The pull-out from Afghanistan is under way. The British have handed their command of Helmand province over to the Americans. For the past seventy or so years, the British have been mounting ceremonies of withdrawal in which the flag is pulled down, a commanding officer praises the soldiers, and a chaplain has a trope about sacrifice. 448 British soldiers were killed in Helmand and hundreds more have been horribly maimed by anti-personnel explosives. A consensus is forming that these deaths and injuries have been in vain, and the campaign should never have been fought. Roger Boyes of The Times, a serious and generally robust commentator on foreign affairs, has the ingenious refinement that clearing off home is “a form of military success,” and in addition will take away the raison d’être of the Taliban. In his view, a vibrant middle class is going to install a functioning state, by voting for it, if you please.
Far from taking note of their vanishing raison d’être, the Taliban are as prominent and violent as ever. They do not have the education or sophistication of Roger Boyes, but they are able to distinguish between victory and defeat. Coincidental with the ceremony of handing over Helmand, a sniper from the Coldstream Guards spotted the approach of some Taliban. The one he shot was wearing a suicide vest; it exploded and killed five other Taliban as well. Are tribal and religious fanatics like that really going to be convinced to give way to voting?
Defeatism began with Iraq. The mess there is the centerpiece of the argument that a campaign of this kind serves no useful purpose. But Iran’s expansionist and anti-Western policy is responsible for the mess, not us. The American military was the only possible check on Iran’s attempts at takeover, but President Obama withdrew the troops, leaving not even a token garrison. Of all his incomprehensible policy decisions, this is the most incomprehensible. Enemies of the United States were handed an easy victory in Iraq, and they look set to have another in Afghanistan.