UK's top general says Afghan victory in sight but... only in ten years

The biggest question, of course, is how you define "victory": now or in a decade.

Remember Barack Obama's speech on 1 December 2009, in which he announced his troop surge for Afghanistan? The US president was mocked and derided by neoconservatives for failing to use the word "victory" even once.

In an interview in today's Times (£), General Sir David Richards, the Chief of the UK's Defence Staff, has no such reservations. He doesn't use the word "victory" either but makes it very clear that he thinks we'll be triumphant in Afghanistan and "come out of it with our heads held high".

But, he adds a rather important if bizarre caveat:

At the end of the day, we won't know [if it has succeeded] until 2018, '19, '20.

Well, that's that then. A nice get-out. The war in Afghanistan may look, feel and sound like a disaster right now, with soldiers dying on a weekly basis, but - hold on! - wait 10 years, it'll all look fine then. Can you imagine Winston Churchill telling the British in 1940: "We will fight them on the beaches and I promise you, come 1950, it'll look like a victory?"

The biggest issue with Afghanistan, of course, is how you define victory. Is it the obliteration of the Taliban? An end to the threat from Al Qaeda in Afghanistan? The protection of women's rights? The elimination of the drug trade? Liberal democracy from Kabul to Kandahar?

I'm always reminded of how the late Richard Holbrooke once compared the difficulty in defining success in Afghanistan to recognising pornography. Addressing a panel in August 2009, Obama's envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan was asked about how he saw victory occurring in Afghanistan, and what he would do to bring about such a victory.

Holbrooke replied that the US had to be "clear about what our national interests are" but that, ultimately, success would require taking "a 'Supreme Court test': we''ll know it when we see it".

Holbrooke's reference was to a famous line attributed to US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart about how to identify pornography!

 

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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New Digital Editor: Serena Kutchinsky

The New Statesman appoints Serena Kutchinsky as Digital Editor.

Serena Kutchinsky is to join the New Statesman as digital editor in September. She will lead the expansion of the New Statesman across a variety of digital platforms.

Serena has over a decade of experience working in digital media and is currently the digital editor of Newsweek Europe. Since she joined the title, traffic to the website has increased by almost 250 per cent. Previously, Serena was the digital editor of Prospect magazine and also the assistant digital editor of the Sunday Times - part of the team which launched the Sunday Times website and tablet editions.

Jason Cowley, New Statesman editor, said: “Serena joins us at a great time for the New Statesman, and, building on the excellent work of recent years, she has just the skills and experience we need to help lead the next stage of our expansion as a print-digital hybrid.”

Serena Kutchinsky said: “I am delighted to be joining the New Statesman team and to have the opportunity to drive forward its digital strategy. The website is already established as the home of free-thinking journalism online in the UK and I look forward to leading our expansion and growing the global readership of this historic title.

In June, the New Statesman website recorded record traffic figures when more than four million unique users read more than 27 million pages. The circulation of the weekly magazine is growing steadily and now stands at 33,400, the highest it has been since the early 1980s.