There are various versions of the Crockery Shop (or Pottery Barn) test but the essence is: If you break it, you own it.

My own view is that Saddam broke Iraq and set up the insurgency but once Britain and America had entered Iraq we had a responsibility to fix the chaos that ensued.

Former Defence Secretary Michael Portillo has written a superb piece in The Sunday Times about Britain’s defeat in Basra.  Here are the key quotes:

Britain abandoned Basra to ‘fundamentalist thugs’: "For all his persuasiveness, Blair could not hold public opinion over the medium term and so he cut troop numbers fast and sought to avoid casualties. As a result, British forces lost control of Basra and left the population at the mercy of fundamentalist thugs and warring militias, in particular Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army."

America may have got much wrong but it didn’t quit: "In the early days in Iraq we bragged that our forces could deploy in berets and soft-sided vehicles while US forces roared through Baghdad in heavily armoured convoys… If a fair-minded account of the Iraq war is written, credit should go to President Bush for rejecting two years ago the report by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that called for force reductions. He defied conventional wisdom and ordered a troop surge instead. It has been an extraordinary success and, unlike Britain, the Americans will not withdraw in defeat."  [Unfortunately no senior Conservative frontbencher supported the surge; William Hague actually warned that it might fuel the insurgency.]

Hi-tech weaponry isn’t enough: "It is an uncomfortable conclusion that Britain, with nuclear weapons, cruise missiles, aircraft carriers and the latest generation of fighter-bombers, is incapable of securing a medium-size conurbation. Making Basra safe was an essential part of the overall strategy; having committed ourselves to our allies we let them down."

The media share in Britain’s failure: "The extent of Britain’s fiasco has been masked by the media’s relief that we are at last leaving Iraq. Those who have been urging Britain to quit are not in a strong position to criticise the government’s lack of staying power. Reporting of Basra has mainly focused on British casualties and the prospect for withdrawal. The British media and public have shown scant regard for our failure to protect Iraqis, so the British nation, not just its government, has attracted distrust. We should reflect on what sort of country we have become. We may enjoy patronising Americans but they demonstrate a fibre that we now lack."

David Cameron’s reaction to the troops withdrawal was silent on these key issues on Thursday – only Bernard Jenkin MP addressed the heart of the matter: That America has had to ‘own’ the situation in Basra after Britain failed the Pottery Barn test.

Tim Montgomerie

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