How can they stop it looking like the fall of Saigon?
The above picture was taken on April 30th 1975 and shows the last American helicopter as it was about to fly the final group of people from the roof of the US embassy to safety. Shortly afterwards the city fell and the United States had lost the Vietnam war. That defeat had a huge impact on US politics which still has consequences today.
So what’s going to be the fall-out of a British withdrawal from Basra? Already the British army has pulled out of two of the three bases it had within the city and a big PR battle looks likely when the troops finally leave. Yesterday a radical cleric quoted in the Independent was claiming “..the British have given up and know they will be leaving Iraq soon. They are retreating because of the resistance they have faced. Without that they would have stayed for much longer, there is no doubt.”
This is totally refuted by the British who are saying “the closer we get to achieving Iraqi control in Basra province …we reduce our operational footprint in the city and allow the Iraqi security forces to take the lead in policing security of their own city.”
So the troop moves will be replaced by a spin war and the last thing that Whitehall wants is pictures like the ones above. But in an age when everybody, it seems, is carrying a camera even if only on their mobile phones, it’s going to be hard preventing pictures of the final pull-out being taken and used for propaganda purposes.
So how is this going to affect domestic politics? Will Gordon get the kudos for finally closing down Britain’s Iraq involvement that was started by his predecessor? Or will this open up again the debate on how the UK got into this position in the first place?
Could a grand pull-out gesture by Brown be part of an early general election campaign. If so how can it be made palatable when there are so many, like the cleric quoted above, who would try to present it as a defeat?
The great strength of Brown’s position is that David Cameron and most of the Tories gave full backing to the original invasion and have found it hard to gain political capital from it. The Lib Dems appear strangely muted and Ming Campbell does not look as though he wants to take on his Fife neighbour.
As for the media the reaction by the most hostile paper, the Independent will be as predictable as the Daily Express coverage of the alleged conspiracy over Diana’s death.
Whatever this is going to have an impact one way or the other.