The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘War in Afghanistan’

12 For 2012

Posted by The Futility Monster on January 2, 2012 @ 20:23

Continuing a fine annual tradition, it’s time to lay down a few markers for the coming year. It’s going to be a busy one, methinks…

  1. Starting at home, with yet another boring prediction, the Coalition will last the whole year. Get used to it, Labourites. It ain’t going anywhere.
  2. The Lib Dems will take a pounding in the local elections, especially in Scottish councils, where they will be wiped only for the saving grace that is a truly proportional electoral system. Predictably, it will all be dismissed, and the Lib Dems will accept it and carry on.
  3. David Cameron will finally conduct a proper reshuffle, though it still won’t be particularly far reaching. Osborne isn’t going anywhere and neither is Michael Gove. Lansley may be moved if the NHS reforms pass successfully to give someone else a chance. He will definitely be removed if they fail. The Lib Dems have such a paucity of front bench talent that there is very little room for manouevre… but maybe Nick Clegg will at least get a real portfolio at last, now the “political reform” agenda has vanished.
  4. Ed Miliband will remain Labour leader, in spite of generally underwhelming election results and another defeat to Boris in the London mayoral election.
  5. In Europe, the Euro crisis will be resolved with a “treaty”. The treaty will not get the UK’s blessing, and the EU will proceed into a closer union without the UK, creating overwhelming calls for an in-out referendum. If it starts looking tempting, expect Labour to back the idea.
  6. France will get a “Socialist” President as Sarkozy plunges to inevitable defeat.
  7. Rick Santorum will win the Iowa caucuses, but Mitt Romney will be the Republicans nominee for President.
  8. Barack Obama will squeak a narrow re-election against Mitt Romney.
  9. The Democrats will either lose control of the Senate or it will be an exact 50-50 tie, with Joe Biden, VP, suddenly finding a reason to exist. The Democrats will not re-take the House, but it will be close. This disastrous deadlock will result in two more years of pathetic governance in the States.
  10. Syria will continue to make a mockery of the West – and the uprising will eventually be brutally suppressed. Meanwhile, the rest of the Arab Spring becomes stillborn, and the tendency towards strong, authoritarian governments in the region will persist.
  11. Iran will successfully navigate the year without there being any progress on disarmament, and there will be no military activity of any sort. However, the West will begin sounding the war-drums, and the useless public will buy it.
  12. And all the while the schizophrenic public will continue to ignore the fact that Afghanistan has been, and will continue to be, a catastrophic failure. More lives will continue to be lost, though Obama will, mercifully, confirm a long, slow, drawdown over the next few years.

And the usual bonus prediction… Manchester City will win this year’s Premier League.

See you at the end of the year!

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A Humbling Conversation

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 2, 2010 @ 16:27

Knowing their names makes this even tougher...

Over the weekend I visited my parents back home, and while I was there I happened to bump into one of my younger brother’s friends, a now 16-year-old young adult who once played for the youth football team I used to run.

He was always one of the more amusing characters in the team. Lots of energy and enthusiasm, and since he was a goalkeeper, one of life’s eccentrics. It is definitely true: you have to be a bit mad to be a goalie.

We had a chat. I asked him what he was doing now he’d finished school. Going in the Army, was the answer.

In just two months, he is being packed off to the other end of the country to spend a very long period of time training up to be an Army soldier. Doubtless soon after that, he’ll be in Afghanistan, fighting on behalf of all of us.

I asked him why he wanted to be in the Army.

“It’s a good life, innit”.

But what about Afghanistan?

“It’s just the chance you have to take”.

I dug a bit deeper, hoping for my deepest prejudices to be confirmed. We’re talking here about a working class lad from a very working class family, living in shit housing, in a miserable, forgotten corner of Liverpool. I wasn’t disappointed.

“It’s the only way to get away from here”.

There it was. Despite him not being very academically bright, his head was screwed on. All around him, the signs of deprivation, and despair, were obvious even to him, even though he’d lived through it all his life and knew not much else. More education wasn’t for him. Maybe an apprenticeship would have suited him better, but he was thinking more boldly. Why continue to live on drink-sodden, drug-infested estates when you can get away from all of it by signing up to the Army?

Even if that means putting your life on the line.

Be in no doubt: many of our youth choose to go in the Army and other forces almost because they have no choice. It is the perfect, and only, answer to getting them out of the hole they can see their lives becoming otherwise. Because there is no hope. No alternative. No pathway out.

It really depressed me.

We ask kids like this to make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of our way of life. We horrendously abuse our position of trust by sending them to die in illegal wars like Iraq, and those of troubling direction like Afghanistan.

But still they sign up. And they will always continue to do so because it is a way out of their troubles, and an answer to the question of what to do with their hopeless lives. If they make it out alive.

From those who have the least, we ask them to give the most.

I wished him all the best and wondered if I’ll ever see him again.

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And This Is What We’re Fighting For

Posted by The Futility Monster on February 23, 2010 @ 09:50

The more things change, the more they stay the same...

I don’t know about you, but this story makes me pretty mad…

Western diplomats have expressed deep concern at a decree from Afghan President Hamid Karzai giving him total control over a key election body.

The move gives him the power to appoint all five members of Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC).

The body helped expose massive fraud in last year’s presidential poll, forcing Mr Karzai into a second vote.

The Afghan people, our soldiers, and those of other countries are dying for this.

They are dying to create a sham version of democracy which props up an ailing administration that has no power beyond its base in Kabul.

They are dying apparently to secure a better future for Afghanistan, when all that is happening is, as usual, the people at the top are abusing their position for personal and political gain.

But what can we do?

After all, we put him there. We made sure he continues to be re-elected. We set the framework for the constitutional arrangement of the country. We can’t go preaching democracy and then moan when we dislike the result.

But we’ll plunder on regardless. After all, that is the neoconservative view of the world. We have no principled objection to dictators. We’d just rather they all supported us. See Uzbekistan, China and Saudi Arabia. Oh, and Cuba, North Korea and Iran.

Afghanistan. A complete and utter travesty from which we will never extricate ourselves.

Nice job, politicians.

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Take Responsibility, Politicians

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 9, 2009 @ 09:56

I wonder whether Dubya will be mocked for many generations to come...

Something I’ve moaned about before, and again yesterday, is the likelihood of politicians these days farming decisions out to an external body so they don’t have to take the flak when something goes wrong.

There are many examples in modern political debate, from quangos in regional development agencies, to NICE – which now effectively decides which drugs should be available on the NHS. All decisions which, in the past, were made by democratically accountable ministers, or even councillors.

And the Tories will be no different. Witness George Osborne’s creation of an Office for Budget Responsibility to “hold a Conservative government to account”.  What’s the betting these independent people will give him cover for his budget agenda?

There are two sides to this tale, however. First is that some of these bodies are useful. NICE, for instance, focus on the evidence. Which, in an area of science, is very useful indeed. But the very fact that their final decisions have no political involvement at all can be argued both ways. On the one hand, it is good that delicate issues are dealt with on their own merits, rather than seen through a prism of politicking. But on the other, it almost negates the point of democracy if our elected representatives have their hands tied from day one.

It’s a debate that will run and run because of its complexity. My instinct is to say that the more decisions politicians make, the better our quality of democracy will be. And then I end up arguing against myself, because the natural consequence of that is populist decision-making in search of good headlines. See the farce over the classification of cannabis.

But really my worry on this topic today is one that emerges from the wars we have become embroiled in. As the years go by, it is becoming increasingly apparent that politicians, having got us into this mess, are looking for someone else to carry the can.

Step forward General McChrystal.

Politicians are wimps at the best of times, but when the issue of war comes along now, the first instinct is to ask the generals for their advice. And for that, read buck-passing.

Once it became obvious that Obama’s main man in Afghanistan was recommending lots more troops, it was a sure fire winner that that was what Obama was going to do. Why swim against the flow?

What worries me is when did we start having our strategy decided by the people on the ground? Military generals should be implementing the policy decided by our accountable politicians. Not the other way around. If this plan all goes belly-up, are we supposed to sack McChrystal? You bet Obama would, but it wouldn’t matter, since Obama would get the blame, even though all he did was follow the recommendations of the guy we all previously thought was an expert.

This is why people tire of politics and politicians. There is no leadership any more. There is no bravery. It is all an exercise in trying to make it look like your ideas are backed by an independent authority, and just say you’re merely following orders.

And now we have McChrystal telling us that what we really need to do is take down bin Laden.

Well, thanks.

It’s time for military figures to disappear into the background once more. No more interviews. No more briefings. No more rent-a-quotes.

Let’s make the politicians more responsible for the mess they’ve got us into.

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Obama’s Gamble

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 2, 2009 @ 22:32

Will Obama ever get to be so famous and successful and loved that we only refer to him by his initials? So far, the answer's no...

I don’t have much time to blog today. Fancy that, I’ve been busy…

But my initial reaction to Obama’s plans for Afghanistan was not really a surprise. It was obvious he was planning a major escalation of the conflict. I’m glad he appeared to take some time to think about it, because he will make no greater decision during his presidency.

But if it all goes wrong, that will be it. The end of what could have been a historic presidency.

It’s remarkable how we can be talking about the end of his term when it’s barely begun. But everything in American politics has always been about looking to the future. Those years soon fly by. In 12 months time, Obama will be starting to consider his re-election effort, which will make him even more cautious and more centrist.

Hard to believe that given how much he appears to have bottled out of pushing the agenda he was actually elected on, but still…

Obama is investing his entire political capital in this decision. Political capital that he had in abundance at the start of his presidency, and now is in very short supply. He still just about maintains majority approval in the country – and it will be interesting to see how those figures react in light of this decision – but all signs point to a tough re-election battle right now.

He may be right. I would hate to have been in his position to take this decision. You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Leaving the country now would be a disaster. Staying is a disaster. So maybe Obama is trying to split the difference: in quickly, do the job, out quickly. That would make sense; it would match his pragmatic nature.

But it’s easier said than done. After all, we’re still there now, eight years on.

The American people, and most of the world, have little appetite for further wars. People, though, will be prepared to take one last gamble with Obama on Afghanistan.

If it’s wrong, though, then there is no way back. A presidency that had the potential of being the next FDR laid waste. A new generation of cynics will be born: the youth that helped propel Obama to the leadership of the Free World will turn their backs on Democrats once more.

Amazing the difference a year can make.

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Dither On, Obama

Posted by The Futility Monster on November 13, 2009 @ 10:46

ObamaScratchHead

Wouldn't you be scratching your head too?

After calling a few weeks ago for Obama to grow some balls over US healthcare, I’m now going to spectacularly reverse my position.

However, I feel such breathtaking double standards is justified because of the extraordinary circumstances of the decision I’m going to discuss.

I’m talking – what else – about Afghanistan.

There’s a growing level of concern amongst the talking heads about the fact that Obama is taking so long to decide whether or not he wants to raise the level of the war by sending in more troops.

It has always been assumed that that is exactly what Obama would do. Indeed, he made it a part of his election campaign… though I was always hoping that was just to ensure John McCain couldn’t try to use it to bash him over the head.

But no, it seems Obama is planning to escalate the disaster that is Afghanistan.

And yet. And yet…

There is something slightly reassuring about the fact that he appears to be taking so long about what to do. Some people, even amongst the left, are getting a bit restless about the situation. But I assure you, there is no need to worry.

Why? Because it appears the Americans have finally elected someone who’s interested in what is, perhaps, the most important thing in the world.

Facts. Evidence.

We have become so used to the American president blindly going ahead with what he believes to be the right course of action because of some misguided faith in what is good versus the evils of this world, and to hell with the consequences.

If George Bush had been a fan of the facts, he might have realised that Iraq was folly of the first order. If George Bush had been a fan of the facts, he may not have supported Israel’s extreme reaction to the Hezbollah troop kidnapping.

If George Bush had been a fan of the facts, he might have paid more attention to the sheer hypocrisy of exporting so-called Western values around the globe while working to subvert them at home and abroad with scandals such as warrantless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition and the torture of inmates in Guantanamo.

Meanwhile, there are some complaining that taking such a long time over a decision like this really doesn’t bode well for any other difficult decisions in future. Or, worse, is going to damage his reputation.

I couldn’t disagree more. For what harder decision can there be than one that will inevitably result in the deaths of thousands, if not more? With the amount of evidence and points of view to be absorbed, and many factors to consider, I imagine most of us would find such a judgement to be extremely difficult too. To me, his reputation is enhanced for such a start and sober assessment of the reality in the ground.

Let’s face it, it’s better than the alternatives.

So, dither on, Obama. It might, at least, change the news focus onto outcomes (how the war ends) than process (number of helicopters…)

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Why The Afghanistan War Will Continue

Posted by The Futility Monster on November 6, 2009 @ 10:30

poppy_square

Perhaps we need more white poppies this year...

The question I’m beginning to wonder is simple. How much longer can the political class go on supporting the deaths of British troops in the face of public opposition?

The answer is nuanced and requires a combination of all the following factors:

While opposition is merely “opposition” and not being demonstrated extremely and forcefully, they could conceivably go on for a long time. After all, millions made their feelings known on the Iraq War, and that made no difference. Right now, people may say they oppose the war, but do they have a place to go to express it?

While the main Opposition party supports the war, that too will ensure little changes. When the two main parties are both agreed on a course of action, there is almost nothing stopping it. The Tories support the war as much, if not more, than Labour. Perhaps when Labour are in opposition they may elect a new leader who takes a populist stance on Afghanistan. For governments to be truly put under pressure, it is essential that the Opposition is the articulate voice of the nation’s feelings. That isn’t happening now.

While there is a relatively convincing and wonderfully rhetoric-laced riposte to all opponents of the Afghanistan war. It’s very easy for me to get into a debate with someone and tell them the war must end, but I have to admit I am always put on the back foot if they respond by saying we must remain there or the country will collapse, and then tens or hundreds of thousands will have died in vain. Then there are arguments about terrorism, which, while mostly bogus, give easy soundbites for the warmongers.

While there is a government at utter rock-bottom which knows it really doesn’t matter that it’s backing an unpopular war. Labour couldn’t sink any lower if they tried, and so the party leadership is free to ignore populist demands. Perhaps when the Tories are in government, and it soon becomes “their war” and the poll ratings start to slip… maybe that will encourage a change in direction.

While there is nowhere to go. None of the three major parties are outlining a case for withdrawal. That makes such a view extreme, espoused only by cranks from Stop The War or loony lefties. As such, the only people who appear in the media news cycles to say we need to pull out are figures that don’t look, sound or feel like they represent Britain. Paul Flynn MP made a superb case on Newsnight for pulling out immediately, but until such voices are heard consistently and forcefully across all media, opinions will not harden.

While not enough people refuse to make the issue the number one priority for how they will vote. In the end, it is down to the electorate to make their feelings fully heard.

While politicians don’t have the bottle to say “Enough is enough”. We’ve got into this bizarre situation now where no one wants to be the first to back down or they will be accused either of being unpatriotic or overseeing a defeat for “our boys”.

While tabloid media are not opposed. The government doesn’t necessarily listen to the tabloids, but if it’s being remorselessly attacked by this group as well as other media and the public at large, it all builds up a convincing case.

While Obama refuses to take the lead. It would be rather odd if the world’s policy on Afghanistan was set by the fact that Obama doesn’t want to lose face against the rhetoric of the Republican Party, but that is what’s happening. I get the sense that he’s not prepared to take them on on this issue. In any case, I don’t think he opposes the war anyway. Which is a mistake; this will be his very own Vietnam.

Conclusion

Afghanistan is a total mess, and the sooner we’re out, the better. There is nothing more we can achieve there. Our efforts have succeeded in putting in place a corrupt administration in Kabul, while the rest of the country is run by local warlords. Meanwhile, we allegedly defeated the Taleban in 2002, yet we’re still fighting them seven years later. That is not a good enough return for the deaths of thousands of soldiers and huge, untold numbers of civilians.

The bloodshed, and the madness, must stop.

If it doesn’t, the corrosive effect of politicians failing to appreciate or understand their electorate will continue.

And then maybe our own country will need to be invaded in order to restore “democracy”.

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Conference Call

Posted by The Futility Monster on September 22, 2009 @ 06:44

Does Bournemouth really look like that? I wouldn't know...

Does Bournemouth really look like that? I wouldn't know...

It would be wrong of me to let the Lib Dem Conference pass without some comment on the kind of things that have been coming out of it since it started. After all, it’s ending tomorrow!

The first point of “excitement” to the media came when Nick Clegg downgraded the tuition fee policy to no more than an aspiration. That got Charles Kennedy a little worked up when he suggested it may damage the “heart” of the Lib Dems.

The one worry I have about this change of party position is that it has been justified by the terrible economic position the country is in. But, in fact, one could justify tearing apart the entirety of Lib Dem policy on the basis of the recession.

No… there is something suspicious about it. After all, there have been rumours in the past that senior Lib Dems have been trying to distance themselves from the policy. It now almost seems too convenient that it has been one of the first policies placed on the bonfire as a victim of the credit crunch.

It’s the same feeling that I have when I hear Cameron talking about cuts. I suspect he is a “cutter” by instinct anyway, like most of the Tory party. They’ve been desperate to give the public sector a serious slashing ever since they left office. Now they’ll be able to do it with the most wonderful of covers provided by an economic backdrop that no one can deny.

I fully expect other Lib Dem priorities that are a little costly to join tuition fee abolition on the shelf.

My real problem though is what it does to future recruitment of the party. If we want to grow, we must continue to work hard on the youngest generations, the students and youth, to convince them to choose us. Catch ’em while they’re young, they say. It worked for me.

Meanwhile, other policy planks have included the over £1m property tax… which I think is broadly a good idea. It was quite amusing to watch Andrew Neil yesterday try to defend the poor, downtrodden elderly who might, unbeknownst to them, be sitting on a property goldmine. I don’t think these people actually exist other than in the minds of our opponents on this policy. And even if they do, they will be able to escape paying it as that’s part of the plan.

Then there’s a little something today which might just be a game-changer. Are we really going to call for an end to the Afghanistan war? That’s what the headlines are going to say even if the detail is much more complex. The public would be on our side for sure. But it’s one of the most difficult international issues we’re going to face in the modern era. I really don’t know what the right answer is.

Otherwise, conference hasn’t been all that exciting. A frippery here or there on airbrushing, raising pay of soldiers, some “savage” cuts… it’s all much of a muchness for Lib Dems these days.

But hey, I guess that’s what Conference is all about. It’s not really about selling policy to political geeks like me. It’s about trying to get some airtime for the party’s agenda to the people who are switched off from it most of the year.

The jury’s still out on that one…

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Newsfelch: 27/08/09 – Life. Oh, Life.

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 27, 2009 @ 06:36

What is the significance of this picture to this post? A prize for the winner!

What is the significance of this picture to this post? A prize for the winner!

This morning I’m too busy to write anything substantial. This has been caused by – would you believe it – having an oversupply of work. How excellent.

But I just thought I’d pass some comment on a few of the things that caught my attention…

  • Very sad news about Senator Kennedy. I hope America gets his dying wish of true healthcare reform soon. From a practical perspective, it’s going to be even more difficult though with one less vote in the House.
  • Unsurprising news from Scotland: the polls haven’t really shifted all that much despite there being a slight majority against the Lockerbie bomber release. Nevertheless, I stand by my prediction that the SNP won’t be damaged by this. This is the kind of polling data that the opposition will need to weigh up before they decide to topple a government. If I were a Scottish Labour strategist, this wouldn’t convince me at all.
  • Amazingly, I found someone more cynical about politics than me. I always read Daily Kos to see what the left are up to in the USA. But this post really summed up why many people find politics such a difficult profession to maintain interest in. It’s long, but well worth it.
  • Should Cameron start opposing the Afghan War? Tough call. Wouldn’t be very Tory to do so. But that, in typical Blair fashion, could be exactly what he needs to show how different he is from Conservatives of the past. He’s got to be considering it.
  • Meanwhile, Clegg is pandering to the Telegraph by trying to stir up their indignation over the expenses debacle again. A decent idea… as it is extremely important that people don’t forget exactly why it is we want to bring about the changes we do. But maybe the time to do this is after the Queen’s Speech and in the run up the  election.
  • Finally, yet another reason why Dan Hannan is a huge liability for the Tories. Headlines like this aren’t good. Yes, this is the Guardian. But it hasn’t gone unnoticed in the Telegraph either. He may be an intelligent, erudite man, but I think his public relations sensors are a little off.

Time for work. Well, at least I have a job. Who knows what the long term implications of one-in-six households being completely jobless are going to be…

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What Is Afghanistan For?

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 9, 2009 @ 00:54

Once again - only this dearly departed man asks the right questions...

Once again - only this dearly departed man asks the right questions...

Forgive me a moment for being an old anti-war leftie, but it pleases me that, at last, the continual deaths in Afghanistan have finally been noticed by people.

To me, all deaths in this war are an utter travesty. But I can’t have been the only one to have noticed that in recent times, although each death is reported, it is often little more than a footnote to the news bulletin. From all politicians, no matter which country you pick in the Western world, there is a very cozy consensus around the issue that this is a war we must fight, have no choice in, and therefore all consequences are acceptable.

Each one is always noted in the Commons at PMQs every Wednesday, and is always accompanied with the usual message of defiance – we can’t let the terrorists win, etc. But it is simply taken for granted that the country supports the objectives in Afghanistan, and are willing to make the blood sacrifice that is spilt on a regular basis – even more so in recent days.

However… maybe there is a glimmer of turbulence on the horizon. Today at PMQs, Conservative MP John Maples seemed to suggest his constituents are getting restless about the war. And now we see my party’s dear leader Clegg is starting to get a little worried. And rightly so. We are indeed throwing young lives away in Afghanistan. But, as always, these criticisms are very caged. You’ll note he still supports the war fully.

Yet I am not so convinced, especially after this brutal week, that the public continue to buy this argument that we must remain in Afghanistan until the Taleban are defeated. Personally, I don’t think we are engaged in a war that we will ever win. And the more the news remains bad, the more opposition is likely to build up again over this deployment which, let us not forget, has been going for nearly eight years now with little to no obvious signs of progress.

It really is not clear why we’re in Afghanistan any more. But given recent events, I think the time will come where we see the whole argument being opened up again for discussion.

After such a long time, I think we at least owe our troops that respect: that they are being used for a genuine purpose.

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