Has General Sir Richard Dannatt crossed the line between reasonable military advice and political interference and if so what should be done.
I have found this really difficult to get my head round so I will tackle the easier question first. If he has crossed the line then he should go. No doubt about that in my opinion.
We live in a parliamentary democracy and at the end of the day our armed forces are at the disposal of the government of the day. This is particularly so where there has been a specific vote in the House of Commons. In my opinion this is a precedent which should be maintained and all military action (except in the most dire circumstances) should be authorised by the House of Commons. Never mind that the war was an illegal war founded upon a false premise. The place to resolve that is through the ballot box. Otherwise we run the risk of the military determining which policies they do and do not like and one has only to look at Thailand to see where that can lead.
Now to the more difficult question. Has he crossed that line?
As the Chief of the General Staff he has a responsibility to those under his command to look after them and to ensure that they have the correct tools and resources to undertake the missions they are carrying out. Initially any such concerns should be addressed to the Ministry of Defence and ultimately to the Secretary of State for Defence. So is it ever acceptable to raise any of these concerns in public via the media or otherwise. I think that depends upon what the issue is.
If the Chief of the General Staff had made representations about lack of soldiers or weapons to complete the mission and his concerns had been over ridden then I feel he may have been justified in putting these concerns into the public domain.
But his comments when much further than that as is made clear in this piece from yesterdays Observer. To quote directly from the article "The general would tell Sands that British troops should be brought home 'soon' from Iraq and that their presence was 'exacerbating' tensions. Not only that, but he, in effect, accused the Prime Minister of being 'naive' in thinking they could install a liberal democracy in Iraq. Within hours of her dramatic story appearing in print, Browne rang Dannatt to demand if his comments were accurately replicated. They were."
In my view this means that he had crossed that line. He almost certainly knew what he was doing and was prepared therefore to take the consequences if it came to it. It matters not one jot that what he said was common sense and that I and many others will entirely agree with his comments that we are part of the problem. We know we should never have gone there in the first place. But is is not the role of the Chief of General Staff to interfere in the political process for determining what missions our armed forces will be used and what missions they will not be used for. Sadly I feel he should go.