Is the conflict in Afghanistan worse than the Vietnam war?

A great blog post over at the <em>New York Times</em>.

I blogged a couple of days ago about the story of the "Taliban imposter" and the "peace talks" in Afghanistan. It turns out that British spooks played a major role in this humiliating episode. Has anyone asked the Prime Minister about this?

From the Times:

An investigation by the Times can reveal that British agents paid Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour from May this year, promoting him as a genuine Taleban figure of the highest standing who was capable of negotiating with senior American and Afghan officials.

But according to officials in Britain, America and Afghanistan, he was uncovered this month as a fraudster, dealing a blow to the credibility of the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. Far from being a former Taleban government minister, the individual concerned is now thought to have been a shopkeeper, a minor Taleban commander, or simply a well-connected chancer from the Pakistani border city of Quetta.

A senior Afghan government official said yesterday: "British Intelligence was naive and there was wishful thinking on our part."

One source with knowledge of the affair described it as simply "a major f***-up".

That's a pretty good description of the Afghan war as a whole, which is often compared by its critics to the quagmire in Vietnam four decades ago. But, as the New York Times's Robert Wright points out on the paper's Opinionator blog, Afghanistan is worse.

Wright writes:

Is Afghanistan, as some people say, America's second Vietnam? Actually, a point-by-point comparison of the two wars suggests that it's worse than that.

For starters, though Vietnam was hugely destructive in human terms, strategically it was just a medium-sized blunder. It was a waste of resources, yes, but the war didn't make America more vulnerable to enemy attack.

The Afghanistan war does. Just as al-Qaeda planned, it empowers the narrative of terrorist recruiters – that America is at war with Islam. The would-be Times Square bomber said he was working to avenge the killing of Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And Major Nidal Hasan, who at Fort Hood perpetrated the biggest post-9/11 terrorist attack on American soil, was enraged by the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

And how many anti-American jihadists has the war created on the battlefield itself? There's no telling, but recent headlines suggest this admittedly impressionistic conclusion: We're creating them faster than we're killing them. And some of these enemies, unlike the Vietcong, could wind up killing Americans after the war is over – in south Asia, in the Middle East, in Europe, in America.

Hawks sometimes try to turn this logic to their advantage: It's precisely because our enemies could remain dangerous after the war that we have to deny them a "platform" – an Afghanistan that's partly or wholly under Taliban control; Communists weren't going to use Vietnam as a base from which to attack America, but we saw on 9/11 that Afghanistan can be used that way.

Actually, we didn't. The staging ground for the 9/11 attacks was Germany – and some American flight schools – as much as Afghanistan. The distinctive challenge posed by terrorism is that the enemy doesn't need to occupy much turf to harm us.

He adds:

Al-Qaeda's ideology offers nothing that many of the world's Muslims actually want – except, perhaps, when they feel threatened by the west, a feeling that isn't exactly dulled by the presence of American troops in Muslim countries.

He ends with a plea to policymakers in the west:

So maybe the message should be put like this: Could we please stop doing al-Qaeda's work for it?

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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"Do not let us down": Scottish MEP receives standing ovation after begging European Parliament

While Alyn Smith won applause, the Scottish Government moved behind the scenes. 

The Scottish National Party MEP Alyn Smith was not exactly a household name before the EU referendum. 

But his impassioned speech to his fellow MEPs begging them to help Scotland stay in the EU has caught the imagination of many Remain voters.

In a session where UKIP's Nigel Farage told MEPs "virtually none of you have ever done a proper job in your lives, Smith struck a very different tone.

Waving a sheet of paper showing Scottish voters had voted to Remain, he said: "I want my country to be internationalist, co-operative, ecological, fair, European. And the people of Scotland, along with the people of Northern Ireland, and the people of London, and lots of people in Wales and England also, voted to Remain within our family of nations."

He urged MEPs to negotiate with cool heads and warm hearts.

And then, raising his voice, he told MEPs: "Please, remember this. Scotland did not let you down. Please, I beg you, cher colleagues, do not let Scotland down now."

MEPs rose to applaud the heartfelt speech. And meanwhile, hundreds of miles away in Holyrood, the Scottish Government had hit the phones.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced she would be meeting European Parliament President Martin Schultz on Wednesday.

Although the SNP's promise of an independent European Scotland was shot down during the Scottish referendum, it seems this time round MEPs are more sympathetic.

Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgium PM, who leads the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe parliamentary group has already tweeted: "It's wrong that Scotland might be taken out of [the] EU."