On Prince Harry Not Going to Iraq, After All

Well, it’s official. Prince Harry, second lieutenant in the Blues and Royals regiment and third in line to the throne, won’t be deployed to Iraq. For months, the British Ministry of Defence maintained that the deployment of Harry and his regiment would go ahead as planned. The Prince himself is reported to have insisted that he receive no special treatment, and even threatened to quit the Army unless he was allowed to serve alongside his men.

Now, though, General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the Army, says Harry’s regiment is going to Iraq but the Prince isn’t going with them. Gen. Dannatt was recently in Iraq and, apparently, it’s dangerous there. So he decided it would be best if Harry didn’t go. “There have been a number of specific threats … which relate directly to Prince Harry as an individual,” Gen. Dannatt said. “These threats expose not only him but those around him to a degree of risk that I now deem unacceptable.” A spokesman for Harry said the Prince was “very disappointed,” but he wouldn’t be quitting the Army.

What a relief. In a new report, Accepting Realities in Iraq, from the British think tank Chatham House, Gareth Stansfield argues that “Iraq is on the verge of being a failed state which faces the distinct possibility of collapse and fragmentation” and “the Iraqi government is … largely irrelevant in terms of ordering social, economic, and political life.” But imagine the headlines if Prince Harry had been deployed there and then ended up getting captured, wounded, or even killed. Iraqi insurgents have claimed recently that they were determined to kidnap the Prince and hold him hostage. What a blow to the war effort that would be! Morale would really hit a low. Instead, it’s much wiser to have all those other British soldiers who are not in line to the throne continue to face the non-specific threats that Gen. Dannatt presumably deems acceptable.

Reactions to Harry’s non-deployment have been mixed. “It would appear that Harry’s life is more valuable than my son or the other nearly 150 service personnel who’ve given their lives,” Reg Keys, whose son was killed in Basra in 2003, told the BBC. On the other hand, Col. Bob Stewart, former U.N. commander in Bosnia, told the BBC News Web site, “It’s logical and proper … when an individual is that targeted the army makes the decision to pull them.”

The Ministry of Defence is pondering other ways to allow Harry to serve his country. There is talk of deploying him to Africa (no failed states there, then!) as part of a United Nations force, or maybe to Afghanistan, where the military would try to insert and extract him without the British media (or the Taliban) finding out. In the meantime, Harry (along with his older brother William) has joined the Blues and Royals’ D Squadron, a group that is never sent to war zones, consisting as it does of wounded soldiers and those whose stint in the military is ending. I wonder if the Ministry of Defence has really though this through, though. Have they, for example, put a plan in place to deal with the inevitable surge in volunteers who, inspired by Harry, want to join D Squadron?

What a dilemma. It really comes down to the question, is it worth putting this young man’s life — any young person’s life — at risk in Iraq? That’s a really tough question. I’m just glad we don’t have this kind of problem in the U.S. We don’t go in for dynasties in the first place, and our leaders would never shirk from doing their duty — whatever the personal risk.

My favorite aphorism about war comes, coincidentally, from a British war-time leader, Winston Churchill:

In time of war, when truth is so precious, it must be attended by a bodyguard of lies.