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Poor bloody infantry pays the price

New Labour lied about the reasons for invading Iraq and now they are doing the same about the purpose of the continued occupation of Afghanistan. In fact, ministers have the blood of the young British soldiers on their hands. They are the sacrificial lambs of a failing neo-colonial policy which messages of condolence cannot conceal.

Prime minister Brown and the rest of the talking parrots in the cabinet are deceiving everyone, including the families of the bereaved, when they claim that the soldiers, some as young as 18, are dying on the front line in Afghanistan so that British citizens can walk the streets safely.

This is simply a repeat of the failed mantra of the “war on terror” that New Labour signed up to under George W. Bush’s presidency (which was extended to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq). Obama’s White House has simply dusted down the doctrine and given it a “human face” with talk of “nation building” and minimising civilian deaths in place of torture and random air strikes.

In any case, the idea that fighting the Taliban makes British citizens safer from terror attacks is clearly delusional. It conjures up a 19th century vision of uncivilised and ungrateful Afghans heading for Britain armed to the teeth in search of revenge. As for defeating the Taliban to thwart Al-Qaeda, they are by common consent in Pakistan not Afghanistan and their reach is global rather than national.

The only significant terror attack in Britain, in July 2005, was carried out by British-born Muslims angered by US and British support for Israel’s war on the Palestinians while they invaded Iraq. Significantly, a recent survey for the BBC found that 76% of young Muslims in Britain thought that Britain and the US were wrong to intervene in Afghanistan, while only 25% “fully understood the reasons” for the occupation. You can draw your own conclusions about the implications of this finding if the occupation is allowed to continue.

Rory Stewart, who has been a soldier, diplomat and academic and has travelled extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq, has exposed the government’s policy of building a “stable Afghanistan” as a nonsense when he wrote recently:

Obama and Brown rely on a hypnotising language that can – and perhaps will – be applied as easily to Somalia or Yemen as Afghanistan. It misleads us in several respects: minimising differences between cultures, exaggerating our fears, aggrandising our ambitions, inflating a sense of moral obligations and power, and confusing our goals. All these attitudes are aspects of a single worldview and create an almost irresistible illusion.
It conjures nightmares of "failed states" and "global extremism", offers the remedies of "state-building" and "counter-insurgency", and promises a final dream of "legitimate, accountable governance". It papers over the weakness of the international community: our lack of knowledge, power and legitimacy. It conceals the conflicts between our interests: between giving aid to Afghans and killing terrorists. It assumes that Afghanistan is predictable. It makes our policy seem a moral obligation, makes failure unacceptable, and alternatives inconceivable. It does this so well that a more moderate, minimalist approach becomes almost impossible to articulate.

As always, the poor bloody infantry, or the PBI as British foot soldiers have referred to themselves down the ages as they suffered under incompetent leadership and failed strategies, are paying the price for the Afghan military adventure. Evidence is mounting that New Labour is not even prepared to spend the money to protect and equip the PBI adequately in a war that produces nothing but misery for ordinary people in both countries. Perhaps Brown and company ought to be sent to Afghanistan to try their hand at “nation-building” themselves following their great successes in Britain.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
14 July 2009

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