After Afghanistan

In the latest of our #progressivedilemmas we consider what Labour’s approach to failing states should be.

2014 is the last year of British military involvement in Afghanistan and the end of a long phase of ‘nation-building’ efforts since 9/11. While David Cameron has unconvincingly declared ‘mission accomplished’, in reality the next Labour government will wrestle with an agonising set of dilemmas about the UK’s future involvement in stabilising failed and failing states. Iraq and Afghanistan cast a long shadow.

Labour and Uncle Sam

Should Britain expect more from the Special Relationship with the United States than managed decline? What price should progressives be willing to pay for influence? Latest in our #progressivedilemmas series on conundrums facing the next Labour government. 

McChrystal overruns the civilians (updated)

The McChrystal Rolling Stone article is a fascinating read.

Sure, there are plenty of insults – the piece opens with the General being forced to dine with a French minister (“It’s fucking gay,” complains an aide), while McChrystal’s team is brutal about how underwhelmed their boss is by Obama and his administration.

But there’s meat too – the mismatch between military and civilian power is a recurrent theme:

While McChrystal and his men are in indisputable command of all military aspects of the war, there is no equivalent position on the diplomatic or political side… This diplomatic incoherence has effectively allowed McChrystal’s team to call the shot and hampered efforts to build a stable and credible government in Afghanistan.

Most interesting is the tension between counter-insurgency (slow, messy, only likely to ever deliver a partial result) and more aggressive forms of war fighting, especially as they play out among troops on the front line.

“This is the philosophical part that works with think tanks,” McChrystal jokes at one stage, “But it doesn’t get the same reception from infantry companies.”

I assume McChrystal will now be forced out – if not immediately, then after a few months or so. Can’t see that will resolve much though. It’s Obama’s war now (Cameron’s too, soon enough) and it’s hard to see him winning it.

Update: McChrystal was picked by Gates (Robert, not Bill) and I suspect it will be Gates who determines whether he survives. This is not exactly a rousing vote of confidence:

I read with concern the profile piece on Gen. Stanley McChrystal in the upcoming edition of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine.  I believe that Gen. McChrystal made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment in this case.  We are fighting a war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies, who directly threaten the United States, Afghanistan, and our friends and allies around the world.  Going forward, we must pursue this mission with a unity of purpose. Our troops and coalition partners are making extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our security, and our singular focus must be on supporting them and succeeding in Afghanistan without such distractions.

Gen. McChrystal has apologized to me and is similarly reaching out to others named in this article to apologize to them as well.  I have recalled Gen. McChrystal to Washington to discuss this in person.

Update II: Well, well. Turns out McChrystal was just one more victim for Eyjafjallajökull:

Hastings says he stumbled onto unprecedented access with McChrystal. After McChrystal’s press advisers accepted a request for the profile, Hastings joined McChrystal and his team in Paris. It was supposed to be a two-day visit, followed up with more time in Afghanistan.

The volcano in Iceland, however, changed those plans. As the ash disrupted air travel, Hastings ended up being “stuck” with McChrystal and his team for 10 days in Paris and Berlin. McChrystal had to get to Berlin by bus. Hastings says McChrystal and his aides were drinking on the road trip “the whole way.”

“They let loose,” he said. “I don’t blame them; they have a hard job.”

Rape as an initiation rite in Afghanistan? (updated)

Blimey:

Stewart Jackson, Conservative shadow communities and local government minister and the party’s regeneration spokesman, was reported by audience members and rival parliamentary candidates to have told a public meeting organised by Peterborough Senior Citizens Forum last month that, in Afghanistan, “fifteen year old Muslim boys’ initiation rites are to rape a woman and shoot a foreigner”.

Jackson, who is the sitting MP in Peterborough, confirmed to this magazine that he had made the comments. But he said that the comments were made in reference to the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. He said they were “100 per cent” not his personal opinion but rather a view expressed in a briefing he had received on Afghanistan from the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

He said: “During a public discussion I referred to claims made at an MoD briefing on the situation in Afghanistan, this was part of a serious debate about complex issues and I hope no one is using it to try and score political points.”

But a MoD spokeswoman said that such a description of the situation in Afghanistan would be a complete departure from normal MoD practice. She said: “I can’t say that nobody from the MoD has ever said that but that is not the sort of thing we would ever say in an average MoD briefing”.

Update: This plays into an obsession on the fringes of the right with Muslim ‘rape gangs’. Our old friend, Mark Steyn, is a key promoter of this idea…

Update II: Stewart Jackson appears to have related concerns about the UK’s ‘broken society’:

The heart of Middle England is destined for asylum meltdown… News that the results of New Labour’s failed immigration policy are rising levels of violence and lawlessness on the streets of Peterborough come as no surprise to me – or anyone else who lives in the city…

Anyone walking through the city centre can see increasing numbers of young unemployed Kurdish men hanging around and residents are increasingly fearful as their area is used as a dumping ground for such ethnically mismatched groups like Afghans, Kurds and Pakistanis who riot and fight…

Tensions are growing not just between different ethnic minority groups – but also across the whole city – Pensioners, young families, professionals, Pakistanis. People are angry and feel impotent. When I knock on doors, people tell me that they’re fed up with seeing young men on street corners – mainly asylum seekers – intimidating old people and young women.

They’re fed up with homes being bought up in their neighbourhood by unscrupulous landlords milking the Housing Benefits system to let out to illegal immigrants used as cheap labour. And they’re angry that police resources are being diverted to keep warring factions in the city centre apart, whilst their streets suffer increased burglaries, robbery and car crime.

Update III: The UN has called rape a ‘profound’ crisis in Afghanistan.

Our field research also found that rape is under-reported and concealed and is a huge problem in Afghanistan. It affects all parts of the country, all communities, and all social groups. It is a human rights problem of profound proportion.

Women and girls are at risk of rape in their homes, in their villages, and in detention facilities. Rape is not unique to Afghanistan, but the socio-political context does have particular characteristics that exacerbate the problem. Shame is attached to rape victims rather than to the perpetrator. Victims often find themselves being prosecuted for the offence of zina, otherwise known as adultery.

For the vast majority of victims, there is very little possibility of finding justice. There is no explicit provision in the 1976 Afghan Penal Code that criminalizes rape. Thus, the UN recommended that the legislation on the Elimination of Violence Against Women make explicit reference to rape, contain a clear definition of rape in line with international law, and hold the government responsible for tackling this ugly crime.

The question remains, though, whether there is any evidence of it being used as an ‘initiation rite’. I think Stewart Jackson is going to have to give more details about who from the MOD briefed him and exactly what they said.

On the web: Afghan anniversary, modern terrorism, and the Nobel race…

– With the eighth anniversary of war in Afghanistan, debate about the strategic direction of the conflict continues apace. Foreign Policy has an extract from Gordon M. Goldstein’s Lessons in Disaster – chronicling the key turning points of the Vietnam war and reportedly forming required reading in the current White House. Over at the New Republic, William Galston argues that General McChrystal was right to air his concerns about Afghan strategy in public and ratchet up pressure on President Obama.

– RUSI, meanwhile, assesses the issue of troop numbers on British shores, viewing the commitment to hard power through the lens of the country’s world role. In related news, the Conservatives are set to confirm that General Sir Richard Dannatt, recently retired as Chief of the General Staff, is to advise them on defence policy.

– Elsewhere, Professor John Merriman asks if the bombing of a Paris café at the end of the 19th Century spawned terrorism in its modern form. Current policy, he suggests, would do well to take better account of historical experience.

– Finally, with the slew of annual awards from the Nobel committee well under way, attention turns to possible winners of the economics prize – to be announced on Monday.  Thompson Reuters offers its annual, citation-based, predications here. Brad DeLong, meanwhile, suggests that this year’s gong should go to Mark Gertler and current Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke.