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Going Back to Afghanistan

Monday, July 20, 2009 at 04:11 AM EDT

The tired old analogy of Iraq as the new Vietnam now not only looks like hyperbole, but appears to be targeted at the wrong war, the one many of those, myself included, had happily forgotten. Thousands of years of history seem to have taught the Americans and the British nothing, as they find themselves almost hopelessly bogged down in Afghanistan.

The last few weeks have seen a rising crescendo of coverage of the Afghan conflict in British newspapers. Do we have enough troops? The right landrovers? Enough helicopters? Most of the debate seems to continue to focus around the issues of equipment, and our ability to carry out whatever mission it might be that we’re attempting to finish off. At the moment few questions are being asked about the reasoning for continuing the war, but I suspect that’s just a matter of time.

But the reality appears to be that there is no end in sight. Whether an end is in sight for Iraq, with the threat of a permanent US presence now turning to reality, the results in 6 years of Gulf War 2 have been more conclusive than the results in the first 8 years of the current Afghan intervention. A war cobbled together in just 3 months, in which the notion of an enemy has become less and less coherent, now seems a war with no realistic and moral objectives.

The historians out there will probably complain at the extreme simplification about to take place on your screen. Afghanistan has never been conquered in over 1000 years, and has destroyed or curtailed several imperial ambitions, including that of the Russians, Greeks and British. A quick survey of Wikipedia brings mention of “The Third Anglo-Afghan War” in 1919, for instance. That must make this current conflict, to some degree at least, the 4th Anglo-Afghan war. You’d think we’d learn.

Jumping forwards to the present day, and some questions seem to be going unanswered. First and foremost, what are the British and American governments hoping to achieve in Afghanistan, apart from the goodwill of the arms industry which the war is propping up? In short, what are the military objectives? If these can’t be spelt out, why are we continuing to throw resources, and more importantly, lives, at this horrific mess?

Of course, anyone can point to the carnage of the Twin Towers and make the point that this is a retaliation against a very real crime. But an indefinitely defined retaliation cannot be morally justified. Do the Taliban pose a threat to the US or Britain, today or in the immediate future? Not really. Are they actually helping the core of Al Qaeda, what little of it ever existed, to plan new strikes against British and American interests? Not likely, given that we understand OBL to be in Pakistan. After all, Britain is now focusing its intelligence on the domestic Muslim community, and though this is problematic, it seems to be preventing any attack from taking place.

Yes, America may have had a good reason to start this war, but I can’t see what it hopes to achieve right now. Propping up Pakistan maybe? That would require a deployment to the borderlands, not a full scale war, surely? Even if all this is about gas pipelines, as the conspiracy theory tends to go, its still an unacceptable waste.

I swore some months ago that I was done with going on Stop the War marches. I’m now feeling quite compelled to jump at the next opportunity to join the otherwise defunct Stop the War Mob and make my opinions on the conflict known. After all, with the British body count rising as steeply as it has done recently, and with no desire to see even more money thrown at the war in the hopes it might cut the British fatality rate, its pretty much the one remaining option.

And the analogy? I always found the analogy a bit annoying, a sort of excuse for saying “we know how this will end, just do what we say”, something which lost Stop the War as many reasonable people as it gained them left-wing reactionaries. But right now, it seems that a straight comparison between Iraq and Afghanistan for “most Vietnam like war” would point firmly to Afghanistan. The challenge for those who are outraged is two-fold: take the debate away from a simple “More equipment/Continue as before” struggle, and into a debate about the very need to continue putting British, and other, lives at risk, and at the same time, remobilise the voices of opposition to the war that we now find ourselves once against watching on a daily, and rather uncomfortable, basis.