August 1, 2007  

To new British Prime minister Gordon Brown

For latching the U.K. defense secretary with a second job of Scottish secretary.

Dual-hatting a defense secretary at any time seems a strange decision. But for the U.K. to split this mission while its armed forces are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq is absurd. It’s the equivalent of bolting on a state governership to Robert Gates’ job and insisting he can fully focus on the war while simultaneously tending to local politics. In Scotland’s case, the local issues are weighty; the Scotland Act of 1998 gave the country its own legislative authority, separate from England, and there is a growing popular movement calling for full independence.

Given that background, it’s difficult to know whether making Des Browne both war minister and Scottish minister should be interpreted as a trivialization of the defense role or a missive to Scotland to toe the line, or else.

Making the defense secretary a part-time job is an insult to those serving in the British forces who deserve nothing less than full-time attention by their civilian leader at a time when their resources are severely strained. This sends entirely the wrong message to the allied forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, to whom the new prime minister has pledged continued full support. Here’s a case of where, for all the wrong reasons, actions ring louder than words.