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The Guardian Comes Out Against Afghanistan War

When our chief ally’s enthusiasm for Afghanistan slips, we may feel pretty isolated.

Here’s the Guardian (h/t Steve Hynd):

Examine the blithe assumptions Barack Obama’s commanders are making. Rory Stewart demolished them in the London Review of Books, but others just as knowledgable of the terrain, such as the CIA former station chief in Kabul, have as well. Assumption number one: that coalition forces can build an effective, centralised Afghan state in the space liberated by their troops. Such a state has never existed in recent memory. Assumption number two: that the counter-insurgency tactics that worked in Iraq will work again in Afghanistan. Why so? Afghan tribal chiefs bear little relation to the Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders who turned against al-Qaida. They lack coherence or any political programme. Assumption number three: that south Helmand is the frontline of a global war. The masterminds of the 7 July attacks on London in 2005 and the leaders of the plot a year later to use liquid explosives to bring down seven passenger jets were all trained in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, not Afghanistan. And if every failed state has to be occupied to prevent squatters, is this not a recipe for invading Yemen, Somalia, or anywhere along the conveniently named crescent of crisis?

The empty rhetoric has to stop. State-building from the ramp of a Chinook is a fantasy, a folie de grandeur. The war against militants will not be won by expanding the battle-space. The resolution to this "good war” will not come from Kabul alone, but will be dependent on every neighbouring country with a stake in the conflict. The directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence made a telling point to the New York Times yesterday when it warned that a push by US marines in southern Afghanistan would force militants into Baluchistan. We have to stop thinking of Helmand as the frontline in a war that ends on the streets of London or Manhattan, and start thinking of what the growing conflagration is doing to Afghanistan’s immediate neighbourhood. There are no good options after eight years of warfare, only least worst ones. We should stop pouring more oil on to this fire and start thinking of realistic outcomes. And we should be doing this now.

Hynd calls this "a major change of editorial direction after eight years of support for the Labour government’s policy." Moreover, perhaps this signals that more skepticism and opposition is forthcoming. I’ll be interested to see if Afghanistan figures into the debate the next time Britain holds a parliamentary election, and if Brown suffers for it.

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Alex Thurston

Alex Thurston

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