Five Military Misadventures

With the Afghanistan war now ten years old, we take a look at some other misguided military operatio

In this week's New Statesman we ask what the war in Afghanistan has achieved. Ten years in and Operation Enduring Freedom, as the war is officially known by the US government, is certainly living up to one part of its name. So far it has claimed the lives of 383 British servicemen and its original operational goals are still no closer to realisation. The British and American fight against the Taliban looks increasingly unwinnable, evoking memories of another ill-fated, decade-long conflict in Afghanistan, waged by the Soviet Union 30 years ago.

The persistent threat of war continues to loom large, with headlines just last week proclaiming that the US and Britain were making preparations for war in Iran. Below we take a look at five other misguided conflicts from history that we in the west would do well to learn lessons from.

1.Gallipoli: A First World War folly that damaged the reputation of Winston Churchill.

2.Suez: Conflict turned crisis which heralded the end of British pretensions to Empire.

3.Cuba, Bahía de Cochinos: The CIA made a real pigs' ear of this failed coup.

4.Vietnam: The 20 year long war became a barometer against which subsequent ill-advised invasions are judged.

5.Iraq: The war that left a legacy of death and mistrust.

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Here's something the political class has completely missed about Brexit

As Hillary Clinton could tell them, arguments about trade have a long, long afterlife. 

I frequently hear the same thing at Westminster, regardless of whether or not the person in question voted to leave the European Union or not: that, after March 2019, Brexit will be “over”.

It’s true that on 30 March 2019, the United Kingdom will leave the EU whether the government has reached a deal with the EU27 on its future relationship or not. But as a political issue, Brexit will never be over, regardless of whether it is seen as a success or a failure.

You don’t need to have a crystal ball to know this, you just need to have read a history book, or, failing that, paid any attention to current affairs. The Democratic primaries and presidential election of 2016 hinged, at least in part, on the consequences of the North American Free Trade Association (Nafta). Hillary Clinton defeated a primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, who opposed the deal, and lost to Donald Trump, who also opposed the measure.

Negotiations on Nafta began in 1990 and the agreement was fully ratified by 1993. Economists generally agree that it has, overall, benefited the nations that participate in it. Yet it was still contentious enough to move at least some votes in a presidential election 26 years later.

Even if Brexit turns out to be a tremendous success, which feels like a bold call at this point, not everyone will experience it as one. (A good example of this is the collapse in the value of the pound after Britain’s Leave vote. It has been great news for manufacturers, domestic tourist destinations and businesses who sell to the European Union. It has been bad news for domestic households and businesses who buy from the European Union.)

Bluntly, even a successful Brexit is going to create some losers and an unsuccessful one will create many more. The arguments over it, and the political fissure it creates, will not end on 30 March 2019 or anything like it. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.