How we keep losing wars we think we've won

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The Independent Online

One result of the invasion of Iraq is that lots of retired military gents were brought out of the woodwork to act as expert commentators. We ourselves, for instance, hired Maj-Gen Woodley Green, one of the masterminds of the last Gulf War, and to our amazement we find he is still on the payroll, so we thought we'd better wheel him out again and make him earn his keep. So let's have all your unanswered questions about the Iraq War!

Q. Have we now won the war against Iraq, General Green?

A. It wasn't that sort of war. Nobody actually won or lost.

Q. So what happened?

A. We invaded Iraq. We captured the capital. It was that sort of war.

Q. Doesn't that mean we won?

A. Not at all. In 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia, defeated the Russians and occupied Moscow. Yet nobody ever says that he won. Especially not after the retreat from Moscow.

Q. So, are you saying that the Americans will eventually be forced to retreat by the snow and ice and bitter cold of the Iraqi winter?

A. No, of course I'm not, you blithering idiot. I'm just saying that occupying enemy territory doesn't necessarily win a war. Did Germany beat France in 1939-45?

Q. They did in 1940.

A. No, they didn't. They started winning. That's all. Later, they started losing.

Q. But haven't we won the war in Iraq?

A. Not at all. To win a war, you have to get the other side to admit defeat. The Iraqi government has not admitted defeat.

Q. But there is no sign of the Iraqi government. There is no sign of Saddam Hussein.

A. Then we have not won yet.

Q. But what if Saddam Hussein has just gone into hiding - gone abroad, maybe, looking for a chance to get back again. Should we bother about him?

A. Why not? That's just what Charles de Gaulle did in 1940.

Q. But Charles de Gaulle wasn't a ruthless dictator, feared and loathed by his people, was he?

A. Yes, he was. Though not till much later, admittedly.

Q. May I ask why so many of your battle parallels are drawn from history - 1940, Napoleon, and earlier?

A. Certainly. Those are the only periods of warfare I know at all well.

Q. I don't understand. Weren't you a serving officer 10 years ago? Weren't you in charge of transport in the last Gulf War?

A. Absolutely. But I based all my tactics on von Clausewitz.

Q. Who was von Clausewitz?

A. He was the Basil Liddell Hart of his day.

Q. Who was Basil Liddell Hart?

A. Oh, for goodness sake! Has anyone got an intelligent question?

Q. What is your opinion about the continuing failure to find weapons of mass destruction?

A. Well, you have to distinguish between the reasons you give for declaring war, right at the start, and the real reasons which emerge as we go along. Everyone thinks now that the reason we declared war on Hitler was to defeat fascism, save the Jews, liberate France, etc etc. But it wasn't! The original reason was to stand by our treaty obligations to Poland, when Hitler invaded it. Our original war aim was to liberate Poland. This got lost sight of as the war developed.

Q. And we never really did liberate Poland, did we? I mean, we handed it straight into Russian occupation and captivity, didn't we?

A. Spot on! So in a very narrow sense we actually lost the war, because we didn't liberate Poland. But nobody says we lost World War Two. Again, in a sense we lost the war against Iraq because we failed in our narrow objective, ie finding weapons of mass destruction. But by every other criteria we won!

Q. Except finding someone to admit defeat.

A. And that. We couldn't achieve our war aims and we couldn't find anyone to admit defeat. Apart from that, it was total victory. As Mr Blair has been telling people in Iraq.

Q. Well, he hasn't really been telling people has, he? He's only been telling British soldiers. Who can't answer back. He hasn't actually addressed the people of Iraq, has he?

A. Of course he bloody well hasn't! If he did, the Iraqi people would only complain about the breakdown of hospitals, schools and transport! And he can get all that without leaving Britain!

Maj-Gen Woodley Green will be back again soon, if we can't get rid of him