In remembrance of those who have died for the sake of appearances

Amidst the Remembrance Day posturing, some of which made it quite clear that one function of the day is to ‘steel’ ourselves for more war, there was increased debate about whether ‘we’ should be in Afghanistan.

I’m glad there’s increased debate about it, because it has been screwed up so badly that the sooner we leave the better for everyone, but there are a lot of assumptions behind the debates that go on, particularly the debate about whether the war is ‘winnable’ (a debate for morons in itself, since there is only one answer, and everyone knows it who doesn’t have an interest in defending or prolonging the war).

The main assumption is that we are in Afghanistan (and let us not forget Pakistan) fighting ‘terror’, or from time to time we are assumed to be there for humanitarian reasons, for the good of the Afghan people. This latter angle was sold at the start of the war but is referred to less often these days as the idea that the allies are acting in the best interests of Afghans has become less and less tenable. If we were there for the good of the Afghan people it would show in the massive aid, infrastructure and employment programs that would be required to turn Afghanistan into a place able to trade with the surrounding countries (its position giving the country one of its few economic advantages). The non-appearance or half-heartedness of such programs had made it very clear to Afghans, even if not to British people, that the allies are not there to help them.

While there have been days when I’ve thought such a humanitarian intervention might have been possible, I then came to accept that while, yes, in theory it could have been done, it was never ever going to be an option for the worthless politicians who launched this war.

As for the fighting terror angle, at most that would have required a few weeks blitz to destroy the Taliban and training bases and then out again. Sure you could argue that a vacuum might have been left in which militant groups might appear again. Except that that happened anyway, with a vengeance. If the allies really believed they were fighting ‘terror’ then as soon as they noticed they were catalysing more militant groups than they were defeating they should have left. They didn’t, and why didn’t they? Because as well as wanting to fight ‘terror’, it was very, very important to the politicians in charge to appear to be fighting ‘terror’.  Incidentally I put ‘terror’ in inverted commas because it is a bogus over-simplifying term for an awful lot of complicated ideas, tactics and organisations.

We are staying in Afghanistan for the sake of appearances, because within the rhetoric established in the Bush-Blair era a retreat from Afghanistan would be a retreat from fighting ‘terror’, even though our presence there makes the likelihood of real terrorist incidents greater in the long run.

Since we are only there for the sake of appearances, it follows that the debate about whether or not we can ‘win’ the war is a red herring. There’s no logic for us being there at all. It also follows of course that the soldiers who have died there recently have not given their lives for the nation, as the sombre speeches told us yesterday, they have given their lives for a bunch of career politicians, and for the sake of appearances.  And the many, many Afghans and Pakistanis who have died also died for the sake of appearances.

Although it is true that the war is ‘unwinnable’, there is only one real reason to get out of Afghanistan, and that is that people should not die for the sake of politicians, and they should not die for the sake of appearances.

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