Sunday, September 06, 2009

Portillo: al Qaeda and the Taliban.

It's not often that I agree with Michael Portillo, and there's lots he says here which I am in disagreement with, but he does make one point which I have been making for years:

Sometimes the government has defended the war by appealing to popular causes at home. The British military commitment is extending women’s rights, say ministers, and bringing democracy to a repressed population.

The problem with that explanation is that it is true. The campaign in Afghanistan suffers from debilitating mission drift. It began with a clear focus on removing Al-Qaeda and the objective now ought to be simply to keep it out. Our forces have been diverted into defeating the Taliban (a different aim completely), bringing good governance to Afghanistan, creating a capitalist economy, educating the people and effecting social change, especially in the status of women.

One of the reasons why Brown and others find it so hard to sell the Afghan war is because they have so often changed the rationale for why this war needs to be fought.

Originally, this was a war against al Qaeda and an attempt to arrest or kill bin Laden. Early on in the campaign, when it became obvious that getting bin Laden wouldn't be as easy as Bush and Blair had hoped, this segued into a war against the Taliban.

That's an utterly different thing. And, perhaps it's not as confusing to Americans as it is to Brits, but we all remember Blair's offer that the Taliban could remain in power if they only handed over bin Laden.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned the Taliban: "We will put a trap around the regime. Its choice is surrender bin Laden or surrender power."
So, Portillo makes a very good point when he speaks of the ever changing rationale's which have been used to justify this conflict. And those ever changing rationale's have a lot to do with why this war does not carry a great deal of public support.

(That, and the fact that it has been going on for eight years with no end in sight.)

But public support for wars relies on there being an easily understood objective and an easily identifiable enemy.

From very early on in this campaign, Bush and Blair performed a subtle sleight of hand, morphing al Qaeda and the Taliban into the same thing.

To those of us paying attention, it was obvious why they were doing what they were doing, but to people simply getting on with their lives, they merely succeeded in making the Afghan war slightly confusing.

And confusion never helps sell a conflict.

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