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By Peter Hoskin
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Of
all the headlines about David Cameron’s decision to intervene—and intervene
more forcefully—in North Africa, there’s one that stands out: “Top brass
resist PM’s Mali war”
. And it stands out because of its familiarity. It now seems that
almost every time Mr Cameron turns his attention to defence policy the top
brass, or “defence chiefs”, or military chiefs”, are there to resist him. For
instance:

I
could go on, but you get the point.

Despite
all that, a Downing Street source says that the relationship between the
Government and the military command isn’t a total slanging match, but more
often a case of “raised eyebrows and curt handshakes”. Yet there’s still no
denying that it boils over into anger, on occasion. Even Mr Cameron has admitted
as much
. His barbed quip that “you
do the fighting and I’ll do the talking”
was a sign of the frustration he
sometimes feels.

To
some extent, it was ever going to be thus. We can always expect military chiefs
to defend their own patch, and particularly from incursions by the Treasury’s
bean-counters. News of today’s cuts—with 5,000 soldiers set to be axed—will
not ease their concerns about military overstretch.

Although
it’s not just the cuts in themselves, but also the way they are being implemented.
In his statement yesterday, Mr Cameron cited the Strategic Defence and Security
Review of 2010, saying that it prioritised those assets required for the
battlegrounds of the future, such as special forces, cyber-security and drones.
But the military chiefs have their doubts. That review was always, as I’ve said
before
, a document shaped by compromise. It’s stuck between the competing
demands of conventional warfare, counter-terrorism and cuts.

So,
what should be done? It might be too much, politically as well as fiscally, to
have another review — but it oughtn’t be too much for the Coalition to consider
it. If Britain is going to be striking at Africa for years to come, then we
should ask questions of “how”, almost as much as questions of “why”.

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