War and the economy

President Bush and Prime Minister Blair made themselves unpopular by fighting the Iraqi war. In the UK a majority of people most of the time opposed the war. In the US a vocal minority against it gained strength and hounded the administration over its purpose and origins. Both leaders presided over an apparently strong economy, denying that the credit explosion behind it was unsustainable. Both were re-elected despite the war. In George Bush’s case he was re-elected with a better majority than his first win. In Tony Blair’s case he lost large amounts of voting support for his second and third victories, but people stayed at home rather than vote for his opponents. They did so mainly over the economy.

President Obama and Prime Minister Brown find themselves in an altogether more worrying position with their popularity. Both are presiding over a collapse in their economies. President Obama can blame the Clinton/Bush policies of allowing excess mortgages and credit. It is poetic justice that in the UK the main architect of our current economic woes, the former Chancellor, is the man now presiding over the high and rising levels of unemployment and the collapse of demand in many areas. President Obama himself may find that people are more interested in what he does to right the problem than in who was to blame for where they now are. On both sides of the Atlantic the governemnt is fighting fire with fire – a problem brought on by over borrowing in the private sector is being tackled by over borrowing in the public sector instead. Many people are becoming alarmed by the huge build up in public debt which one day has to be repaid out of taxes.

The poorer economic background means that both governments may experience less tolerance over their Afghan war than Bush and Blair experienced over the war in Iraq. Just as Blair and Bush had to answer difficult questions over weapons of mass destruction, over how a democracy could be created in Iraq, and over their timetable for declaring victory and withdrawing, so we can expect Obama and Brown to meet more and more questions about their war in Afghanistan. These will include:

1. How can you prevent the war acting as a recrutiment opportunity for the Taliban?
2. How do you stop the war bringing Afghan nationalists and strong supporters of Islam into supporting the Taliban?
3. How do you deal with the Taliban ability to maintain their main camps, supplies and training grounds elsewhere, in Pakistan and other adjacent territories?
4. Once you have held territory to permit elections, will you have a policy of handing over those “safer” areas to the civilian authorities? When do you think they will be up to the job?
5. Why did previous attempts to secure the peace in Afghanistan by foreign forces fail?

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15 Comments

  1. backofanenvelope
    Posted August 16, 2009 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    My policy would be to send a heavily armed force of CoE vicars, commanded by the Archbishop of Canterbury – and convert the Afghans to Christianity.

    • Kevin Lohse
      Posted August 16, 2009 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      Dear BOE. Two problems. Clerics cannot be armed. Canterbury has been converted to Islam – send York and the former Rochester instead.

  2. alan jutson
    Posted August 16, 2009 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    What really irritates me is not the fact that we are in Afghanistan, bad as that is with an unclear policy.

    But the fact that we allow Afghan refugees to come to this Country, who are fit and of fighting age, whilst we send our young men over there, to fight for their Country on their behalf, and support the development of their Country with our money.

    This seems a little one sided.

    If we are to support the development of a democracy in another Country, then surely we should ask all of those who are citizens of that Country to take part in that process.

  3. Demetrius
    Posted August 16, 2009 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    The answer to the first four questions is that “You can’t.” The answer to the fifth can be found in Wikipedia, in the entry on Sir William Nott, the General who successfully got out intact in the 1839-1842 First Afghan War (also in Wikiepedia). If you have any difficulty with this, ask Sir John.

  4. Alan Wheatley
    Posted August 16, 2009 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    The answer to 1, 2, 3 & 4 is by winning. To win you need to put in the the necessary resources. It is better to over-resource rather than try and win on a shoe-string, as in the end it will be quicker, cheaper and with less casualties, and with a much less pain for the civilians.

    As to 5, as I understand it the objective is to secure the peace so the Afghanis can determine their own future, rather than have it determined for them by people they do not like, such as the Taliban. Comparisons with previous Afghani “adventures” can be misleading as the objectives were different.

  5. Chuck Unsworth
    Posted August 16, 2009 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    There’s a long – centuries long – history of British troops fighting over exactly the same ground as they are now. Russia has similar experience.

    It’s the definition of ‘success’ or ‘victory’ which is critical. But without real clarity as to the objectives (or Mission) there can never be either. Indeed, it is impossible to determine the shape and size of a taskforce, and its arms and equipment.

    Does anyone have the slightest idea as to the reasons for our continuing presence, the ongoing deaths and injuries? Why are we there? And for how long?

  6. Mike Stallard
    Posted August 16, 2009 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    I understand Imperialism, having lived it. It makes logical sense to conquer other countries that cannot run themselves and do the job properly for them. Rhodesia and Burma were much better off under us than they are at the moment.
    I understand the American Revolutionary Philosophy too. We hold these truths…..
    Being a Catholic I have a lot of time for Islam. Remember Judas Maccabeus and the insistence on following God and not Greeks? He was indeed a terrorist who virtually committed suicide at the end.
    What I don’t understand is our policy in Afghanistan.

    Which is it?

  7. backofanenvelope
    Posted August 16, 2009 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Our policy in Afghanistan is in a constant state of evolution. We invaded the country to destroy Al Queda and the Taliban. Now we are there to create a stable prosperous democratic country.

    Seems fairly clear. But impossible to achieve. Currently we are arranging for a president to get re-elected (against whom there are accusations concerning his competence, his views and his honesty-ed)

    A silly war in a silly place!

  8. Mark
    Posted August 17, 2009 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    What are we going top do about Afghanistan’s neighbour, increasingly being taken over by the Taliban? It has a nuclear capability, and a large population, many with relatives already living in or emigrating to the UK. Increasingly, it offers terrorist training. I think this problem will prove more intractable than Afghanistan – which is relatively easy to isolate.

    Afghanistan’s neighbour on the other side could also become a nuclear weapons state and thus a wider regional (or even eventually, inter-regional) threat, and for now remains in the grip of a theocracy, although there are some signs of potential change for the better. It also depends on hydrocarbon exports to support its burgeoning population and maintain the poewr of the regime.

    In neither case does Afghanistan provide a compelling base for anything other than guerilla type activity on a limited scale, though perhaps apart from air raids on nuclear targets in the style of Osirak or by cruise missiles, it is hard to envisage an invasion.

    • Citizen Responsible
      Posted August 17, 2009 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      It seems to me that the Americans are deeply worried about the whole “AfPak” situation regarding de-stabilistion by the Taliban, and the risk of nuclear weapons getting into the hands of the extremists.

      • Mark
        Posted August 17, 2009 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

        Absolutely. (war like speculation left out-ed)
        The superpower politics of the Iran/Iraq war form an interesting example and possible precedent: Iraq was encouraged to attack after the Iranian revolution, and funded mainly by Gulf Arab countries, fearful of the Shia theocracy. Iraqi arms were bought from the East Bloc, but also from France (Super Etendards and Exocets used in the war against tankers loading from Kharg Island) and elsewhere. Iran also had its suppliers (e.g. South Africa and China; remember too Oliver North’s role in Phantom spares for the Iranian airforce). Both sides were fed satellite intelligence from time to time to even up the battle. For eight years, both the Soviets and the Americans had a variety of interest in seeing the war prolonged. Incentives changed after oil prices and Communism collapsed. However, Saddam had other ideas that weren’t in the script, and invaded Kuwait only a couple of years later – something that caught both the CIA and MI6 completely on the hop.

        The superpower politics of today have to take rather more account of China.

        I doubt whether such scenarios are put to ministers in this country: there must be serious doubt as to their intellectual and moral capacity to evaluate them.

        • Citizen Responsible
          Posted August 19, 2009 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

          I always understood that George Bush Senior, did not seek to overthrow Saddam Hussein after his invasion of Kuwait, because under Saddam, Iraq was a Sunni power with a large repressed Shiite majority. Getting rid of him would remove Iran’s main rival.

          After North Korea exploded the atomic device last May, President Obama sent a U.S. delegation to China to discuss how to deal with North Korea. China is North Korea’s best friend and it looks like China might be using the Koreans to keep the U.S. off balance and recognizing Chinese importance and influence in Asia.

  9. THE ESSEX BOYS
    Posted August 17, 2009 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Talking of Iraq, many of us continue to wonder whether long-term personal considerations played an important part in the UK’s decision to press for Parliament’s approval to participate in the Iraq invasion.
    Indeed in 2004 we produced and circulated to 100 leading political commentators what we entitled
    “WHAT IF? A CONTEMPORARY FAIRYTALE OF INTERNATIONAL POLITICS AND FINANCIAL INTRIGUE”.
    It was centred around the invasion of a middle eastern state in order to influence the upward movement of the world oil price with subsequent enormous gains in the family assets held by the chief political architects. The increase was able to buy much influence to help ensure the execution of the plan.
    All entire speculation and fiction of course but we continue to send copies to interested parties to this day and receive heartening comments as the story just won’t go away!

    We have recently made a submission to The Chilcot Enquiry and have attached ‘WHAT IF?’ along with our commentary and proposals. We firmly believe that the public still strives to learn the story behind the story’ with the hindsight benefits of how the fortunes of the leading players have fared since 2003.

    • THE ESSEX BOYS
      Posted August 17, 2009 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      We wanted to add that we think it entirely reasonable, particularly after the long delay, that Sir John’s Enquiry covers matters that the laws of libel may have prevented hitherto and which are the subject of much speculation by the public who still fail to understand why the invasion was mounted while the weapons inspectors were in attendance and in the face of so much public and world-wide opposition.

  10. None
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    The war in Afghanistan can and should be won. There’s no quick solutions, but fighting those who seek to deny their own people education, religious freedom, and the right to choose their own government must be fought to their death.

    The Taliban were never elected, and are not supported by the majority of the population. Iraq was less clear cut (though responsibility for the humanitarian catastrophe must be laid firmly at the feet of Al-Quaida groups and the various violent Islamic militias for their bombs in markets and attacks on civilian infrastructure), but Afghanistan was a catastrophe zone and was a decent argument for some kind of UN military intervention even before the Taliban refused to hand over Bin Laden.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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