If you can’t win then you have to redefine what winning means. That is what David Cameron has tried to do with his statement about Afghanistan: ‘mission accomplished’. As Isabel notes, the PM’s speech in Camp Bastion has come up with a new definition of victory:
‘The most important part of the mission … The absolute driving part of the mission is the basic level of security so that it doesn’t become a haven for terror.’
Of course the Prime Minister has to define victory like that because everything else has been such an utter and complete disaster. ‘Our man’, Hamid Karzai has, predictably enough, been stepping away from coalition forces as they themselves prepare to step away from Afghanistan next year. At the same time Karzai, like most of the rest of the parties involved, has been coming to the slow but sure realisation that the Taleban must have some role in the new Afghanistan. Which is what international troops spent much of the last decade fighting to prevent.
The tragedy in all this is almost too terrible to have to spell out. What the Prime Minister has just hailed as victory was achieved more than twelve years ago. Certainly by December 2001. By these lights, after taking out the Al-Qaeda training camps and the support structure by ground and air we should have left. The country would then have fallen into the same mess it is currently falling back into and will certainly be tragically enmeshed in by this time next year. But Britain and America would not have lost hundreds of young service men’s lives in a mission which the politicians who sent them there long ago stopped believing in.