Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Brown can't even stick to his own nonsense on Afghanistan by Mark Steel
As with Iraq, the reasons for staying are sliding slowly into gibberish
Bit by bit, as happened with Iraq, the reasons for staying in Afghanistan slide into gibberish. So Gordon Brown's reasons for the war seem to change every week.
At one point we were there to stop the opium, then to install democracy, now to prevent terrorist attacks in Britain. Next week he'll tell us the Taliban must be defeated as emissions from burqas are the greatest cause of climate change, or the plan is to buy the Taliban with public money until Afghanistan is back on its feet, and sell off the profitable sections such as Jihad training camps at a rate that makes sound economic sense.
At least Tony Blair used to come up with a pile of nonsense and stick to it. In his latest speech, Brown promised, "Early action on corruption". How early is this likely to be, given that even if he starts this morning that will be eight years after we arrived? Even the shabbiest of builders, if they'd been round for eight years, wouldn't have the cheek to say, "Right, we'll have one more cup of tea and then get started 'cos it's nice to get some action in early."
Their most important ally in this early crusade against corruption is Hamid Karzai, who became President in an election that had to be re-run because of corruption, and will now take place again with only one candidate. Still, it's always best to have someone in charge who is familiar with the subject.
The scale of the task is such that yesterday the human rights group Transparency International published a league table of the world's most corrupt countries, with Afghanistan coming second after Somalia. And Karzai will probably feel offended by this, saying "WE should have come first," blaming the Somalians for cheating by bribing the judges.
This isn't just a matter of Afghan fiddling. Private militias are employed by the US army, so The Asian Times reports – "US and NATO contingents spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually on Afghan security providers, most of which are local warlords guilty of human rights abuses." This must be part of the plan to open up the country to the free market. The next step will be a version of Dragon's Den on Afghan television, in which a warlord stands before some Nato officials and insists with just one million dollars backing he can torture anyone he's told to on the hills north of Kandahar, and a narrator says: "The British don't think the warlord's figures add up, but General McChrystal is about to make an offer."
Nor can the British Government believe their own argument that the war is essential to destroy the bases of terrorism. The group that bombed London came from Leeds, so presumably we'll be paying warlords to take control there next, gunning down the odd wedding party to make extra sure. Al-Qa'ida aren't tied to one country, so even if Nato took over Afghanistan they'd just move somewhere else, unless we think they'll say: "There's no point in carrying on, the facilities in the Helmand Province were marvellous, with all the latest explosives, wonderful editing facilities for making pre-suicide video messages, it just won't be the same anywhere else, we're giving up."
Brown also claimed there was a plan to take control of the country, "District by district." What have they been trying up to now then? Isn't that always how an army wins a war? For example the allies got Normandy, then the rest of France and then Germany. They didn't yell: "Never mind hanging about like that, let's get everywhere at once."
Perhaps he'll tell us the district- by-district strategy wasn't possible before, because we didn't have the postcodes to put into the sat-nav, but we've finally heard back from the Post Office so we can get going with some early district action.
The war, it's often forgotten, was begun by George W Bush in response to the attack on the Twin Towers. Later it became clear the war was part of an overall strategy for "A New American Century," and was one step on the way to Iraq. So the real reason, and even most of the fake reasons, that the war was initiated have become redundant.
So the next move will probably be to revert to an early favourite, the claim we're fighting for women's rights, which is why we only sell a billion dollars worth of weapons to places that respect women, like Saudi Arabia, where it's just feminism feminism feminism. Indeed we were so keen for that women's regime to be properly armed we did most of it through international corruption, so there's sure to be some early action on that any day soon.
First published in The Independent on 18th November 2009