By Andrew Alexander
That powerful phrase ‘lions led by donkeys’ — the German view of British troops in World War I — keeps springing to mind when studying Afghanistan.
We shall leave by the end of 2014, we are assured, having achieved nothing beyond helping to recruit countless numbers to the ranks of the Taliban. We shall leave the place with its own modernised armed forces, we are also assured — so much better fitted to fight a looming civil war.
The bigger question is why do we get involved in doomed American military expeditions — and get tarred with the same brush as part of the Western war on Islam, making Britain at large a target for terrorists? Iraq and Afghanistan both tell the same tale.
Harold Wilson was inclined to make a helpful gesture in that doomed war, and was only stopped by his own backbenchers. The prospect of further involvement in American lost causes has been clearly stated by our chief donkey, Sir David Richards, head of the Defence Staff.
He argues that the defence budget should be organised so we can back up American policy — whatever that might be. In other words, we must continue 50 years of crawling along abjectly in the wake of Washington.
Leaving Afghanistan obviously does not appeal to Richards, since he predicted last year that Britain would have a presence in the country for the ‘next 30/40 years’. The idea that Afghanistan will happily settle for being treated like a colony or client state betrays sheer incomprehension.
Hope that the Americans, badly bruised by the Middle East and before that by Vietnam, have learnt any lessons are hopelessly optimistic. Richards’ counterpart in Washington, General Martin Dempsey, has explained in an article in Foreign Affairs Magazine that the U.S. will now look to extend its role into the Far East.
At this rate the future looks no brighter than the past. Relations with Pakistan, as U.S. drones continue their deadly work in the country’s North-West border region, are deteriorating dangerously.
As President Obama launches his presidential campaign, we have to remember his lamentable record.
He came to office promising to close Guantanamo Bay (still open) and to accelerate the withdrawal from Afghanistan, still set with a whiff of vagueness at ‘by the end of 2014’. He adds firmly that this timetable is ‘irreversible’.
Politicians say that sort of thing when they know their promises are mistrusted.