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?