Whatever the true reasons for the war in Afghanistan, NATO leaders’ official line is that to lose there would be to place the rest of the world in danger. As President Obama has recently put it, “this mission is fundamental to the ability of free people to live in peace and security in the 21st century.”
This sounds good. But I’m one of those who don’t believe much that any government says – after all, I was a spin doctor myself – and I am suspicious of this high aim. It seems yet again to be based on a misreading of the true nature of the threat we face. Our shared history since 9/11 has shown us only too clearly how much terrorism is homegrown. We are now more likely to be blown up by our angry fellow citizens than by foreign insurgents sent out from training camps in SW Asia. So what’s the real reason for the war?
I would suggest that there are in fact three unspoken, as yet unexplained reasons. The first is the old Great Game: our troops are there so that military forces from Russia, China or Iran are not. That’s tantamount to an open-ended commitment. If we believe it, how are we ever going to get out?
The second reason is to do with energy resources, surely: to be near places where the oil fields are pumping and vulnerable. If so, that deployment is powered by our incredible, short-sighted appetite for oil, a condition likely to be severely tested when Peak Oil arrives in the next year or so (if it has not done so already). It would be better to lessen demand than spend so much protecting a dwindling resource.
I suspect that the third reason is not to protect and help the Afghan government and establishment, such as it is, but rather to perform this service – again, potentially a very long-term one – for the government and people of Pakistan. The implied aim there, of course, is to do all that it takes to keep what might be called ‘violent structures’ from seizing control of a vulnerable nuclear power and ally. Is this, by the way, why we are retaining Trident?
Talk about this
These reasons are not without merit. But if that is so, we should be discussing them more openly and sharing more clearly with our G20 and non-G20 cousins what we in NATO think we are doing, to such cost to ourselves.
More important still, we owe it to our own fellow citizens. We are mature democracies, so let’s be more frank about all this. And if we can’t be, let’s take the official war aim at face value, condemn it as logically mistaken, and tell our governments to get out of Afghanistan within the next few months.
Leave its people to their own devices. It seems to be what they want anyway. But let’s ask them one last favour: help us strengthen the roofs of all the Western embassies in Kabul, ready for the helicopters.