers (behind schedule) and 2 aircraft carriers (increasingly looking like sparkles in daddies eye).
3. On January 11th ,in Erbil, US forces seize 6 Iranians, after a tense stand off with Kurd forces they release one and detain the remaining 5. The US claim the 5 are suspected of carrying out illegal operations in Iraq. The Iranians say they have diplomatic credentials and were there with the sanction of the regional and national Iraqi Government.
Mr. Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary of the Iranian Embassy is held by American forces / Iraqi / Police (?) in unexplained circumstances.
4. In March the RN report some 40 interdictions, none of which appear from public reports to have discovered anything of any consequence. Sky news does hoever film the indertiction in process in which Captain Air, soon to be captured explains how they are vusy also maintaining "intel" surveillance on the Iranians.
5. On March 23rd the 15 RN/Marines board an Indian (?) flagged vessel that is Indian / Iranian owned, apparently with no name, carrying cars. The Boarding party are left undefended by the top cover Lynx helicopter, (which is recalled for an as yet unexplained official reason) except for small arms (Assault rifles and side arms) the party have.
6. Iranian coastal vessels of unstated size, with unknown numbers of crew but reportedly with heavy machine guns approach and demand surrender.
7. 4 /5 (?) further vessels arrive, the boarding party decide not to resist, are arrested and hauled off to prison.Their Assault craft disappear never to be seen again.
8. They are (sans uniform) fillumed on Iranian TV, smoking chatting, eating wholesome food and explain on camera they were in Iranian waters with a modest attempt at dissimulation. Leading Seaman Faye Turney writes letters dictated to her which are sent to her family and displayed on world wide TV news.
9. In 2 separate events Jalal Sharafi is returned in some cofort from "house arrest" in Iraq and returned to Teheran and 5 Iranian National Guard officers previously arrested in Erbil by the US forces are allowed access by their consul. This is is explained has no connection with endles diplomatic visiting (FO Minister, Lord Treisman sees the Iranian Ambasssador 13 times).
9a. Tony Blair and Geroge Bush make sabre rattling speeches, Bush calls the prisoners "hostages".
10. IN a masterstoke of staged PR, the prisoners are unexpectedly released, flown to London, then to RN Chivenor in Devon treated to press adulation at a well scripted and satge managed Pres Conference. Unexpectedly and confidentially they and proceed with the support and help of the Royal Navy Press officers and it appears Celebrity PR guru Max Clifford to sell their stories to the world's press. (“The Ministry of Defence are very keen for them to do it ... The public are more likely to believe them than they are the Ministry of Defence or the politicians,” he told the BBC. ) The assistance also involves actually writing the stories because half those allowed to peddle their tales of derring do, cannot form a coherent thought, a decent sentence or a satisfactory vowel sound.
10a It appears that since March 23rd this UN mandated searching of vesels has stopped because ..er..well they have no more assault craft... they probably also accept it was pretty fucking worthless exercise anyway.
11. The ordure hits the air conditioning and Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral Adrian Johns who is prosaically and insultingly described as the Royal Navy's Senior Personnel Officer appears non-plussed and incapable of telling the world whether the Minister of Defence (take your pick from several) knew of this decision to sell their stories or approved it when interviewed on BBC TV News.
12. General Dannatt the current hooligan in charge of the Army, deepens the depths of ordure of inter service rivalry , and says his men would never sell their stories to the press, although he has never succeeded in getting the Prime Minister to meet the families of his dead soldiers, attend any funerals or visit the wounded.
12. Finally this evening The Minister of Defence, Des Brown lets it be known that an urgent review of the rules governing sales of stories by serving personnel will be undertaken , by whom , under what arrangements, and when they start and when they will report is left unsaid and presumably unknown.
13. 8.00 ITB "Tonight" Sir Trevor McDonald talks to Faye Turney
This is a tale unbelievable incompetence. A wholly worthless long term defence strategy which leaves the Navy with less than half it's combat fleet at sea. Expenditure of effort on worthless traffic control and simultanesously hazarding manpower to seizure, even death.
In the middle of this the Government are eager to pre-commit to the extension of the US owned Trident MIRV nuclear missile systems for squillions of Pounds.
Not only have they failed militarily, a Government which prides itself on it's PR capabilities are ...er .. well all at sea.
£20MN has just been spent court martialling Royal Lancs Regiment officers and ranks who are all acquitted after tales of unspeakable and unjustifiable brutality and even murder of citizens. Inoffensive people whom they claim to have arrived to liberate and defend in the name of Freedom and Liberty. Their collective amnesia breached only by one ranker who pleaded guilty from the off leaving the others to sing a chorus of "Don't know", "can't remember" , 10 witnesses used the phrases 667 times - one told the court martial 201 times that he could not remember events during over 3 hours of cross-examination.
Of course the State chose Julian Bevan, that ornament of the Bar who made such a hash defending Sally Clark, they must have put a lame duck in to bat for them in the reasonable (and it proved to be fruitful) expectation that they would be acquitted.
Now the whole of this shabby and illegal enterprise in Iraq will focus on the absurd fantasies of a young woman who should be at home nurturing her child, not in the front line of defending her country. Already she has used the 'R' word the red tops have been slavering over , she admits to fearing rape. A recent case against 30 yr old Naval Petty Officer Philip Coates of raping a 24 yr old rating suggest she has no need to leave her ship to suffer that fate.
In the interview, the close ups concentrate on her unhealthy pallor, that the sunshine of Arabia has left untouched, lank hair and teeth that require serious and urgent attention. Reasonably, she has after all had a harrowing experience, Trevor McDonald handles her lightly (does he ever do anything else?).
We learn nothing, other than she describes her job as a boat driver whch must go down well as a jpb description in the seamn's Mission. For most viewers it will ony re-inforce the view that we should not send women to do a man's job in the military. .. and that this one should be at home looking after her child.
One thing is certain, it will swell the ranks of those who demand an answer to the question.. WTF are we doing in Iraq ? With it's afterburner kicking in fast, Why don't we get out NOW ?