A much better and balanced programme than it might have been. McKay highlighted some real deficiencies in our strategy, such that any existed. Miliband was let off very lightly and his concluding criticism was well placed. There was a sense of "didn't I do well" and Ledwidge was expectedly irritating as was his apocryphal tale of Sangin's marketplace.
Hmm, interesting in an uninteresting sort of fashion. I'm not sure I am any the wiser. The talking heads were a disparate bunch, sad tale of the young Marine now diffy three of his limbs - not sure that was really necessary. Milliband, as stated above, let off too lightly, and Ledwidge predictably smug (although I did enjoy most of his book). The good general himself was not that enlightening. All in all a bit of a wasted opportunity.
. . . and I'm slightly perplexed as to why anyone would find Ledwidge only 'irritating'.
Frankly, I like 'irritating' much, much better than I like 'narrow', 'stupid', 'unimaginative', 'incompetent', 'self-serving' and 'morally bankrupt' - all these are common characteristics of our latter-day cohort of senior officers which are only thrown into sharp public relief by the Ledwidges of this world.
It's a pretty lazy world-view that would place him as merely 'irritating' in the scale of things.
Seems everyone got off rather lightly, except the triple amputee.
A short summary for those who missed it:
- McKay talked about how he was the only general to get it, how 52 Bde's tour was a success, and explained why all previous and most succeeding brigades were too gung ho
- Ledwidge got to outline his book in terms of Duplo-like simplicity, and dragged out his Sangin market story ( which he and many others have previously attributed to Kabul )
- Richards explained how he knew that it was going wrong from the beginning, and how he bravely asked bold questions about resourcing
- An American general remembered visiting 16x in Helmand, and that while he was impressed with their effort doubted the coordination of the campaign
- Michael Semple ( for whom I have a lot of time ) said that all the political & cultural intelligence we gathered was wrong because "he went to a seminar recently and disagreed with nearly all of the speakers' conclusions".
- Petraeus talked a good game about how things only got going in the right direction after he took overall command
- Miliband said that while the plan ( his responsibility ) was good, it failed due to the difficulty of doing things as part of a 30 country coalition ( ignoring the fact that only a handful had any political & military clout ) and "er... stuff going wrong"
- A British general who'd been there in 2001 said that the campaign hadn't been a failure because among other things Afghanistan now has a large Army ( of dubious loyalty, and expense far greater than the country can sustain ), much larger GDP ( solely as a result of bloody foreign intervention - does he understand basic economics? ) and more children going to school
- A Marine who'd lost both legs and one arm believed ( hoped? ) that it was worthwhile because British people walk in freedom as a result of the success of the campaign.
I haven't mentioned everything - but you get the picture.
So, if you didn't listen you didn't miss much. And if you did, you didn't learn much either - unless you haven't read a broadsheet paper in the last 5 years.
The programme had a lot of potential given the quality of its speakers but in allowing them to talk their own book fell into the same trap of self-congratulation, blame avoidance and reliance on easy answers that characterised the failure of the campaign. If it was meant to be a counter-blast to a cosy consensus, it succeeded only in giving a cursory boot into a straw man already on the floor.
A missed opportunity, and a shame. A series of talking heads each explaining that it was someone else's fault. Except Mark Omerod, who didn't seem to assign any blame at all and showed a dignity and resilience which few other western participants, civil or military could equal.
IMO - and I confess to being a disciple of his - Rory Stewart could have tackled the same topics far more effectively and skewered a fair few of the participants along the way.
For what it is worth I also think MacKay was extremely critical of the support he received whilst in theatre. I saw a particularly damning limdist letter that he wrote on equipment. At the time Tony Blair was making extravagant claims along the lines of 'whatever they need'. I can't imagine that did MacKay much good either.