Examining the Arab wars

How many more of our young people have to die in Afghanistan? How are the US and UK going to prosecute this war, given the way the Taleban can operate over the Pakistan border, in a country that remains a key US and UK ally? What does winning look like? How many troops will it take to pacify the huge territories concerned?

How does all this marry up with President Obama’s wish to have a different relationship with the Islamic countries of the Middle East from that of his predecessor? How can we think Gordon Brown is different in his approach from Tony Blair, when he supported Mr Blair’s wars throughout,and when he seems to be prosecuting them much as Mr Blair would have done?

It is time for Mr Brown to offer us a proper enquiry into the rights and wrongs, successes and failures of his Iraq war. More importantly, it would be good to hear from him in a measured statement about what he is asking the military to do in Afghanistan, how he thinks they can achieve success, and whether he thinks there are enough people with the right equipment to do this huge job.

Every week Prime Minister’s Questions begins with tragic news of further deaths on duty. MPs of all parties are rightly proud of our military, and admire its courage and persistence as it tries to bring peace to a troubled land. MPs generally do need, however, from time to time to ask the government to explain the strategy,and to explain why so many are at risk. We have a duty to all involved to make sure the mission is correctly framed, the troops are well equipped,and success is a realistic outcome from the balance of the task and the ask with the numbers of troops and the firepower.


  1. oldrightie
    June 15, 2009

    Don’t worry, everone, we’ll set up a review body and a secret inquiry. At least if The Organ grinder approves!

  2. adam
    June 16, 2009

    The news is telling me the government is interested in our “national security.”

    Surely it is Federal security that is threatened, Gordon?
    After all, it cant be the British nation you want to protect.

  3. Stuart Fairney
    June 16, 2009

    I have to say JR, I find the protestations every week about how sad the party leaders are about this week’s deaths, frankly, empty.

    As for the soldiers who will “never be forgotten” why not ask Brown for the names of the soldiers who died three weeks previously and you will see how hollow this claim is.

    The whole Afghan mission is a mess.

  4. James
    June 16, 2009

    Afghanistan, Iraq – surely that’s just the beginning John.

    Strip away all the details and just consider two facts.

    1. The technology available to potential terrorists gets more powerful by the day.

    2. Millions of men are being aggravated in one way or another – rightly or wrongly.

    Result = Huge Dangers for Everyone

    Our government needs to take care not only of our soldiers, but also of our men.

    But the Labour government just seems to aggravate men.

    Not a good idea.

    The poor treatment of our soldiers was just one example of the poor way in which our men have been treated. (Also think of the terrible time that coal miners and heamophiliacs have had in trying to get fair compensation/treatment from the Labour Government – and the Gurkhas. In other words, men mostly.)

    But there is now something much bigger – and deeper – going on at the moment which is ratcheting up the hostility towards Labour – and it is coming from men; who make up some 80% of all political activists.

    Father’s For Justice is a small, but visible, group. But, elsewhere, in further regions of cyberspace, you can see a welling up of hostility throughout the blogosphere towards all politicians who seemingly treat ‘men’ badly.

    The recent success of the BNP – largely caused by working-class men switching to the right – also reflects this increasing activism of ‘men’.

    The campaign (successful) to get better compensation for injured soldiers was also largely a result of such internet activism.

    So it is good to see Tories such as your good self continually addressing issues (such as the war in Afghanistan) in terms of how they affect soldiers (men) for two reasons.

    1. It will likely bring the Tories much more support.

    2. It will reduce the likelihood that disaffected men will resort to terrorism.

  5. backofanenvelope
    June 16, 2009

    There will be no full & open discussion of the 30-year war in Afghanistan for the same reason the government refuses a proper assessment of the cost of EU membership.

  6. Mike Stallard
    June 16, 2009

    Do you remember John Reed announcing the war? He seemed, on TV at least, to be saying that it was just a matter of going in and building a couple of bridges so that the “hearts and minds” of the Afghanis would be firmly on our side in the war on terror.
    Since then, we have heard nothing about the reasons for the war or how we are going to win it.
    Rumours always circulate if there is a dearth of objective and little publicity.
    Like winning towns at the expense of dead or wounded soldiers and then losing them because there simply are not enough men on the ground.
    Or the use of totally unsuitable equipment. This could, apparently, be because a lot of the procurement comes from the EU which isn’t up to it. We seem to be buying up a lot of Tridents and aircraft carriers whereas the men on the ground lack helicopters.
    It is so sad to see our once great nation being humiliated by the Americans who now, (more rumours) despise us for our lily livered performance in Basra.
    I think your remarks hit the nail firmly on the head.

  7. Cabalamat
    June 16, 2009

    NATO has been in Afghanistan for nearly 8 years now. Can we not find Afghans willing to fight for Karzai’s government?

  8. Curly
    June 16, 2009

    Well at least it looks as though Brown has the venue arranged for the not public inquiry.

  9. alan jutson
    June 16, 2009

    It would seem that only ourselves the Americans and the Canadians are really doing the hard slog in Afghanistan which costs lives.

    The Parkistan Government has only at last woken up to the risk to them and their system.

    If the World is really concerned about the Taliban, the terrorist training camps, and the drugs being produced, then a more co-ordinated action by many more Country’s is required, otherwise we will be there for very many more years without any success at all.

    In the meantime we should be introducing a much more secure entry system into the Uk, and turning undesirables away.

    The present system of letting almost anyone in until they are investigated (sometime years later) is an absolute nonesense.

    I would support fully any increase in Government employment for such personell as was neccessary to protect our borders properly.

  10. Josh
    June 16, 2009

    Unfortunately, the politicians have invested too much of their ”tough guy” image in Afghanistan and too pull out now would be catastrophic to that image. They will lose… no army in 1000’s of years has successfully invaded Afghanistan.

  11. Brian Tomkinson
    June 16, 2009

    As usual the people of this country are being treated with utter contempt by Brown setting up this phoney enquiry into the Iraq war. The whole process is a charade and the findings could be written now (probably already have been) in vast quantities of whitewash. This enquiry should be held in public, witnesses should be subpoenaed to give evidence under oath, blame should be allocated and action taken against individuals where appropriate. It is unacceptable in a so-called democracy for those elected to power to be not held fully accountable and punished where appropriate for their actions.

  12. Demetrius
    June 16, 2009

    Sir John Nott in his “Haven’t We Been Here Before” referring to the British history in Afghanistan entanglements suggested that our current involvement was not just unwise and unnecessary, but in the long run will be self defeating. Again, both from the standpoints of history and our current capability I would agree with him.

  13. Graham Thomas
    June 16, 2009

    I am at a loss to know why politicians of any party would support an illegal and immoral war fought against the wishes of most British people and all the Afghan population that can never bring any benefit to Britain no matter what the outcome. Even if not a single bullet was ever fired again in Afghanistan how will we gain? Someone please explain.

  14. APL
    June 16, 2009

    Well, who would have guessed it? It looks like Gordon Brown is for once in his life right, elections can cause chaos.


    But of course only if you have tried to gerrymander the vote in the first instance.

    SNo electoral reform until we have a new Parliament with a new democratic mandate.

    This fag end government with half its ministers in the unelected Lords is a travesty. It is this sort of behaviour by a discredited fool, that leads to electoral chaos.

  15. Cliff.
    June 16, 2009

    Open and transparent government? I don’t think so.

    The only way for Mr Brown et al to satisfy the public, is to hold a public inquiry into the Iraq war.
    My cynical side wonders if yesterday’s announcement is more about trying to save the PM’s political skin; if that is the case, I suspect he has failed on that too.

    I am concerned about the cost of this exercise, especially taking into account people are unlikely to trust the findings given the PM’s choice to hold it in secret. In the announced form, it seems to me to be a waste of money that we don’t have….Nothing new there then in Labourland!!

  16. Neil Craig
    June 16, 2009

    I wish there were going to be an “enquiry” into the Yugoslav war – one for which, unlike Iraq, the Attorney General’s advice on legality or otherwise is still an official secret. (rest left out)

  17. steve
    June 16, 2009

    I think its tragic that we have to hear the names of brave soldiers being killed in these lands, esp Afghanistan, and for what? There seems to be no strategy, no end game, this is a war that we cannot ‘win’, ask the soviets. And for what? To allow Bush to sign deals on oil pipes through Iraq and Afghanistan? Or it being a tool for the US/UK to keep reminding us of terrorism, and allowing them the environment to trash our civil liberties.

  18. Citizen Responsible
    June 16, 2009

    The mission to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan is now even more difficult given the situation in Pakistan. General Musharraf, said that Pakistan was not ready to return to civilian government and since he stepped down as President in 2007, the Taliban have taken a greater hold in Pakistan. The AfPak situation is made even more dangerous as Pakistan is a nuclear power and the de-stabilistion of the country increases the risk of a bomb getting into the hands of the extremists.

  19. Matt
    June 16, 2009

    Agreed –
    Its sobering to think that this conflict has been going on for longer than the 2nd World War, but the conflict seems no nearer to a resolution.

    The overall objectives don’t seem to be clear. I suppose it’s to put a stop to the terrorist training facilities there, but we seem to be providing the enemy with a fair bit of combat training.

    If it’s to impose some sort of central government, with national law And order that seems to be light years away and I’m sure that we’re much nearer the beginning than the end of the mission.

    We seem to be there because of our alliance with the USA and of NATO.

    John Hutton recently said something, on the lines of, that the mission if Afghanistan was as vital as the stand against Nazi Germany. I think that Icould list a few differences.

    The war requires a reappraisal now in my view.

  20. jean baker
    June 16, 2009


    Your views are shared by all right minded people.

  21. A. Sedgwick
    June 16, 2009

    We should not be there, we are not a world power, have 1% of the world population and this is one occasion when we should follow the EU line. The Wednesday messages of condolences are sickening, if only our politicians had the courage of the young people being unnecessarily killed and started a withdrawal campaign instead of all toeing the party political line.

  22. Bill Richards
    June 16, 2009

    Why have we not learned from history?
    A war in Afghanistan is unwinable, so why not spend the money instead on:

    1. Securing our borders and police the routes used by drug trafficars.
    2. Pay the farmers to grow crops other than opium.
    3. Identify the illegal crops from satellite observations and then spray them with weed killer from unmanned aircraft.

    I for one am sick of reading about young lives lost or wrecked by this pointless war.

  23. DBC Reed
    June 16, 2009

    If we had shewn any imagination ,and any independence of mind,we would have tried to prop up Muhammad Najibullah after the Russian withdrawal in 1989,since his left-wing approach could have given his “country” a crash course in social and economic modernisation and ,with western aid could have put in valuable infrastructure.Instead we chose to arm the mojahedin whose vision of the state was medieval,in the process creating a safe haven for Bin Laden .After encouraging Islamic fundamentalists for being violently anti-secularist/anti socialist,we then ,after arming them to the teeth,found we could no longer control them when they turned on their former patrons. In the same way we would have been better to support the pliable Milosevic instead of opening up the whole Jugoslavian can of worms to the frenzied hatreds of Croat neo fascists,Kosovan separatists etc.At the outset Milosevic pledged to maintain Jugoslavia as unified nation of equally entitled working people.Bomber Blair knew better than that of course .
    If there is any consistency in our belligerent foreign policy it lies in our meekly following a Fifties-retro American policy of stamping on any publicly ownership and insisting on privatisation.Anti-socialism
    rather than an accommodation has cost us dear and to add insult to injury the Americans have now made a complete lash-up of world capitalism.We have been involved in killing impoverished people abroad and giving legitimacy to religious terrorists so that we and the Americans can inflate stupendous housing bubbles that collapse disastrously.We have backed the wrong side and the wrong economic system IMHO .

  24. jean baker
    June 16, 2009

    Unlike the well planned and decisive action taken in the Falklands, and it’s success, Blair took Britain to war on an alleged lie – what has it achieved bar lucrative profiteering from ‘rebuilding’ contracts with a ‘select few’ ? Afghanistan – I agree with Bill on 1. & 2. Do laws in Afghanistan permit opium crop growing ?

  25. backofanenvelope
    June 17, 2009

    Good article by Simon Jenkins on the Guardian web site.

    I would like us to make a simple amoral assessment of the war in Afghanistan.

    What is in it for us? Just what benefit(s) will the people of the UK enjoy as a result of fighting a war that is projected to last another 24 years. TWENTY FOUR!!!!!

    Personally I see nothing in it for us; we should get out now.

  26. Duncan
    June 17, 2009

    Obama’s apparent belief that the coalition can succeed in Afghanistan where it failed in Iraq seems to based on the idea that Afghanistan is the ‘right’ or ‘just’ war. I’m guessing that it was really a sop to American nationalists and the defence establishment. In any event it’s surprising that he and others are trying to convince us that they can win a war in Afghanistan that is many times more difficult than the Iraq adventure which was an abject failure. They must also be aware that military action in Afganistan is helping to send Pakistan down the toilet. The War on Terror has been an epic global tragedy and should never have been waged. Shame on anyone who voted for it…

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