The Mail on Sunday (Scottish) article on Afghanistan


Mail on Sunday

I wrote this article for the Scottish Mail on Sunday and thought I’d whack it up for those who don’t:  a. Read the paper, and b.  Live in Scotland. Comments appreciated.

Mail on Sunday click here once then a second time when the next link comes up to read my article. It’s a little slow, as there’s a big piccy on the article, so do be patient!

An MPs scathing view of..

For more information on the Scottish Mail on Sunday click here.

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Gordon Brown’s hand written letter

There’s something unusually unsavoury about the pursuit of Gordon Brown over his letter  to Guardsman Jamie Janes’ Mum, Jacqui.  A man of great moral strengths and some human weaknesses he’s the first to accept, he spends what must be an enormous amount of time over service casualties.  He feels the personal responsibility as deeply as any leader and no-one who’s spoken to him about it can reasonably doubt that. He writes personally, heartfelt, in what he knows is his own poor handwriting borne, as everyone knows, of poor eyesight, to every family affected. That’s a good thing, right?

Jacqui Janes has literally every right to say whatever she likes, expressing whatever emotions most of us can only imagine she feels, and her views deserve respect.  She’s special, and so are all like her.

But the rest of us aren’t.  The hounding of a man of manifestly good intent, the raising of handwriting over decent human concern, seems to me primarly about the wicked manipulation of decent people by thouroughly un-decent ones.  This is what it boils down to – “let’s exploit GB’s poor handwriting to insinuate that he doesn’t care; it’s isn’t true, but it serves our interests”.

I don’t blame the Sun or any other news agency, to tell you the truth.  It’s just the way it is – it’s ‘news’.  They’re professionals and they know what gets headlines, sales and advertisers.  But behind the papers, there are others.  And we know who they are, of course.

I think most decent folk will see this all for what it is.

A View of a Womb

The BBC is running today with an interesting story about Womb transplants. Apparently, UK scientists have successfully transplanted the wombs of rabbits and think they’ve cracked how to do it for women. But wait, an expert from the British Fertility Society is being reported as noting that; ‘rabbits are different from women’.  It’s always important to have learned input like that.  I can think of some things which women (and indeed men) have in common with rabbits (two eyes, one heart, one brain, for example) but I’m prepared to accept the advice of the expert that in the round rabbits are indeed different from women, and that certainly helps me make more sense of the story.

Last week, I debated on Radio 4 with a Brigadier who pointed out that the allies aren’t ‘trying to create Berkshire in the Hindu Kush’.  As with the rabbit man, I found this helpful.  Indeed, the Chief of the General Staff has noted that, variation on a theme this, ‘we’re not trying to turn Afghanistan into Switzerland’.  Again, the fact that we’re not going to be forcing Afghans to wear lederhosen and stash large amounts of Nazi gold is surely comforting to us all as it represents just the sort of pragmatic move which is going to help us resolve our present difficulties around the whys and wherefores of Afghan culture.  So thanks, lads.

Yet, and I’m not sure if this is healthy scepticism or unhealthy cynicism, it might be that when ‘experts’ treat the public like they’re daft and sally forth with patronising simplifications they invariably have the opposite effect from the one they intended.  Were the rabbit man, the Brigadier and the General really going for a full-on comedic effect (think of the images they conjure up)?  Well, whether they were or not, they certainly succeeded.

Afghanistan and General Dannatt

Former Army Chief, General Sir Richard Dannatt, is reported in today’s Sun as criticising the government over its level of commitment to the Afghanistan deployment. There’s no doubt at all that he was a very fine officer, yet ironically his words may have the opposite effect from the one he hopes to give us. On the whole, soldiers naturally want to soldier and to be as professional as they can be, but politicians must take growing public opinion about this matter carefully into account when they make the big decisions. The stock line politicians use to justify our present commitment levels in Afghanistan  is that we must do all we can do to keep our streets  in the UK safe. However there are more and more people ready to point out the obvious truth about our European allies’ much lower commitment in Aghanistan.  They are left wondering  if it is really true that our streets are more safe than they were before 911 or more safe in London than Berlin, France or Rome.

The fact is, I think, that the decision on whether to upscale troop levels now or in the future is very much one for President Obama. If he decides to go ahead and put more troopps into Afghanistan, then that is what will happen,  regardless of the  decisions that are made by NATO or European allies. The real question for the UK government is therefore whether we can, in the face of growing public opinion against high deployment levels, still justify our disproportionate commitment.

General Dannatt’s words make it less likely. If the UK is requested to send extra troops by the USA and then doesn’t, it will be a blow to Obama not because he can’t do it without us, but because US public opinion is even more strongly against the deployment than ours. If Britain fails to give ‘allied’ political support at this time the situation is serious for Obama. I think that in the face of the  modest contributions given by our European allies it’s becoming close to intorerably difficult to justify asking for more British troops to take life and death risk on behalf of all Europeans.

We are approaching a tipping point and it’s not at all guaranteed that President Obama will go ahead with the increase in numbers his field commander wants and many in our own military would support.