Tuesday, July 03, 2007

War is a continuation of politics

William Hague has made three demands of the UK government on Iraq.

First, “to undertake a review of the progress of British strategy in Iraq”. Second, “to submit a quarterly report to Parliament on progress achieved in Iraq towards meeting goals”. And third, he renewed his party’s calls for the government to “hold a full inquiry into the origins and conduct of the war”.

These suggestions have some merit, although the timing of them is debatable.

In a speech that ranged across the Middle East and beyond, he also covered Afghanistan. He made comments about “creating an Afghanistan that can work for the Afghans, that can look after the security needs of the Afghan people”; he argued that we must “significantly improve the coordination of our aid and reconstruction efforts”; and he remarked that “we must be well resourced both internationally and nationally … we must ensure that our activities are coordinated effectively and efficiently … we must ensure that Afghanistan is not isolated from its neighbours”.

His comments on Afghanistan seem sound (if borderline banal), but there’s a curious omission. In fact, there are three curious omissions. If Afghanistan is so important, why no “review of the progress of British strategy” there? Why no “quarterly report to Parliament on progress achieved” there? And why no “full inquiry into the origins and conduct of the war”?

He notes: “While Afghanistan and Iraq are two different theatres, lessons learned from Iraq will benefit our efforts in Afghanistan.”

No doubt. But by the same token, could not lessons from Afghanistan help in Iraq – or, indeed, in Afghanistan? And isn’t learning lesson for the future a good thing generally? So why no progress review, quarterly reports and full inquiry?

A cynic might note that both the original invasion of and the continued UK presence in Iraq are more unpopular than in Afghanistan. This cynic might also suggest that calling for reviews, reports and inquiries is a crafty way of keeping criticism of the Iraq operation in the headlines without either having to risk a public U-turn yourself or having to think of your own alternative policies.

Pesky cynics.

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