Leading article: A war that invites some unflattering comparisons

Share

The 25th anniversary of the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands affords us an opportunity to reflect on the parallels and differences between that war and Britain's present imbroglio in Iraq. There are some clear similarities between the conflicts. In both cases, Britain quickly achieved its primary military objective. Port Stanley was captured on 14 June. Baghdad fell only a month after the joint US and British invasion began. The casualty rates for British troops were higher in the Falklands campaign, but in both operations they were relatively low by historic standards. And in both instances, the BBC found itself under attack from the Government over its reporting.

But the differences are starker. Iraq was a war of choice. The drum beat for the invasion started almost two years before the tanks began to roll. The Falklands were, by contrast, an emergency provoked by Argentine aggression. Diplomacy failed in the Falklands crisis. But there was no suggestion that Britain was acting illegally in sending a taskforce to reclaim the islands. The United Nations Security Council demanded Argentine withdrawal. The same Council failed to sanction a new resolution authorising force in Iraq in 2003.

In the Falklands conflict there was a clear objective, namely, to rid the islands of the Argentine occupation. The goals over Iraq were dangerously vague. Its justifications ranged from eradicating a direct threat to Britain in Saddam Hussein to establishing a beacon of democracy in the Middle East. Both missions were cloaked in the rhetoric of democracy and self-determination, but the realpolitik behind each was very different. The Falklands operation was a post-imperial spasm by Britain, which won the eventual support of the US. Iraq was a neoconservative fantasy, dreamed up in Washington, to which Britain, through our prime minister, decided to subscribe. And, of course, the outcomes could not be more different. The liberty of the Falklands and its inhabitants was secured. Iraq, four years after the invasion, is a bloodbath. And British soldiers are still there.

The politics behind each mission has similarities and differences. In April 1982, parliament was recalled for a vigorous debate, full of moral gravity. There was a debate over Iraq, too. But, with a few honourable exceptions on the Labour ministerial benches, there was too little opposition to the invasion. Significantly, there was no real acknowledgement of the possibility that Britain would not "win". The British role in successful interventions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and the Gulf in the 1990s created an air of hubris. The situation in the early 1980s was different. There were serious doubts about Britain's capacity to reclaim the Falklands militarily.

The role of the intelligence community also seems different now. The intelligence was poor with respect to the Falklands, with the Argentinian invasion coming as a surprise. But in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, the intelligence was not only poor but manipulated by the Government. The threat of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction over Iraq was grossly exaggerated.

We see different standards of political accountability now, too. The then Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, resigned even though the subsequent war was a success. Not one minister from this present government has resigned, though the invasion of Iraq has turned into a disaster. Lady Thatcher has admitted that her Government would have fallen if the taskforce had failed. Tony Blair's Iraq adventure has led to a sectarian catastrophe, but he defends his position by arguing that his intentions were good.

Thus, in a snapshot of two wars, we see the difference between two political eras. The comparison is by no means flattering to our own.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing