The Great Mistake….
The loss of 6 British soldiers in Afghanistan is tragic. However, what defines a tragedy as being one is not the occurrence but its inevitability. So, in many ways the deeper tragedy is the self-delusion of politicians, like David Cameron continuing to trot out the same meaningless platitudes about ‘national security’ etc, etc. This is not to say Cameron is the only one, our entire political class is united in pursuing this ultimately futile mission to build a nation.
The cardinal mistake of interventionism as it is currently framed is to posit military actions as being the ultimate solution to deep-seated socio-economic, cultural and political problems. It has been noticeable to me that the media this morning that the media has effectively said that the reason the Taliban were allowed to almost creep-back under the radar was the fact that the alliance ‘took its eye of the ball’ due to the equally as failed intervention in Iraq. No doubt there is a surface truth to this assertion but the giant elephant in the room is the failure of the Karzai government to sink roots deep enough in Afghan society.
This is due to a variety of reasons; the failure of NATO and Western governments to sink enough resources into building a viable infrastructure (as opposed to the billions of pounds tossed away on the military intervention); endemic corruption and the fact that in many ways it has become a knock-off copy of the regime that proceeded it. If you listen to the propaganda then we have been busy building a nice, cuddly liberal democracy in Afghanistan. However, I doubt, for example, many Afghani women would agree; Karzai has recently declared his support for the declaration of the Afghan Ulema (Scholars) Council on Gender Segregation which amoung other things prevents women travelling without being accompanied of men they have legal relations with.
Classically people argue against withdrawal on two grounds; a) things will return to ‘square-one’ if we withdraw and b) all those lives previously lost will have been ‘wasted’ if we do. Sadly, that is disconnected from two realities; things will return to the ‘old way’ when we eventually withdraw in any case because of the failure I have just cited. Indeed, in many ways they already are, slowly but surely. So, the lives lost have already been wasted. Withdrawal prevents further waste which will not be much consolation to those families that have already suffered loss but will be too those who are stopped from having to go through this. Finally, some people worry that Al-Quaeda will return if we withdraw; they probably will but all that tells us is that we never smashed them, they merely moved house, to northern Pakistan mainly. So, this premise for intervention was deeply flawed as indeed is the whole War on Terror.
We are not withdrawing in 2014; what is happening is that our continued presence is being re-branded as one allegedly ‘not involving combat operations’. Immediate withdrawal and an awful lot of soul searching about our place in the world and interventionist theory in general is desperately needed. Cash flow should be re-directed from the military operation to infrastructure investment and pressure should be brought to bear on Karzai to turn away from travelling further down his current theocratic road. This is the only way to salvage what has been a great and wasteful mistake.