BLOOD AND MONEY
Gordon Brown managed a moment of dignity in parliament when he read the names of
British troops killed in Afghanistan during the summer.
With public support for the war sliding, and even the habitually pro-Tory and
pro-American Times newspaper saying, “our troops cannot continue to die to
defend a corrupt regime”, it cannot be long before Afghanistan becomes a general
The Liberal Democrats at least now have a policy, as eloquently set out by its
author, Professor Paul Reynolds, in this issue of Liberator.
This policy would be an entirely sensible approach were the party taking a
position on a conflict in which Britain was involved only diplomatically.
Reynolds is surely right that Afghanistan is a regional problem that will not be
contained without a wider settlement of the multiple tensions in southern Asia.
But Britain is up to its neck in Afghanistan, and this makes it as much a matter
of domestic politics as of foreign policy.
As Reynolds notes: “The absence of any major UK party calling for immediate
withdrawal looks odd – especially given majority public opinion against the
Quite. While Lib Dem policy does not look as odd as it did before conference, it
must look unsatisfactory to the large segment of public opinion that thinks
British lives and money should no longer be thrown into the gaping pit that is
Afghanistan unless there is a clear objective and some convincing path towards
The problem is not that party policy is wrong in itself – far from it – but that
it was not designed to help the party do the political job it will sooner or
later face of telling the public whether the Lib Dems wish to continue this war
A war with no discernable strategy – other than counter-productive ones – and no
real goal beyond a desire to bottle the Taliban up in mountains where they can
do limited harm, is hardy likely to command public support, and particularly not
with the almost nightly parade of dead soldiers on television.
Labour’s assertion that we are fighting to keep Britain’s streets safe has
become an insult to the public’s intelligence. When lethal bomb plots can be
hatched in Leeds, Afghanistan hardly has much bearing on British streets other
than in the sense that the war may be a provocation to some Muslims.
So if Britain is not fighting in Afghanistan to keep its own streets safe, what
is it fighting for?
Not for what most people would consider as democracy, given President Karzai had
to be strong-armed by influential foreigners to re-run his monstrously corrupted
Are we fighting for secularism and women’s rights? The last Afghan government to
take an interest in such matters was the communist one overthrown by
fundamentalist militias armed by the west. It is hard to see any real commitment
by the Karzai government to these laudable objectives.
Are we fighting because, having started, America cannot, even under as
well-intentioned a leader as President Obama, see a way to stop without being
humiliated, and so will fight on hoping that something or other turns up to get
it off the hook, with its British ally in tow along the way?
Britain cannot long fight for a corrupt government of questionable legitimacy,
dependent for its survival on foreign armies and dubious warlords, without
public opinion turning hostile, just as American public opinion eventually ended
the Vietnam war.
If the Lib Dems’ new policy stance were to come to fruition (not something the
party has any real influence over), it would undoubtedly be good for that part
of the world and for the UK.
But with a general election looming and an angry public wanting to know why
recession-hit Britain is pouring blood and treasure into Helmand, the party
will, barring some unforeseen change in Afghanistan, have to say whether it
wants to stay or go.
It is hard to see any political reward in ‘stay’, but it is easy to see further
voter disenchantment if all three main parties continue to say nothing clear
about the war.
OH NO, NOT HIM
The ability to win public hearts and minds is not among the strong points of
pro-Europeans. If it were, they would long ago have sidelined irrational
So unless the European Union really wants to shoot itself in the foot by
antagonising Britain’s notoriously sceptic voters, its governments should not
award the new presidency to Tony Blair.
Blair’s record as a lying, blood-soaked, war criminal on Iraq ought alone to
rule him out from holding any public post again.
But in this case, so too should his European record. His decade in office was
spent cynically stirring against the EU to appease the Daily Mail. When he could
have used his huge majority and popularity in 1997 to lead public opinion away
from the EU-hating of the Major years, he instead stoked it for his own
short-term ends. No pro-European should want to see Blair anywhere near power in
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