It is easy to waste money; governments of all persuasions all over the world do it, not intentionally, but usually out of vanity, lack of intelligence or lack of understanding. For example Afghanistan has received $36 billion of aid in the past ten years. That money, if wisely spent, should have transformed that backward country into a wealthy secure place. There are, the United Nations believes, 24 million people living in Afghanistan. $36 billion ought to be capable of providing them with a decent infrastructure, education and security. If you factor in the billions spent by NATO on maintaining armed forces in Afghanistan it is hard for me at least to understand why that nation is not today advanced, prosperous and secure.
However it is not such a state. Politicians are still telling us (rightly or more probably wrongly) that the West needs to spend all this money and deploy their armed forces on and in Afghanistan. The claim which looks increasingly ill founded, is that we spend our money and the lives of our soldiers there in order to make us secure in our own homes thousands of miles away. I have never understood this theory and it looks increasingly untenable with every life lost on this venture.
It is not easy for politicians, whatever they believe, to disengage from the Afghan adventure. If they were to do so quickly they would be accused of having lost the war. If they do so slowly the war would simply be lost slowly.
It is also hard to identify the bad guys in Afghanistan. The native Afghanis resent all foreign occupation and have always fought against it, even if the foreigners brought gifts. Every occupation leads to what some describe as collateral damage – the accidental killing of civilians not involved in action against the occupation and sometimes when going about perfectly peaceful occupations such as farming or celebrating weddings. These killings simply recruit the relatives of those killed into the arms of those that the occupiers are fighting.
At different stages in this doomed campaign politicians have claimed that democracy will be brought to Afghanistan and democracy is a secure political system which does not threaten other nations. I wish that were so. The most bellicose nations since the Second World War have been democracies. Dictators rarely venture into wars these days because they understand that democracies are more powerful and that an ill fated war would usually cost them their dictatorships and their lives.
No nation has a right to impose a political system on another, just as no religion has the right ti impose itself on the religions of others. You can believe in the supremacy of your political system and your religion but that belief does not justify action to change the beliefs of others.
It is the hardest thing for a politician to admit that he or she has been wrong and that their judgment has been wrong. It is hard when the cost of pursuing a false policy has been financial but even harder when the cost has been measured in tens of thousands of lives.
Notwithstanding that it may be hard – possibly the hardest decision that a politician will have to make – it seems clear to me that we have to face reality. The decision to invade Afghanistan was wrong and the brave lives lost have been wasted in an unwinnable war. The courage of those fighting in Afghanistan is not in doubt. Soldiers on all sides have been courageous often sacrificing their lives in the course of their duties.
The Taliban are no longer in government there but the existing government is corrupt and weak. The war has no political objective that makes sense.
If the war is “won” what does that mean? Will we occupy Afghanistan as a new possession to exploit or will terrorism throughout the world cease upon the midnight with no pain because the war was won?
Bismark said of another proposal to make war in Bosnia that the Balkans was not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian Grenadier. Afghanistan is not worth the bones of any soldier, even though it has claimed many bones. It is one thing to measure the possibility of war, and refrain from it, as Bismark did. It takes a great deal of courage to admit that a war that has claimed so many lives should not have been started. Has any politician that courage today or are they going to contrast the courage of those who fight with the cowardice of those who do not