Thursday, October 21, 2010

Afghanistan

As the Guardian reports, the BBC’s Nick Robinson had a bit of a fit when someone propped up an anti-war placard behind him during a broadcast on the draconian cuts that the Conservative-Liberal Coalition is pushing through. Robinson’s defence was that ‘there are many opportunities to debate whether the troops should be out of Afghanistan without the need to stick a sign on a long pole and wave it in front of a camera’. He goes on to say that although he is ‘a great believer in free speech [...] I also care passionately about being able to do my job reporting and analysing one of the most important political stories for years’.

But Robinson is one of the preening, self-satisfied species of journalists, who wears a Cheshire-cat grin, and who like many political reporters, specialises in political gossip. There is nothing to suggest that the sign was preventing him from doing his job reporting on the cuts that are set to put nearly half a million public service employees out of work.

And the trouble, of course, is that Robinson is dead wrong—there are not many opportunities to debate the merits of the war in Afghanistan. Parliament voted on the war for the first time a month ago, and it got only the most passing of coverage. The Guardian’s own Andrew Sparrow spent his day’s blog chasing rumours up and down the corridors of Whitehall, and blithely admitted at 5.55pm, ‘The Afghanistan debate is winding up. I have not been following it closely...’

The British media has been nearly as supine as its U.S. counterpart when it comes to sustained, critical assessment of the war, and has utterly failed to create a public debate about the matter, letting all three parties off the hook during May’s general election campaign. It is equally striking how little Afghanistan features in the mid-term elections in the U.S. But as the war grows increasingly unpopular with the public, neither party wants to address the issue: the Republicans because their unabashed warmongering might not go down with the public in the same way it did in 2004; and the Democrats because their own president and figures like Dianne Feinstein have made the war their own and are pushing a conflict that is imperilling our security.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in one of his painful-sounding contortions, put it best: ‘We’re not going to win this war just by staying. Quite frankly, we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency’. But the militaries in the U.S and Britain will be loath to admit what most people (Harper quite belatedly) are coming to realise: that the much-vilified Taliban will not be defeated.

The New York Times recently reported that the U.S. assault on Kandahar is actually designed to push the Taliban into talks with the Afghan government, indicating that we are ready to come to terms with a member of the erstwhile Axis of Evil. It’s no wonder people are asking why we invaded Afghanistan in the first place, and whether the bloody and interminable struggle being waged there is worth the human and economic sacrifice.

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