Monday, November 09, 2009
From where I'm sitting, I don't think it's possible, honest or meaningful to have an opinion about Afghanistan. It's not going well, our people are dying in a dubious cause and the Karzai government is corrupt; on the other hand, it sounds like a good idea to kill Taliban and withdrawal would be a regional catastrophe. I could stick a pin in 'fight on' or 'withdraw' and then get all columnistic about it. But why?
Anyway, I just heard this soldier on the Today programme. He drew attention to the standard, withdrawalist statement about the conflict - 'Of course, I support our troops, but I don't support the cause.' The soldier said the troops supported the cause and the best way to support them was to do the same. In other words, the engagement of our troops is co-extensive with the cause.
Now it's easy to question this argument by generalising it. Would a German have been right to support the SS guards at Auschwitz because they were 'our boys'? Well, no. But our troops are not SS guards and our rulers are not Nazis. We should be able to allow ourselves a reasonable degree of confidence that somebody, somewhere, has thought long hard and humanely about this deployment. Most don't because of contemporary mistrust of the motivation and wisdom of politicians and because of the intensity of the media focus. By historic standards, our casualties in Afghanistan are light, but each one is given maximum emotional impact.
Once we would have believed our cause was just on principle - simply because we are who we are - and, to some extent, the Americans still do this. Now we can't unless we are able to identify a clear case of national security. Brown knows this and his primary argument is that fighting the Taliban will keep the terrorists off our streets. This seems unlikely.
The point is that neither a universal cause - we are fighting for justice and democracy - nor a patriotic one - it will be better for these people if we, the British, sort this out - has any traction. Supranational bodies like NATO or the UN provide some cover but unity always seem to crumble when the going gets tough. This raises the question of whether we can fight any wars at all, any, at least, that are not immediately defensive of our home territory. Perhaps, you may say, that's a good thing. But I wonder.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 8:16 am