Saturday, 8 August 2009

Time to bring them home

This article is also published at

CNN's latest poll shows a clear majority of the US public opposed to the occupation of Afghanistan. It shows a shift in the last three months, with the popular mood moving against the occupation - 54% say they are opposed, with only 41% in favour. The argument for withdrawing NATO troops has rarely been so vilified in the media, yet in both this country and the US recent polls inidcate strong anti-war feeling.

Military chiefs on both sides of the Atlantic have stepped up pressure on political leaders for more money and more troops. Many of those politicians need little persuading anyway - as they are dedicated to the whole long-term imperial project, and Afghanistan's vital place in it - though it nonetheless creates tensions for them that are hard to resolve.

They know the continuing occupation isn't popular, a problem exacerbated by the widely reported rising toll of deaths of US/UK soldiers, and they can't hide from an overwhelming sesne that the war is unwinnable. Pulling them in the opposite direction is the nauseating 'patriotism' of much media coverage, the Right's arguments about underfunding of the armed forces being the core problem, and their own determination to pursue the wider 'war on terror'.

Recent talk of a long war becoming ever-longer, stretching on even for decades, clashes with the brutal political reality that domestically people simply won't tolerate such futility and misery. The casualties mount up, the money keeps pouring in - at a time of increasing hardship due to recession and plans for public service cuts - and the sense of pointlessness eats away at people who aren't traditionally anti-war.

Barack Obama may have been powered to victory in large part thanks to his anti-war stance regarding Iraq - and because he wasn't the warmonger George Bush - but the goodwill towards him can't last forever. The new poll ratings are especially striking when you recall that Obama, greeted with such jubilation on election last November, has consistently been (and continues to be) steadfastly pro-occupation and keen to intensify NATO operations. CNN report opposition to his policy in Afghanistan is mainly among Democrat supporters. A gulf is opening up between the President and those who elected him.

Here we have a politically similar scenario: Gordon Brown was viewed by many as sure to be better than Blair, including in the area of foreign policy, but has turned out (as some of us warned) to be all continuity and no change. It is apparent that change will come only with a strengthening of the anti-war movement in the coming weeks and months, starting with nationwide protests to greet the news of the 200th British soldier being killed (the total is currently 195).

On Saturday 24 October thousands will march in London to demand we bring the troops home now. Regardless of the Westminster consensus on Afghanistan, despite the media's narrowing of debate, this movement reflects majority public opinion - and carries the possibility of real change.

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