[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 May 2007, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Washington's War by Michael Rose
Washington's War by Michael Rose

There has been much criticism of the US-led coalition's post war strategy in Iraq.

As the insurgency has grown and sectarian violence taken hold US forces have increasingly had to adapt their tactics - most recently boosting troop numbers in the so-called a "surge" strategy.

In General Sir Michael Rose's new book he argues that the insurgents' tactics have been seen before - ironically when George Washington's forces succeeded in defeating the British Army - then the world's greatest military power - to win independence for the US in 1776.

Having served with the SAS and commanded the UN Protection Force in Bosnia, Sir Michael's analysis raises profound questions about tactics, leadership and lessons from history in the campaign in Iraq.

The following extract is from the preface.

Washington's War is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Click here to post your comments and reviews
Read extracts from other books in the Newsnight book club

By Gen Sir Michael Rose

When I first started visiting the battlefields of the American War of Independence, it was well before the 9/11 terrorist attacks had taken place and President Bush had yet to declare global war against Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. My intention had originally been to write an analysis of the military lessons learned by the British Army in what for them had been an unfortunate and ultimately disastrous war. Over the next five years I came to see how great the similarities are between the policies being pursued by America in the present Iraq war and those of Britain in the eighteenth century. Not only do the same political and military imperatives apply, but also George III's inability to recognize what drove the American colonists to rebel against the British Crown is exactly matched by George Bush's lack of understanding of the motivations of Islamic extremist terrorists.

The notable exception to these similarities is the very different quality of military leadership shown in the two wars. Most senior naval and military commanders on the British side during the American War of Independence proved to be professionally inadequate. That certainly cannot be said for the many American and British officers that I have met in Iraq and elsewhere. They understand far better than I the complexities of modern war and the difficulties that they confront. Those serving in the armies of free democratic nations have to respond to the dictates of their political masters without public comment, no matter how much they may believe the policies and strategies being followed are flawed. They always strive to succeed to the best of their ability, and sadly many of them and their soldiers lose their lives in so doing. It therefore falls on those who have studied history, or who have spent their careers in the military, to point out where politicians decide to ignore the lessons of history and lead their countries into ill-judged wars.

The failure of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair to understand the limitations of military force in combating terrorism undoubtedly stems from their misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the wars in the Balkans that took place between 1992 and 1999. My own experience as the commander of the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia in 1994 demonstrated to me just how far politicians are prepared to go in their efforts to alter history. Even today, in their speeches, Bush and Blair continually repeat the message that peace was returned to the Balkans by the use of military force, and that efforts at peacekeeping by the United Nations in the region had been ineffective. In this wholly inaccurate analysis, it was the bombing of the Serbs in September 1995 that brought peace at Dayton and it was the bombing of Yugoslavia that removed Milosevic from power in 1999. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. The decision by the Serbs to sign up to the Dayton peace accord came about, not through NATO bombing, but because the military balance of forces on the ground had been changed by the halting of the fighting between the Muslims and Croats the year before. The two previously warring factions had formed a federation and it was that federation's military success in the autumn of 1995, when they captured much of the territory that the Serbs had wished to trade for peace on their terms, which finally forced the Serbs to bring a halt to the fighting. It had been the UN that had brokered this peace and implemented the peace deal between the two sides.

It had been left to the UN peacekeepers to sustain the people and preserve the state of Bosnia during three and a half years of bloody civil war. Although their mission was limited to the alleviation of human suffering by the delivery of humanitarian aid, the presence on the ground of UN troops was ultimately able to create the conditions in which peace became possible. Without the UN mission, Dayton would never have happened.

But today the propaganda message - that it was force of NATO arms that delivered Dayton, not the UN - is still being plugged by Bush and Blair in their determination to justify the use of military force as the principal means in the war against global terrorists. 'It was NATO that brought serious force to bear and gave the desperately needed muscle to end the war,' claimed Blair in a speech made on the fiftieth anniversary of NATO in 1999. 'In Kosovo we will not repeat those early mistakes made in Bosnia.' Both Bush and Blair clearly remain determined to advance the logic of war.

In spite of their confident assertions, the use of military force in Kosovo also failed to achieve its declared political, humanitarian or military objectives. On 24 March 1999, Javier Solana, then Secretary General of NATO, stated that the objectives of NATO's war against Milosevic were to halt the ethnic cleansing and stop further human suffering in Kosovo. In spite of the most intensive eleven and a half weeks of bombing hitherto experienced in the history of war, 10,000 people were killed and one million people were driven from their homes. When judged on a humanitarian basis, it is clear that the mission failed entirely. At the same time, General Wesley Clark, the commander of NATO, announced that NATO air power would progressively 'disrupt, degrade, devastate and destroy' the Serb military machine to prevent it from carrying out any further ethnic cleansing. Yet, despite the fact that the Serb Army was equipped with 1950s Soviet technology and that it was exhausted by eight years of war, NATO completely failed to live up to General Clark's expectations. It is estimated that less than twenty Serb armoured vehicles were destroyed in the bombing, and the ethnic cleansing continued at an accelerated pace. When the bombing finally halted, the Serb Army withdrew into Yugoslavia, 'an undefeated army', in the words of the senior British commander on the ground. Bombing simply had not worked. Moreover, NATO failed to deliver any political goals. For it never obtained the freedom of movement throughout Yugoslavia that it had sought at the Rambouillet talks in January 1999. All NATO's other demands had been agreed to by Milosevic. For British politicians to claim today that the war in Kosovo was a success because NATO 'did, after all, succeed in getting rid of Milosevic', is to indulge in propaganda worthy of Milosevic himself. In reality, Milosevic was kept in power for a further eighteen months as a result of NATO bombing, which collapsed not only the bridges over the River Danube, but also the Serb political opposition. It was the people of Serbia who finally voted Milosevic out of power in the elections of 2001. In spite of the evident failure of their strategies in the Balkans, the politicians of NATO have reinforced the belief that it is possible to solve complex humanitarian, political and even international security crises through military means. This view has been translated into a doctrine of offensive military action, which has been now been applied in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet the past clearly shows that military action unsupported by an agreed political framework, and one, furthermore, that is backed by adequate economic and social programmes, simply will not endure. Nearly one decade after the end of the Balkan Wars, European Union troops are still required to maintain a presence on the ground in order to prevent a return to war. Both Bosnia and Kosovo have become, in effect, protectorates of Europe.

I have discussed the ideas contained in this book extensively with military and civilian audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. However, the only people who consistently refuse to discuss the invasion of Iraq and its related strategies have been politicians and their many apologists in the media. The quality of their argument was once well demonstrated to me during a live Channel Four television programme when I had put forward the view that the recently published September 2002 intelligence dossier, composed as it was of supposition, exaggeration and error, had failed to make a sufficient case for war. I seem to remember that the foreign secretary of the time, Jack Straw, limited his reply to a half-muttered, 'Well, General Rose is entitled to his opinion.'

The same sort of dismissive response from politicians was received by Captain Liddell Hart and General Fuller from politicians after the First World War, when they queried the continuing use of the cavalry and semaphore in battle. They believed that the War Office should think strategically rather than be concerned with tactics, and they suggested that the army should experiment with the combined use of tanks, aircraft and radio communications in order to take advantage of advances in modern technology. Their advice was ignored and they were frequently ridiculed as armchair critics. However, Hitler, Guderian, Manstein and Rommel did choose to listen to Liddell Hart and Fuller, and the technical developments that were introduced into the Wehrmacht nearly brought about the defeat of Britain at the start of the Second World War. The failure of the present US and British administrations to understand the strategic consequences of the changed nature of modern conflict has led to similar deficiencies in effectiveness when it comes to fighting the war against global terrorists. Unless major changes are made by our politicians to their failing policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is certain that the West will face disaster not only in these two countries but also in the wider war against global terrorists. This short book is designed to launch a new debate about when and how we should invite our armed forces to engage in the fight for freedom and democracy in the modern age.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

banner watch listen bbc sport Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific