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: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: The spurious Tory endorsement that misfired

Oliver Wright
 

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband hasn’t ‘suddenly’ become a robust leader. He always was

Steve Richards
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence