Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Exit strategy: rhetoric and reality

Gordon Brown is talking up the prospect of troop withdrawals next year, handing over greater control to local Afghan forces. Foreign Secretary David Miliband is stressing that it isn't a 'war without end'. This contrasts with the talk a couple of months ago, when top generals were conjuring up visions of anywhere between 5 and 40 years (and weren't contradicted by politcians).

The shift in rhetoric is at least partially a reflection of public mood. Opinion polls have repeatedly indicated substantial majorities wanting troops brought home. It is proving untenable for the government to sustain the earlier line. This is especially so with the rapidly rising toll of UK soldiers killed in the country: 97 this year (so far) is much higher than in previous years.

But if you look beyond the headlines it is clear that little is changing. There are no promises at all - just a vague hope for removing troops from Afghanistan if viable. They are also deploying the old "We can't just walk away" rhetoric and playing up the threat from al-Quaeda if NATO troops left Afghanistan. The woolly talk of withdrawals is also accompanied by encouraging other NATO countries to put more troops in, described as 'burden sharing'.

While they may be groping towards a change of strategy, it's not yet clear this is any more than adapting rhetoric to suit changed conditions. The anti-war movement must remain clear in its recognition that this is a long war - with little sign of progress or a credible exit for US, UK and other NATO forces - and resolute in agitating for a speedy end to this wasteful and inhumane occupation.


  1. Actually, I think they're positioning themselves as an anti-war opposition once the Tories take on running the war. they can then claim that the war would have been over had Labour been re-elected. No one's talking about withdrawal before the election.

  2. I agree it's very significant that Labour won't actually have to follow things through. Their vagueness about timing is certainly deliberate, especially with a general election likely to be less than 6 months away.