While getting my quick politics fix this morning on Politics Home, I saw the bit on the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, getting “slapped down” over Afghan policy. According to the Daily Mail, William Hague gave Liam Fox a dressing-down for describing Afghanistan as a ‘broken 13th century’ country and for suggesting that troop withdrawal could happen without development.
In the Times, Fox is quoted as saying: “We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country. We are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened.”
The stories in the press focus on the issue of mixed messages coming out from the various ministers, particularly Andrew Mitchell and Fox. And I have just seen that, in the NS, Samira Shackle has picked up on the story, with comprehensive quotations, and works the angle from the perspective of the offence caused to the Afghan government by these “colonialist, orientalist remarks” by a clumsy Dr Fox.
Not surprising, as the Afghans are an intelligent and proud people who are touchy about any perceived disrespect. In the same vein, Hamid Karzai’s somewhat “erratic behavior” of late can apparently be referenced to Barack Obama’s patronising attitude and “negative body language”.
However, what struck me was that Fox seemed to be making brash statements at odds with British strategy in Afghanistan and the nature of the conflict being dealt with. As he is Defence Secretary, this is a glaring concern.
The conflict in Afghanistan is arguably a “New War”, or what General Rupert Smith in the Utility of Force might categorise as a “war among the people”, which is, he writes:
. . . both a graphic description of modern warlike situations, and also a conceptual framework, in that it reflects the hard fact that there is no secluded battlefield upon which armies engage, nor are there necessarily armies: definitely not on all sides. To be clear: this is not asymmetrical warfare as “war among the people” is different: it is the reality in which the people in the streets and houses and fields — all the people, anywhere — are the battlefield. Military engagements can take place anywhere in the presence of civilians, against civilians, in defence of civilians. Civilians are the targets, objectives to be won, as much as an opposing force.