Magazine article The Spectator

Time We Left

Magazine article The Spectator

Time We Left

Article excerpt

Western forces are making things worse in Afghanistan

The journalist Michael Kinsley defines 'gaffe' as that which occurs when a politician accidentally tells the truth.

Reacting to the latest bad news coming out of Afghanistan - an American soldier in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province went on a rampage, killing 16 civilians in cold blood - the presidential candidate Newt Gingrich committed a gaffe of the first order. Appearing on Fox News, the former House Speaker had this to say:

Look at the things that are going on around the region and then ask yourself, 'Is this, in fact, a harder, deeper problem that is not going to be susceptible to military force, at least not military force in the scale we are prepared to do?'

President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron may have insisted this week that there would be 'no rush to the exit', but even they must see that the woes besetting Nato in Afghanistan have piled up. Prior to the Panjwai massacre, there was the burning of the Korans - desecration in the eyes of Muslims - which triggered large-scale Afghan protests and retaliatory attacks against US troops. Before the burning of the Korans, there was the video of US Marines urinating on corpses, alleged to be insurgents. This too caused widespread outrage. Then just two days before the incident at Panjwai, Afghan officials charged Nato helicopter gunships with firing on civilians in Kapisa province, killing four and wounding three. This provoked more demonstrations still.

In Washington and in Brussels, high ranking officials insist that these episodes by no means represent the overall character of Nato forces. This is no doubt true. At the same time, those officials acknowledge that incidents of this kind make mission accomplishment - now defined as getting out without leaving Afghanistan in outright chaos - all the more difficult. In that regard, whether we attribute Nato's mishaps to honest mistakes, intentional misconduct or individual madness hardly matters: the effect is to poison relations between western forces and the Afghan people precisely at the moment when 'trust' is said to constitute the essential prerequisite of success.

No reason exists to doubt the sincerity of Nato commander General John Allen when he offers his 'profound regret and deepest condolences' to those affected by the Panjwai massacre. Likewise, we should take seriously his 'pledge to all the noble people of Afghanistan' that anyone 'found to have committed wrongdoing [will be] held fully accountable'. (That said, students of comparative justice will want to assess accountability as it applies to the unnamed American staff sergeant now accused of killing 16 Muslim Afghans with the accountability awaiting Major Nidal Hasan, an American soldier facing trial for killing 13 non-Muslim Americans at Fort Hood in 2009. Any bets on who spends more time in jail? ) Perhaps apologies and investigations, along with money, can repair some of the damage done in recent weeks to relations between Nato and the Afghan people. Yet in a larger sense this latest abomination affirms what all but the most committed dead-enders already know: this latest attempt by outsiders to pacify Afghanistan won't end any more successfully than previous ones. The military enterprise known as the global war on terror - beginning in Afghanistan in 2001 and returning there once again after an unhappy detour to Iraq - is doomed. As western troops begin heading to the exits, the best outcome we can expect will be one that disguises a collective failure stretching back well over a decade. …

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