Today is Armed Forces Day, and I don’t recall seeing such collective negativity
from newspapers and broadcasters on the Afghan war. It borders on despair. Most news outlets have dissected David Cameron’s comments yesterday, where he could only offer the hope that
troops would be withdrawn by the end of this parliament. Cameron’s non-committal answers, the regular drip of casualties and the sense that the surge has become a slog have led journalists
and analysts to conclude, en masse, that the war is unwinnable.
Three interviews are particularly striking. Nick Harvey, the armed
forces minister, re-iterated Cameron’s comments in the exact same terms. As I argued yesterday, the vague statements pose questions not answers. I suspect this is
deliberate, and the government wants NATO to review its strategy. Sure enough, the Times confirms rumours that Rory
Stewart is beginning to influence David Cameron, going so far as to say that Stewart’s incantations are now echoed by Cameron in private. Stewart tells the Times that NATO cannot win, even if
600,000 troops were deployed – the tribes will resist any central authority in Kabul. Stewart advocates a ‘long but light’ presence, providing civil and limited military
protection to local potentates; Cameron endorsed such a position in yesterday’s interview.
David Miliband has arrived at roughly the same juncture, but
with one significant addition. He calls for a political settlement that embraces both victors and vanquished. That rather assumes that NATO is the victor, and besides, accommodating the Taliban could alienate the Northern Alliance. Realistically though, a settlement can
only be obtained through negotiation.
An unspoken observation slides beneath this morning’s coverage: American leadership in Washington and Kabul is fractious, confused and contradictory, a sure sign that the war is being lost.
But that story is for another blog.