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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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.