As I’ve hit a block in my paper, I thought I’d blog on a couple of pieces about Afghanistan. The first is the new date for British withdrawal from the conflict and the second is a post by Richard North.
The Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, said on Sunday that the Prime Minister’s comments about our combat troops leaving Afghanistan in 2015 was a conservative estimate and he expected us to be out a year earlier. He confirmed what the Independent on Sunday reported that morning. ‘Few wars can have been as badly run as this one’, David Blackburn writes at CoffeeHouse. ‘It’s a farce, plain and simple. And all the while, the enemy grows stronger.’
I think there are a few points to make. First, the government is giving mixed messages about Afghanistan and it looks amateurish, but they shouldn’t be chastised too harshly if the policy is to withdraw. As I wrote last week, Cameron has the opportunity to disentangle Britain from the conflict. He can point to the Obama administration and say; it’s their fault and not ours. If this is the policy, then they need to work on the message. Second, the issue of timetables is a thorny one. Because we say the conflict is over in one, four, five years doesn’t mean the confrontation will be over. We might be forced to reinvade one, four, five years after withdrawing. It can be argued, however, that al-Qu’aida and the Taliban can’t afford to sit us out; they’ll cede the initiative to us and lose control over the population. General McChrystal made this point last year. Now, from looking at what’s going on right now this might not seem the case, but one should keep in mind that the impact of timetables on a conflict is variable.
Richard North has written something else daft on British ‘retreat’, though it isn’t clear whether it’s our ‘retreat’ from Sangin or from Afghanistan altogether. Our soldiers are ‘cannon fodder’ and ‘they are only dying to cover the backs of Mr Cameron and Mr Fox, while they work out a suitable face-saving formula to cover their political embarrassment at announcing a defeat.’ There are a lot of problems with the piece but, what I want to pick up on is that North doesn’t seem to grasp what war is. It is policy by other means, as Clausewitz said, and soldiers and the military in general are instruments of that policy and fight to implement it. North seems to divorce violence from its strategic/policy purpose. We are there because we’re there, and if we’re not there we’re doomed; it is better men die on the offensive than in withdrawing, because the former is glorious and the latter is disgraceful. No, they’re policies and either one can be good or bad and it would be better if ill-informed pundits on stuff half-a-world away didn’t project onto them jingo crap.