A cloudless sky with just a sliver of a moon, and as the two Hercules C-130s levelled out, the Paras leapt in tight formation into the dark void of a Harare night, fingered their rip cords, and once more ran over the assault plan in their minds.
Two hours earlier, an advance unit of the SAS, having infiltrated Zimbabwe across the Limpopo river, and posing when challenged as South African big game hunters, had secured Harare airport, killing the radio operators and the sleeping guards with ruthless efficiency.
The First Battalion Parachute Regiment had been selected for this mission because of their expertise in linking up with special forces. Thus far, it had proved to be a textbook operation.
And so it goes on, with the Paras rapidly storming the presidential palace, subduing the guards and capturing Uncle Bob. And look who gets installed as the new colonial governor:
Back at Harare airport, the final C-17 had only just landed with the man hand-picked to represent the British government during the transition.
The last British governor of Rhodesia had been Sir Christopher Soames, of Eton and the Coldstream Guards. Lord Mandelson had argued that a military man should take on the role this time. Charles Guthrie, former Chief of the Defence Staff and Tony Blair’s favourite general, had been mentioned.
But instead, it was another Labour loyalist who emerged from the C-17 into Harare’s balmy summer night air.
Trevor Phillips rubbed his eyes and stared into the African night sky. He had missed out on the London mayoralty when his plans to be the Labour candidate were undermined by Ken Livingstone courting the popular vote in 2000, but now his time had come and he was agreeably surprised to learn from his Foreign Office bullet points that the country over which he was to rule was rather larger than the United Kingdom.
‘Come on,’ said Phillips wearily to the corporal as he gestured towards Harare in the distance and climbed into his official Range Rover. ‘Let’s be getting on with it…’
Presumably, this is to compensate Trev for him getting the heave-ho from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. This little piece of Boys’ Own fantasy, the work of Daily Mail hack Stephen Robinson, is extraordinary for a number of reasons, and not merely because it’s buck mad. The first of these is that it’s transparently based on Robinson having met a superannuated Rhodesian soldier in a pub. The Rhodie, over a few pints, put forth a plan of action that, as Jamie points out, bears a remarkable resemblance to Freddie Forsyth’s The Dogs of War. Since the failed Wonga Coup in Equatorial Guinea had a similar provenance, and led to legendary mercenary Simon Mann being given a pedicure by his Equatoguinean gaolers, one might take this with a pinch of salt.
But Mr Robinson is not so easily deterred. On the basis of his pub conversation, he goes around soliciting opinions about how feasible this plan might be. Well, at least he has tracked down a recent Stern interview with Mr Tony Blair. Since Mr Tony was the man who hired a bunch of spivs to invade Sierra Leone, as well as an evangelist for humanitarian war, you would expect him to be at his most swivel-eyed on this subject. And you would be right:
‘I think whoever has the possibility should topple Mugabe – the man has destroyed his country, many people have died unnecessarily because of him.’
He added: ‘If you can do, then you should do it. My idea of foreign policy is that if you can do something, you should do it.’
It’s the old fallacy that was skewered so effectively in Yes, Minister. “Something must be done; this is something; therefore we must do it.” And it would be much funnier if Blair wasn’t responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in his zeal for right-on humanitarian wars.
Lord Guthrie, the former Chief of Defence Staff, has confirmed that as Britain’s top man in uniform he was repeatedly asked by Blair and others about the feasibility of toppling Mugabe. Zimbabwe was one of those subjects ‘which people were always trying to get me to look at. My advice was: “Hold hard, you’ll make it worse.” ‘
Guthrie’s view prevailed, so Britain’s re-colonisation of Southern Rhodesia never left Tony Blair’s fantasy drawing board.
When General Sir Richard Dannatt criticised the Iraq war, my old comrade Mark Steel quipped that, if there was a military coup against New Labour, this would actually move the country to the left. Once again, the professional warriors have proven to be less bellicose than Mr Tony.
Lord (Denis) Healey was Defence Secretary when UDI was declared, and thus was there for the last serious talk of Britain invading Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. ‘I was dead against it then and I’d be dead against it now,’ he says defiantly.
Healey, now aged 91, is no fan of Blair’s interventionist zeal in foreign affairs. He calls the former PM a ‘simpleton’ for blundering into the war in Iraq with disastrous consequences, which he says were entirely predictable.
However, he does concede that at the time Smith declared independence, it was clear that mounting an invasion was militarily feasible, but that the ‘exit strategy’ was the problem.
‘When a white country invades a black or brown country, the local population turns against you, as we have seen.’ He doesn’t connect this directly to Iraq and Afghanistan, but the lesson is clear.
It seems to me that Denis is on the money here. But this doesn’t impress Mr Robinson, whose pet theory is that an insurgency would only be likely with a Muslim population, and black Africans would be more sensible. He seems to have missed out the bit of Zimbabwean history where Mugabe led a successful insurrection against the white supremacist government.
No, Mr Robinson postulates that the Zimbabwean population, apart from a few thugs on the Zanu-PF payroll, would greet an invasion with enthusiasm. (Weren’t we told that about Iraq?) I don’t think this is likely. For one thing, even according to the MDC’s polling, some forty percent of the Zimbabwean population still support Mugabe, particularly in rural Mashonaland.
And where would this leave Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC and the government of national unity? Well, it’s painful to say this, but Morgan, once a hero, has proved a real disappointment to our warmongers. The point about the MDC that foreigners found hard to grasp was that its middle initial did not stand for “Decent”; Morgan’s strategy all along was to rely on the democratic process within Zimbabwe, supplemented by diplomatic pressure from neighbouring African countries. At no point did Morgan call for white countries to invade and recolonise Zimbabwe.
And what would be the outcome? Most likely, er, a national government of the MDC and the saner wing of Zanu-PF, minus the Uncle Bob personality cult. In other words, very much what the diplomatic process has been aiming to put into place. But for the “something must be done” brigade, that just isn’t good enough. Whether it’s Stephen Robinson or Gail Walker or Brett Lock or Norman Geras, the outcome of the political process in Zimbabwe is neither here nor there; the political process itself is a sell-out, to the point where it’s necessary to deny that anything at all has changed in Zimbabwe. No, we need military intervention, because that would be less gay.
Fuck me. After the Iraq disaster, and with the Afghan quagmire showing no sign of improving, do these people have no shame? Hold on, that’s a stupid question.