3 Sep 2009

Afghanistan: Why?

Drip, drip, drip. Another news headline snippet. Another soldier killed to tally on to the grim statistics of an unwanted, unwinnable and faraway war in a country very few people have any knowledge of and even fewer understand intimately.
The politicians shower us with self-preserving 'we will still prevail' bluster and bombast, talking up the 'positives', smearing critics as unpatriotic and assuring us the war will be won. And you find yourself thinking, what on earth do these silver tongued, smooth talking men in suits actually know about the realities of life inside Afghanistan?
History? What does that matter, they seem to be saying, as they seek to righteously justify imposing our ways of life on people in another country, often by dropping bombs on them. Gordon Brown trots out his draw droppingly (no pun needed, just watch him) perfunctory and synthetic platitudes expressing regret and sorrow with every dead body that comes back.
But can he answer the question: would he himself go out there to sacrifice his life if he had to? Would he send any of his family? Don't put a Scottish six pound note on it!
And why exactly are we fighting in Afghanistan? What for? What is the concrete aim? And why are we trying to do it on the cheap? Is it to do no more than serve alliances of convenience?
Are we really fighting to prop up Hamid Karzai? Hardly a beacon of outstandingly open, accountable, representative and uncorrupt government is he? He barely leaves his own fortified palace and relies on murky deals with warlords to keep him where he is. Corruption is rife. His brother is a major player in the opium trafficking trade. The boast of democracy is a hollow one when it comes with stuffed ballot boxes, bribes and voter intimidation.
Are we really fighting to 'keep our streets safe', as the well-used, cliched and deeply misleading slogan keeps being patronisingly trotted out by government lackeys? I hardly think so. Last time I looked, I don't think the Taliban were about to invade the country any time soon. The threat they pose to our way of life is virtually zero, only slightly more marginal than that posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (still looking for those are we, George in your Hummer with your sniffer dog Tony along for the ride?)
Are we fighting to impose a way of life on another country? Are we that arrogant and superior that we think everyone else should live we do? Sure the Taliban are nasty to women, but then so are lots of other countries, including our own country if you listen to a Harriet Harman lecture, sorry interview.
Do we now have the right to go around the world starting wars in any country where we think people are treated badly? Maybe some (deluded and egotistical) people in power would like to do that from their Whitehall armchairs, but any sensible sane-minded person knows it can't be done. The right decisions can only be made by listening to people.
So there we are, marooned in an inhospitable desert, foreign intruders and invaders expending blood and money just to advance a few more miles of land. Neither fully committed nor fully realistic, it is the worst of all worlds.
Of course the soldiers are brave and professional. It is the politicians who are the problem. It is not unreasonable to suggest that every defence secretary from Geoff Hoon onwards has been nothing short of casually callous and calculatingly disgraceful. Thats John Reid, Des Kelly, John Hutton and now finally...Give Bob-a-Job Ainsworth. There's so many duplicitous non-entities I lose count.
And this roll-in, roll-out turnover is rather revealing for the regard in which this critical position is held. Like so much of New Labour, the grand overeaching ambition and the elaborate shell of rhetoric is there, but inside the shell is just a big hollow echo of hot fetid air.
Perhaps if we were a bit smarter in understanding who the enemy really are in Afghanistan, what fuels, motivates and sustains them, then maybe things would be a little better. Afterall, who would ever go into a battle or a war without properly understanding the enemy? Well OK, quite a lot of people, particularly those with surnames Rumsfeld and Cheney.
Surely it would be one of the very first things you'd seek to do, undertand something about the country before you plunge in all guns blazing and preaching morality. Then again, the arrogance and hubris of political egos should never be understimated. The adrenaline of power has inflated them to make them more fireproof than most of the British military vehicles. Being devious and evasive is how you survive in top level politics.
Perhaps if the politicians were capable of displaying more humility, sincerity and honesty, things might be slightly easier to take. But then, of course, they are politicians, meddling Labour ones, obsessed to the point of paranoia about manipulating the headlines and neglective to the point of calculating ruthlessness about people dying for a transparently unnecessary and pointless cause.
Don't expect any sorry's or mea culplas anytime soon. But do expect more pointless deaths and life-ruining injuries for nother reason other than the career preservation of politicians. Good people dying for rotten people's mistakes, its all too sadly familiar isn't it?
And I wonder what the odds are on Lord Mandelson ending up on the payroll of one of the big oil companies this time next year when he becomes unemployed.

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