Imbecilic, tragic, dangerous and unnecessary are the words used by Tony Blair to describe the US withdrawal from Afghanistan – and Britain’s as well. The former British prime minister believes the west should stay to protect the “gains” achieved by his original invasion in 2001, and by implication by the deaths of 457 British soldiers. As it is, Britain has been “relegated from the top division” of world powers, its enemies are “cheering” and its word is no longer relied on.
The final duty any prime minister owes his successors is silence. Otherwise he invites the obvious retort: but it was your fault.
Blair’s Commons speech initiating the Afghan war was described by a biographer as variously “Winston Churchill and William Gladstone”. He was ardent in his support of George W Bush’s invasion, followed by that of Iraq. They were imbecilic, tragic, dangerous and unnecessary. Yet it was Blair who goaded a reluctant Nato into lending legitimacy to such vanity adventurism by the leaders of the US and Britain. He was the lapdog trotting at American heels who relegated Britain from what he laughably calls “the top division”. Soldiers’ lives are at the disposal of governments, but British lives in Afghanistan were peculiarly at the disposal of Blair’s self-image.
The fiasco of Kabul, to anyone who has studied Afghan history, was always going to happen in some form sooner or later. American power can install a western-style government in any smallish country. But the longer it stays the more corrupt it will be and the more painfully mishandled will seem its departure. Twenty years makes it very painful indeed.
Blair knew perfectly well that the Pashtun Taliban were never going to go away. Years of negotiating with them, begging them, seeking a coalition with them, have yielded nothing but the Taliban’s relentless return over more of the country each year. In a ghastly pastiche of the Anglo-Afghan war of 1842, Blair seems to want Britain and the US to wait in Kabul until the last minute, and only then make a dash for the border. But when? Or does he really regard Britain’s destiny as lying in perpetual colonies dotted across the desert?
All that can be hoped from this debacle is a thundering great lesson from the people of Afghanistan: leave our country alone. You have conquered us, ruled us, corrupted us, consumed our opium and are now removing 20,000 of our brightest and best. For goodness sake, just leave us alone.
The only way to “secure past gains” would be to cooperate with Pakistan in supporting the more progressive elements within the Taliban, of which there are clearly some. Otherwise, Mr Blair’s wisest contribution to this affair would be remorse.