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Friday, 16 March 2012

Afghanistan on Question Time - Humza Yousaf, Willie Rennie and audience comments

As is almost always the case on Question Time, the audience has the heart of the question. Janet Street Porter was irrelevant, Ruth Davidson was - well, a Tory - and Frank Field was stuck with the Blair/Brown/Labour legacy.

The insidious and contemptible argument that we should stay to justify the 404 British service death and 5000 injured was trotted out, as it always is. Kill more in an unwinnable 'war' to 'justify' the needless, criminal sacrifice of the past.

The wife of the serving officer said it all, lucidly and with calm dignity and deep regret - we are achieving nothing in Afghanistan.

And what exactly did Willie Rennie mean by  his "Even Humza agrees it was the right thing to do at the start" remark. Even Humza?

MY COMMENTS (incorporating material from a 2009 blog)

America and Britain’s original case for invading Afghanistan was to remove the Taliban and the training camps for terrorists. That was achieved in the first year.

Although most commentators and political parties supported the initial invasion and its rationale, I argued - and still do - that we are there, as Obama is there, as the 43 countries of the coalition are there, because of a profoundly mistaken instinct by a right-wing group of American Republicans and their puppet, George W. Bush, to lash out at something after the tragedy of 9/11 and the appalling loss of life and blow to American prestige.

After that first year, the UK’s rationale for remaining rested on a lie - that we are there to prevent terrorism threatening Britain. It still rests on that lie. The Afghanistan war brought terrorism to Britain – it politicised a whole generation of young Asians. The locus of terror has long shifted to Pakistan.

We are there because enormous profits are yielded to armaments manufacturers, and to contractors of services to the military, and because a shadowy enemy, a perpetual threat, and inducing paranoia in the population have always been a prime recourse of failing regimes.

Britain is there, and the coalition is there because Europe does not yet have the cohesion to stand up to a flawed American foreign policy on the Middle East and the Israel/Palestine question.

We are there because Pakistan worries us deeply, because it is an unstable ally with a nuclear capacity, with a religion and a culture the West has never begun to understand, and it, together with Israel, forces us to recognise the weaknesses of the West's self-serving nuclear policy - committed to retaining its own weapons of mass destruction while engaged in a vain attempt to stop others from following the same route.

The vacuum at the heart of the UK position was starkly exposed by the threat to pull out if the Karzai regime did not root out corruption. Leaving aside the inconvenient fact that a significant proportion of the corruption is induced by the activities of foreign contractors, something made clear in an aside by a commentator from the region last night, what this says in effect is this -

We are are here to prevent Afghanistan from being a seed bed for attacks on Britain, but if you - the 'democratic' puppet government that we have put in place - don't behave, we will abandon the whole misconceived enterprise and let the region revert to where it was before, thereby allowing the threat to Britain re-establish its potency.”

The UK’s behaviour over Afghanistan reminds me of the behaviour of directors and senior managers in a private company or large public enterprise who have mistakenly committed themselves to a project or policy that is manifestly going to fail. A marked distaste for re-examining the fundamental premises of the enterprise emerges, and a growing hostility to critics however rational.

The old accountant's motto, that sunk costs are irrelevant in reviewing a flawed project, is speedily abandoned, and the accrued costs to date, i.e. the tragic deaths and serious injuries, are used as a justification for continuing.

It's like the gambler's fallacy at roulette - that if you keep doubling your bets, you must win eventually, a fallacy that ignores the sum of what has already been lost, ignores the possibility to long runs of bad luck, and and ignores the exponential growth in losses of doubling up.

Those opposed to the lunatic project are increasingly characterised as enemies, not as loyal employees trying to pull their company back from disaster.

We are still there because of US and UK fear of loss of face when we withdraw, and both countries are prepared to let soldiers and civilian non-combatants to die to save their political faces.


  1. Yes, Peter, I noticed that Rennie remark - "...even Yousef agreed...". an attitude that perhaps stems from something deeper in his psyche, but it was matched by Dimbleby's "..I'll come to HIM later." referring to Yousef again, who still didn't get his say after Frank Field took an eternity to "briefly answer please."

    Of course, I may just be getting a tad curmudgeonly!

  2. Who am I to criticise a curmudgeon?


  3. Yes, "Even Yousef agreed"! Unfortunately , just like the continuing majority support for the Monarchy we are not allowed to say the whole damned enterprise is a mistake and more that the the West's foreign policy caused the problem in the first place. Certain honest statements are impossible because they are presented as unpatriotic! And God help us listen to Frank Field's comment that he was disappointed that the debate for independence was all about money! Jesus wept!

  4. While all of us have the greatest respect for the dead, mutilated and damaged - this new expedient insistence on remaining in Afhanistan as some mark of duty and loyalty to our military seems a convienient moral twist for those whose refusal to see the light and avoid their own incrimination (and questionable profit) - seems corrupt, unethical and futile.
    It was interesting that the military wife/mother in the audience, when she made her remark contrary to the alleged benefits of 'foreign' intervention and that good old chestnut of 'bringing democracy', about the consistent reduction of influence on the population's wellbeing, it was rather obviously ignored by Mr Dimbleby and the panel. I wonder what the dead would advise?

    Is the apparent news silence from Libya a recognition of how successful 'bringing democracy' works?

  5. Thanks, Clarinda.

    The dead were the original silent majority. If only their relatives would speak as openly as a tiny number have done, without feeling they are betraying their memories and their bravery.


  6. The amazing thing is that the "...even Humza" was likely not even an intended slight, but a look into a deep-seated psychology that can not allow itself to see the SNP as a major party or SNP opinion as being of importance. That means, of course, that they always under-estimate the SNP and it's actually to the nationalist advantage.

    As far as the ongoing tragedy in Afghanistan, I have finally come to realize how little this has to do with US or UK foreign policy and how much it has to do with profits for certain multinational corporations, and not only weapons producing ones.

    Our nations are being run like fiefdoms to profit our "betters" and the main reason for my support (for what little it means as an outsider) for Scottish independence is a real conviction that an independent Scotland would be much less likely to take part in these horrible misadventures. We are selling our soldiers and the suffering of innocent bystanders for other people's profit, and somehow a stop must be put to it.

  7. We can only speculate what the "Even Humza" remark meant, Jeanne. The most charitable explanation is the even somebody against the prolonged and fruitless occupation recognised the initial justification. I don't, but Humza said he did - to my surprise.



  8. True that knowing definitely what he meant is speculation, but the Labour Party belief that the SNP doesn't really count as a major party seems to be very deeply ingrained, and you see the results of that belief time and again.

    It is certainly possible that he was expressing some astonishment at Humza taking that position.