Archive for November 4th, 2009

All or nothing in Afghanistan.

November 4, 2009

The situation:

The primary objective of the UK presence in Afghanistan is apparently to prevent the country from being used as a massive training camp for Islamist terrorists. We are informed that the majority of terrorist plots against the UK have some connection with Afghanistan or the semi-anarchic tribal area of bordering Pakistan – either being planned there or terrorists travelling there for preparation. I have no reason to think this isn’t true.

Adopting that fairly realist outlook on the overriding justification for the Afghan war, it seems to me that we either need to give the conflict ‘all’ or ‘nothing’. 


If we accept that the military campaign in Afghanistan is necessary for ensuring Britain’s security then the government should have no hesitation in ratcheting up the campaign.

The generals have repeatedly stated that their job would be easier with greater resources. Therefore: send more troops, spend more money on equipment, make the defeat of the Taliban the top government priority.

A war that is so clearly needed will be supported by the public. After all, surely the government could easily make the case for prolonging a just and necessary war and for concentrating resources upon securing victory.

229 British troops have died in Afghanistan thus far. Sad and regrettable, but a miniscule number when compared to previous conflicts fought to keep the country safe. If the war is so necessary then the government and the public would be prepared for a much, much higher casualty rate. 


A cost-benefit analysis could lead to a different conclusion. 229 dead servicemen and women outnumber the combined British civilians killed in the 7/7 terrorist attacks (52 ), the 9/11 attacks (67), and the Bali bombings (24). Maintaining the British presence in Afghanistan is clearly going to result in more British deaths – even if a total defeat of the Taliban can be secured (there’s little confidence that this could happen soon).

At what point do we decide that the Afghan mission is costing more British lives than it is saving? Taking into additional account the resources required for fighting the war that could be invested in domestic public services with tangible social benefits, we may conclude that Britain’s national interests could be best served by withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and redistributing funds away from the defence budget.

Yes, Afghanistan would probably have to endure another bloody civil war and the reinstatement of a Taliban regime. Islamist terrorists may find it easier to plan attacks upon the West, or perhaps will lend greater support to the insurgents in Pakistan.

But if our decision-making is primarily guided by British interests then there is still a case to be made for ending the British military presence and abandoning Afghanistan to its fate. Painful as it is to say it, we could even calculate that putting up with a repeat of 7/7 (or several) works out cheaper in terms of lives and resources than maintaining the war.


As the conflict continues the hopes for the Western mission in Afghanistan have become increasingly subdued. The idea of spreading freedom and democracy has been practically abandoned. Even the more modest aim of simply establishing a secure and effective anti-Taliban government (however corrupt and undemocratic it is) is proving difficult.

If we are serious about preventing another Taliban takeover because we genuinely feel this is necessary for protecting British national security then surely we have to give the Afghan campaign everything we’ve got. If, however, we are unwilling to make such sacrifices then there is no point in maintaining the mission upon its present course and instead the government should immediately organise a timetable for withdrawal.


David Cameron’s Euro Luck?

November 4, 2009

I think some Labourites were hoping that Europe was going to prove a secret weapon in the struggle against Cameron’s Conservatives.

Undoubtedly the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty has made things awkward for the-one-they-call-Dave, but I still doubt that this is going to hurt him too much. After all, previous Euro setbacks have not inflicted serious wounds upon him.

In the Labourite dream, the Tory leader was supposed to undermine his moderate and pragmatic credentials by pandering to the most reactionary Eurosceptic elements in his party. Abandoning the EPP and forming an alliance with far-Right nationalists meant we could shout “Nazi” and “anti-Semite” at the Conservatives and their new friends.

Although the British public is unenthusiastic about the EU, Tory obsessing over the issue at the expense of voters’ more immediate concerns would lose them support. Hopefully the Conservatives would split over European policy as they did in the 1990s. Nobody likes voting for a party at ideological war with itself.

Even if all this failed to dent the Tory lead in the polls, at least it looked like Cameron would have to put up with Tony Blair becoming President of the European Council. How irritating it would be for a newly elected Tory Prime Minister to be overshadowed on the world stage by “an all singing, all dancing” former Labour premier.

But the secret weapon seems to be a dud. Less an explosive bang of Tory turmoil than a pathetic fart of misplaced Labour expectation.

  • Last week Poland’s Chief Rabbi clarified his views on Polish MEP Michal Kaminski by telling the Beeb that he does not think the bloke is a Jew-hating extremist. This doesn’t help David Miliband’s argument.
  • It now appears less likely that Blair will become truly presidential.
  • Thus far the Euro-hating headbangers are not in open rebellion. Dan Hannan MEP admits a referendum on Lisbon “might no longer be the most logical option”. The Sun is telling its readers that Cameron has not broken his referendum promise.

I can see something very much like the scenario predicted by Hopi taking place. The immediate situation should not be too hard for Cameron to manage: blame Gordon, make vague promises of renegotiating the terms of Britain’s membership at some point in the future, remind Tories that they should be focused on winning the general election.

Things may get tricky for the Tory leader again in the long-term but – as much as it pains me to say it – I think his Euro luck will hold for now.