The wrong war, being PC and Bono

Joe Biden could yet rescue the Obama presidency from a military quagmire in Afghanistan

The wisdom of Joe

Is Joe Biden the wisest man in Washington, DC? The irredeemably prolix vice-president is often mocked for his gaffes - including asking a disabled man in a wheelchair to "stand up" during the election campaign, and declaring Hillary Clinton to be "more qualified than I am to be vice-president". He's always seemed to me to be Obama's John Prescott. But while Prezza did nothing to break the consensus on Iraq, and supported Bush and Blair in their military misadventure in Meso­potamia, Biden has become the White House's sceptic-in-chief about the so-called good war of Afghanistan.

Biden, author of a memo entitled "Counter-terrorism Plus", which advocates a shift in US strategy from counter-insurgency and nation-building in Afghanistan to a more limited mission narrowly focused on counter-terrorism operations, is keen to tilt the administration's focus to Pakistan and redefine the problem as "PakAf", rather than "AfPak".

At a recent meeting of national security advisers at the White House, Biden asked how much the US was spending on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The answer came back as $65bn and $2.25bn (£39.6bn and £1.37bn), respectively. "Well, by my calculations that's a 30-to-1 ratio in favour of Afghanistan," he said. "So I have a question. Al-Qaeda is almost all in Pakistan, and Pakistan has nuclear weapons. And yet for every dollar we're spending in Pakistan, we're spending $30 in Afghanistan. Does that make strategic sense?"

It doesn't. If Biden succeeds in convincing his commander-in-chief that Afghanistan is the wrong war in the wrong country, he may end up helping rescue the Obama presidency from the kind of Vietnam-style military quagmire that sucked in LBJ's presidency.

Griffin on Question Time

What do Alan Yentob, Ben Elton, Loyd Grossman and Esther Rantzen have in common? They feature in a list of "the Jews" compiled by the BNP leader, Nick Griffin, in 1997, in a notorious pamphlet that purported to reveal the influence of "organised Jewry" on the media. Did Griffin imagine that, 12 years later, he would be invited by the "Jewish" BBC to participate in the corporation's flagship current-affairs programme, Question Time? Who says anti-Semitism doesn't pay?

In defence of political correctness

Here are a few tips for those of you who, perhaps inspired by the Daily Mail, might want to launch a campaign against "political correctness". First, best not to tell an opponent of Asian origin in front of a mixed audience of students that there are worse things to be called than "Paki". Second, best not to claim that homosexuals have lower life expectancy in response to a point about the death of Stephen Gately. Third, best not to lay all of the country's problems at the door of "mass immigration".

This was the seemingly suicidal strategy of the former Ukip candidate Will Burroughs, son of the author Lynette Burroughs, in a recent debate at the Cambridge Union in which I participated (and won by a 34-vote margin). My argument in defence of political correctness - an ugly phrase, but invented, as it happens, by the right - was straightforward: a politically correct society is a civilised society, one where we no longer tolerate Asians being called "Pakis" or black people "niggers". Is that too much to ask?

The truth about terrorism

The next day, after the Cambridge Union debate, I went on Sky News to confront Lord Pearson of Rannoch, Ukip peer and front-runner to succeed Nigel Farage as the next leader of the party that David Cameron once referred to as a bunch of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists". Pearson is the man responsible for inviting Europe's best-known bleached-blond Aryan, the Dutch MP Geert Wilders, to this country to explain to us all how Islamic culture is "retarded" and why "there is no such thing as 'moderate Islam'".

In the midst of our rather heated discussion, his ignoble lordship made a sweeping claim that terrorism across the world is "coming from Islam". This is a lazy but popular slur, and time did not permit me to ask Pearson how he explains the actions of the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, who, even before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, were responsible for more suicide bomb attacks than any other group on earth. How about the 828 people murdered by the Basque separatist group Eta, including two police officers killed in July? How does he account for the fact that more international terrorist attacks occurred in Latin America between 2000 and 2002 than anywhere else in the world? Is Colombia's Farc now considered an Islamist group? Does Peru's Shining Path, which killed 13 soldiers in April, take its orders from Muslim imams? Does the Real IRA?

Terrorism is a secular crime, not a religious ritual. Despite the hate-filled claims of Pearson, Wilders, Griffin and their friends, terrorism is a crime that blights a range of communities, faiths and nations around the world.

Bono shows it's good to talk

Is there no statesman, leader or politician on the planet before whom the U2 frontman Bono will not abase himself? Having appeared via video link at both the Labour and Conservative party conferences and allied himself with Gordon Brown and David Cameron, he has most recently hailed Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, though he was once also a fan of George W Bush and "the incredible job" the latter supposedly did. He even agreed to have a chat with the hapless Sarah Palin during the US election campaign last year. Speaking truth to power? No, Bono just likes speaking to power.

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.

This article first appeared in the 26 October 2009 issue of the New Statesman, New York / London