Friday, September 04, 2009

Step Back from Mission Creep in Afganistan - Part III

The dogs are barking out a warning in the middle of the night. Will they arouse anyone in Washington?

A principal aide to Britain's defense minister resigned on yesterday, attacking Prime Minister Gordon Brown's stay-the-course counter insurgency (COIN) policies on Afghanistan and accusing European allies of not pulling their weight.

Eric Joyce knows what he's talking about.

He is not some Labor Party hack who worked his way up through union ranks. Joyce, a decorated Army Major, is one of the few Labour MPs with military experience.

In his letter of resignation addressed to the Prime Minister, Major Joyce said,
As you may know, I told Bob Ainsworth some weeks ago that I intended to step down as Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to the Defence Secretary before the start of the new parliamentary term.

.... I ... now feel that I can make my best contribution to the Labour effort in parliament by concentrating on helping, as a regular back-bencher, to show that Labour remains sound on matters of Defence.

.... Our continuing success in helping people from all parts of society become more prosperous, while helping the least well-off most, is built upon that .....

We are now, I think, once again at a critical time for Labour and Defence.

The Conservatives, of course opportunistically, think they can convince the public that we have lost our empathy with the Defence community. We must not allow this to happen.

I do not think the public will accept for much longer that our losses can be justified by simply referring to the risk of greater terrorism on our streets.

Nor do I think we can continue with the present level of uncertainty about the future of our deployment in Afghanistan.

I think we must be much more direct about the reality that we do punch a long way above our weight, that many of our allies do far too little, and that leaving the field to the United States would mean the end of NATO as a meaningful proposition.

The British people have a proud history of facing such realities. They understand the importance of the allied effort in Afghanistan/Pakistan and I think they would appreciate more direct approach by politicians. We also need to make it clear that our commitment in Afghanistan is high but time limited.

It should be possible now to say that we will move off our present war-footing and reduce our forces there substantially during our next term in government.

We also need a greater geopolitical return from the United States for our efforts.

For many, Britain fights; Germany pays, France calculates; Italy avoids. If the United States values each of these approaches equally, they will end up shouldering the burden by themselves.
I believe the next election is ours to win, thanks greatly to your personal great economic success. But we cannot win unless we grip defence....
What is the significance of Major Joyce's departure?

First and foremost it registers on the Richter scale declining British public support for the U.K.'s boots on the ground in Afghanistan. Their casualties are intolerably high. and their treasury is intolerably low.

Secondly, it registers concern for the future of NATO unity. NATO, is after all, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Its original purpose was to counter balance of the Soviet Union. A somewhat weaker, but strident and autocratic police state under Putin is currently ascendent. Are we to risk the Atlantic Alliance to founder in a war of choice among the remote desert mountains in Afghanistan?

As I've said before, our British cousins always hear the barking dogs in the middle of the night before my more insulated fellow Americans do.