Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

The Vietnam doctrine and the Powell doctrine

07/10/2014, 12:33:04 PM

by Pat McFadden 

As the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries struggle to put together a strategy to combat Isis the question arises, has the West lost the will to implement the Powell doctrine of overwhelming force and is it by default reverting to the Vietnam doctrine of escalation in steps, with the danger that the steps are not big enough or decisive enough?

The question matters because the decision to engage in military action In Iraq and (for the US) Syria has been characterised as much by what is ruled out as what is ruled in.  Haunted by recent long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both Britain and the US have emphasised at all times their unwillingness to put “boots on the ground”.

What does ruling out boots on the ground mean in practical terms?  There should be little doubt that the leaders of both the US and UK would sanction special forces operations to hunt down the Isis killing squad who are beheading innocent hostages if they knew where they were.  Those special forces would be wearing boots.  And, for a time at least, they would be on the ground.

By talking about no boots on the ground our leaders don’t actually therefore mean no boots on the ground.  They mean something that doesn’t look like an army as in the long and visible military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years.

But when we consider special forces, advisers and other means of co-ordinating military action from the air, and the imperative of stopping Isis establishing a caliphate, it is possible that these lines could become more blurred.

Philip Bobbit, the highly respected US author and academic wrote recently that ruling out boots on the ground was a necessary price for President Obama to pay to get approval for the action from the air that he sanctioned.

Perhaps, but two questions arise.  First, will the line between what is actually happening and what has become ruled out become more blurred as the action escalates?  And if it does, what questions will that raise about honesty and treating the public as adults?  Secondly, if the goal is to do serious damage to Isis and impair its ability to act, does the politics of ruling out boots on the ground conflict with the action necessary to make this goal more achievable?

In other words, is war weariness pushing the West back into an unwitting adoption of the Vietnam doctrine of escalation by degree rather than Powell doctrine of using overwhelming force which replaced it?

For our leaders haunted by the recent experience of Iraq and Afghanistan it is worth remembering, the past did not begin in 2003.

Pat McFadden is Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East

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Ukraine: at some point, Labour will need more than warm words

16/04/2014, 09:06:43 AM

by Rob Marchant

To date on this blog, we have not spoken much about the events in Ukraine: reflecting, perhaps appropriately, the priority it currently has in the agenda of both the British public and its politicians. After all, foreign policy does not win elections in peacetime.

But given that we are surely living through the most tense moment of East-West relations since the height of the Cold War, it behoves us to take a moment to see how Labour might be affected.

Britain, like much of the West, is clearly living through a period of reluctance, even quasi-isolationism, with regard to foreign conflicts. Interventionism may not be dead, but it is most certainly having a nap. A perception that fingers were burned in Iraq and Afghanistan pervades almost all foreign policy thinking, to a greater or lesser extent. And nowhere is this to be seen more clearly than on the fringes of British politics.

On the left fringe, Stop the War Coalition and their fellow-travellers within Labour’s hard left have decided that the West is so fundamentally evil, that they must oppose it so strongly as to apologise for some deeply unpleasant regimes who oppose it (in this case, the borderline-despotic Russian regime). Exhibit A: the Stoppers’ Putin apology pieces, or their frankly bonkers assertion that NATO is “itching for war”, when in fact its constituent nations are going to great pains to avoid the merest hint of military involvement.

On the right fringe, there a few odd backbench Tories along with UKIP; owners of a “little Englander” mentality all, seasoned with an instinctive mistrust of the Establishment and a longing for the smack of firm government. This strange combination ends up with their views converging on, paradoxically – as we saw recently with the Putin-admiring Nigel Farage – the same lines as the left.

Then there is the mainstream of both parties; as we saw on the Syria vote, many of these on both sides are happy to opt for happy isolationism and call it statesmanship.

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Hague’s retreat from ten years of blood, toil and money in Afghanistan

29/06/2011, 12:00:06 PM

by Khalid Mahmood

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, believes he has come up with the groundbreaking policy to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan. He now argues that we can negotiate a settlement with the Taliban. Rather, Mr Hague should, as something of an historian, give some consideration to the events that have led us to where we are today.

The Taliban were a product of the Mujahidin’s uprising against the Soviet Union’s forces in the 1980s. Enjoying the support of the Saudis, the CIA and the Pakistani ISI, they caused huge damage to the Soviet forces, killing thousands and fatally undermining the previously fearsome reputation of the red army.  When the Soviets withdrew, the West and its allies left the Mujahidin and its remnants to its own devices. From the ashes of this unhappiness rose the so called Taliban, who wanted to run the Afghan state according to their twisted interpretation of Sharia law. This interpretation led to the summary executions of men, women and children whose behaviour or beliefs fell short of the Taliban’s exacting standards. We all remember the scenes at the national football stadium in Kabul when a woman knelt on the stadium ground and had a bullet shot through her head. This, along with many other atrocities, was the Taliban’s compliance with Sharia law.

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Labour in Helmand: Operation Overreach?

02/02/2011, 04:30:58 PM

by Rob Marchant

Things like this make me wrestle with myself. My instinct as an activist is to be supportive and I feel like we all need cheering on. But I also need to understand why this trip was a good idea. I felt uncomfortable watching the footage of Labour’s Afghanistan trip and I have this uneasy feeling that those on the receiving end did, too.  In pictures, we saw a gung-ho Ed, Jim Murphy smiling supportively, a slightly sheepish-looking Douglas Alexander, and a bunch of impassive soldier faces. The media coverage seemed neutral, if a little light, because of the tight security and Egypt. But maybe that was just as well.

Perhaps, having grown up in a forces household, I have an over-developed sensitivity to how these things are perceived. Perhaps everyone else involved, here and in Afghanistan, thinks it was a great idea and saw a clear rationale. I understand the need to show we are not “soft” on defence, but are solidly behind our troops. It is also legitimate, up to a point, to try and emulate the prime minister in the things you do, so that voters can visualise you in the role. (more…)

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Michael Dugher on the strategic defence review

21/06/2010, 11:07:35 AM

At the General Election, all three main parties were committed to holding a strategic defence review (SDR) as part of their manifestos for government. Today in the House of Commons, the debate begins as to how we configure our armed forces for the challenges we face in the coming years. How Labour engages in this will be important.

In February, Labour in government produced Adaptability and Partnership: Issues for the Strategic Defence Review, the green paper which paved the way for the SDR. The document set out very well the principles that underpin Labour’s approach.

The first is that we cannot simply “defend our own goal line”. This is a response to the “troops out” message that goes out, not just from anti-war protesters, but from sections of the media and parts of the wider public, usually in response to ever-mounting casualties in Afghanistan. (more…)

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