13 July 2009

Afghanistan: A lack of leadership and strategy


This headline gives the misleading impression that there is public support for the war in Afghanistan.  The details of a Guardian poll paint a different picture:

Opposition to the war, at 47%, is just ahead of support, at 46%. And backing for Britain's role in the conflict has grown since 2006, the last time an ICM poll was conducted on the subject – up 15 points from 31%. Opposition has fallen over the same period by six points, from 53%.

The backing for Britain’s role is at 46%, although leaping by 15%, is hardly overwhelming and could well be due to recent deaths rather than because voters are swayed by the arguments for fighting in Afghanistan.

Not only is the electorate having doubts.  Cross party support is falling apart.  Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, lays it on the line:

For this Government to have sent our young people into battle without adequate equipment and protection is the ultimate dereliction of duty.

However, it is Max Hastings in the Mail that hits home this morning:

I have been writing about defence and Whitehall spending wrangles for 40 years, but I have never known such bitterness as exists today.

The Army's view is that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown committed our troops to fight wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, yet have always refused them the means they need to do the job.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff, has especially angered Labour by complaining privately to a group of Tory MPs about under-resourcing of the campaign.

There is absolutely no military confidence in the new Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth. 'He is simply not up to it,' one soldier says. 'We have had four Defence Secretaries in three years. John Hutton was the only one who seemed to understand the questions, even if he could not provide the answers, but he walked off the set in the last reshuffle. It is impossible to make sensible policy if you don't have proper political leadership.'


This neatly gets us back Brown and the lack of leadership that he has shown over this and much else.  Why did he agree that Hutton was stood down in the last reshuffle?  There was no logic to it, even if they both do not get on.  Hutton should have been told to stay up until the election.

But there is a wider issue here.  It is Brown’s inability to set out a strategy for Afghanistan.  Just what is end game?  What is the policy on boosting troops numbers after the mixed messages sent out yesterday?  When do we exit and how?  How does the government explain and justify our present commitment when the terrorists who are a threat to this country are based in Pakistan?

Our Dear Leader needs to get his act together and fast.  Public support is evenly split, the Commons is not united and the armed service chiefs are far from content.  This is hardly the text book way to fight a war.

Afghanistan has all the ingredients for leaving Brown very exposed, at the same time as his authority and credibility has been weakened.

This could well be one of those unknown unknowns that he will not recover from.  After all, remember Lebanon in 2006 and what that did for Tony Blair.

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  1. I'll try again to post. I concur with Ollie Howard.

  2. The publics support is not for the war and certainly not for the governments alleged policy, it is an expression of support for our brave fighting men and women.

    Max "'We have had four Defence Secretaries in three years." Same revolving door HR stuff that so fails in Social Services front line, same result.