Nato’s members know they cannot afford to fail now. All sides are aware that stabilising Afghanistan is the mission Nato has staked its reputation on.That means that the alliance will have to pull together rapidly, for the sake of its own credibility as well as for the future of Afghanistan, whose people are rapidly losing faith in the ability of their own government and the international community to improve their daily lives.
As much as a decisive military victory is out of reach, a Western defeat would further destabilize the region, encourage extremists and badly damage NATO as well as the United Nations.
Just so we’re clear: qua the Serious set, the West simply must keep pissing away lives (and dollars) in what is likely a futile effort to engineer “victory” in Afghanistan, else North Atlantic Treaty Organization members look foolish for, um, foolishly trying to delay the inevitable.
All of us, at every turn in our life, encounter circumstances in which there are severe limits to our ability to intervene. We feel no shame in this sane and commonplace response. “There’s only so much I can do,” we say.
If as individuals we so readily acknowledge private incapacity, how is it that, when we act as publics, parliaments, nations, armies, or indeed newspaper columnists, we find such simple truths so hard to acknowledge? Nations do, of course, come up against limitations. Reality rebuffs. But we fight shy of the language in which to talk – and think – about impotence. And so (like those hyperactive battery-powered puppies they sell in novelty shops) we bounce around the pen within which fate confines us, changing direction only when we hit a wall, then heading off with mechanical yaps towards another one.
Forgive me for writing like this yet again, of Afghanistan. None of us can know whether the situation is beyond retrieval but we surely sense that we British – never mind about America, or Italy, or Canada, Germany or France – are at the limit of what we can achieve by force. It is no good sending any more troops: we haven’t any to spare, and the force we already send to Helmand province is overstretched. In Paddy Ashdown we have offered the best imaginable possibility for a figure capable of knocking heads together, and the Government of Hamid Karzai has rejected him.
Three recent reports – most worryingly one from Oxfam – have painted a picture of a failing state. Inch by inch we are being edged into keeping thousands of troops permanently parked in a barbarous place, in the open-ended support of a puppet government led by a man who wears elegantly tailored clothes and speaks nice English but whose writ hardly runs.
And now the Americans are demanding more troops from Nato. Well, good luck to them. Perhaps they will persuade the French to do a little more; maybe they can stop Canada from carrying out its threat to pull back. But the starting point for a British Foreign Secretary is that in terms of boots on the ground, we British are at our limit and losing confidence in our usefulness.
There is, I concede, no immediate crisis to respond to. People tend to think that brinks, thresholds, Rubicons, cliffs’ edges and forks in the road are where historic decisions are called for and statesmen are proved. But doldrums, paralyses, slow-drifting currents, slow roads going nowhere – times when no decision seems urgent and a vaguely unsatisfactory situation can safely be allowed to drag on – can be greater tests of mettle than emergencies. The politician with the guts and brains to say “It can’t go on like this” and convince Cabinets and mandarins who might have preferred a long, expensive drift – these are greater heroes than men who, cometh the hour, do what plainly has to be done.
There’s only so much we can do. At this point, the only realistic option for Canada to choose is summed up by Parris’ succinct headline: “Enough. Time to pack up and leave.”
[a]ny situation involving an escalating commitment to a losing course of action – and that’s what the current mission in Afghanistan looks like – will require, at some point, a decision that will need to be prospective, not retrospective. You can never get the investment back, the decision calculus needs to be made on a going forward basis.
The Grits must stand firm and show some guts and brains–not give Harper and Co. another blank cheque financed with the blood of Canadian soldiers and Afghan citizens, no matter what Rick Hillier says.
Update: the ever-quotable skdadl:
Parris’s argument is only half of the truth… . Notice also, btw, that pogge called this this a.m., warned that the Serious Set were about to begin exactly the kind of propaganda campaign you see there from Wyatt and Travers.
Where I part company from Parris is on his throwing up of hands at a “failed state,” a “barbarous place” … and his refusal to analyse what is actually going on at the moment, how Afghanistan connects to the whole regional upheaval, and what truly serious people would do about it.
The head-knocking that needs to be done diplomatically is first of all with Pakistan and the U.S., who are more responsible for this mess than anyone, although there has been no shortage of useful idiots playing along, and the British certainly figure large there. Serious diplomats and reporters also have to disabuse the world of the propaganda concerning the “Taliban” and al-Qaeda. Yes, such orgs exist, but that is such a sloppy way to describe and think of what is happening in several parts of Afghanistan. We’re talking about the people who live there, y’know? It’s, like, their country?
Above all, we have to get rid of the Cheney/Bush regime, and whoever is the new U.S. prezzie really has to be taken to the woodshed by the Smart people and lectured on a few things the world is not gonna put up with any more.
If we have “failed states,” the U.S. created most of ’em, and there’s only one way to start fixing that.