‘In the Ministry of Defense Game of Thrones, you either win or die’ – insider
A decorated commando general, who defended David Cameron’s “bogus” 70,000 Syrian fighters figure, was handed a top defense job after the Prime Minister overruled the military in a Game of Thrones-style masterstroke.
Prime ministerial intrusion into the business of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) appointment committee is highly unusual. The Times says the move has left a number of senior officers disgruntled by what they view as political meddling.
Royal Marine General Gordon Messenger was reportedly given the role of Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff (VCDS) after Cameron intervened in the ministry’s succession plans.
Messenger, a soldier of great repute, led the elite 3 Commando Brigade during the Afghan war and is the first marine to be given such a senior role in 40 years. At 53, Messenger is also especially young for the role.
Competition for top jobs like head of the navy, army, and air force, and overall head of the armed forces, is a highly political business. Insiders have referred to it as a cut-throat affair.
One defense insider compared the move to the hit Machiavellian TV series, Game of Thrones, famous for its portrayal of savage realpolitik and political backstabbing.
The unnamed individual told the Times it is like “Game of Thrones inside the Ministry of Defence … you either win or die.”
Ahead of the UK’s vote to extend airstrikes against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) from Iraq into Syria in October 2015, Messenger was confronted by the powerful Foreign Affairs Committee and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.
The General appeared to evade questions on Cameron’s claim that there were 70,000 moderate fighters on the ground in Syria. The argument was a key strand in the case for escalating the British intervention.
“I can’t get into detail because of the level of classification of this briefing. What I can say is there is a spectrum of extremism,” he responded.
Committee chair Julian Lewis was not convinced.
“I’m sorry, General, I don’t accept that at all,” retorted the chairman.
“These groups are known to exist and the prime minister has come forward with a figure of 70,000 and he has obviously got a basis for that figure,” he continued, adding “there is nothing of a sensitive or classified nature about which of these known groups he is including in his total and which he isn’t.”
The general repeatedly referred to the classified nature of the information, attracting a fiery riposte from Lewis.
“As the prime minister is asking us to make a decision based in part on this idea that there is some democratic third force between the devil and the deep blue sea, as the government sees it of [President Bashar] Assad and ISIL/Daesh, I think the public and indeed parliamentarians, before we vote, are entitled to know how are these 70,000 made up,” the Tory MP said.
Lewis later attacked what he called the “bogus battalions” argument in the House of Commons during the Syria debate.
The air force’s Air Marshal, Sir Stephen Hillier, was appointed chief of the air staff and Vice-Admiral Sir Philip Jones will serve as the Navy’s First Sea Lord.