Though Nick Clegg has greater pre-existing international experience than either David Cameron or Gordon Brown (having worked in Brussels), he cannot help but see international affairs through a narrow political lens. Last year it was Israel’s targetting of Hamas, now it is Nato’s Afghan mission.
Clegg wants the British troop contribution to ISAF either massively expanded or for the boys to come home. Simple enough. But it is also a sign that the Lib Dems, despite having such foreign policy luminaries like Ming Campbell on their benches, lack depth.
It would be great for the number of British troop in Helmand to be expanded. But with almost 9000 troops already deployed, any uplift is likely to be limited. The Armed Forces are simply too stretched to deploy a whole lot more and sustain a greater deployment for a longer period. (Deploying more troops will likely require greater resources for UK defence, a policy I now look forward to the Lib Dems sustaining). So any military uplift lift is ikely to – and probably will – come from the US.
But just because you can’t send all the troops that you want, does not mean you send none. Where would such a strategy have left Britain during World War II? Or even during the Falklands War? Britain is part of a UN-mandated coalition which, as far as I am concerned, is making my life safer by keeping Al Qaeda-affiliated insurgents on the backfoot. Going home is not an option.
That does not mean mistakes have not been made. It does not mean the government’s strategy is the right one. UK Afghan policy is, at best, on autopilot with few Labour ministers giving the war its due attention. On this the Lib Dem leader is right.
But though Nick Clegg may not want to start from here, this is where we are. Facing up to tough choices is what governments – and serious opposition leaders – are meant to do. It is no good debating whether the Iraq War was right if you don’t spend time trying to solve Iraq’s current problems. The same logic goes for Afghan policy.
It would be best if Nick Clegg stopped playing politics with warfare.