Afghanistan Failure: This Time We Must Learn

Early on, after the intervention to disable the Al Qaeda terrorist base, I pointed out that no country had ever successfully occupied, governed or conquered this spectacular region known in Empire days as the North West Frontier. Even the Russians had left. So if we went in it would end in failure. The Taliban, formerly known as the Mujahidin when in Soviet days we regarded them as allies and friends, would bide their time. But in the end they would take over again.

This is happening now. No military intervention to stop them will work. Some Special Forces cover for our diplomatic and aid assets may be needed, but we will have to accept that in spite of the massive resources poured in to enable the elected government to function and its forces to prevail, sooner or later it will fall. It is too corrupt and incompetent to survive and its western values are inherently abhorrent to Afghan national culture.

It is however possible to influence  positively  the future direction a Taliban dominated country takes. It will not be done militarily. Nor will the expectation be realised that democracy will triumph as a structure because it is best. It is best for the West for sure and we slaughtered millions of our own on the journey to reach it. But it is not best for everywhere. There are other ways of governing, even if we do not like them.

Where we can influence is with money. The Afghan economy depends almost entirely on aid or the growing of opium to fund illegal drugs across the world. Putting money into local industrial development of a mixture of modern technologies and traditional crafts would transform much of what is wrong there now. But there is one condition. The Taliban would have to be on board with the project. That may not be as difficult as it looks.

England Glory: But Will It Long Shine?

I am not a football expert. I was useless at school. I was especially bad at goalkeeping so I was always put there by teachers who wanted the other team to win. My side of course lost and then  I was set upon by angry team mates and blamed for their own failures. So I hate the game. But I keep up with the general drift of what is going on. I was surprised, I am ashamed to admit, that England won last night because the last time they got this far in anything was before I was thirty.

So now the big moment approaches against Italy, unbeaten in 33 games. A big ask. But the nation’s widest dreams will be realised if just one cultural attitude is stamped on before the game starts. It is an English cultural phenomenon that it is somehow okay to lose. It is a decent thing to be a good loser. The nation can be proud of heroes in defeat. Forget all that.

The only reason we play is to win. Nothing else. Winning is all and everything. That is what team England can, will and must do. Then the nation can fall at their feet in a delirium of celebrations. For at last, real gold standard history making heroes they all will be.

Forgotten Brexit: But Not In DUP Land

The pandemic has more or less driven Brexit from public consciousness. Except in Northern Ireland.

NI voted against leaving the EU by a comfortable majority. Inexplicably, the DUP who lead the government there, campaigned for Leave. They got their way. Now the consequences are clear they don’t like it. Sorry, no sympathy from me. The simple truth is you can either be in the UK home market or you can be in the EU single market. NI, by the Brexit treaty, remains in the EU single market. But some concessions were made so that it could continue to trade with the UK mostly tariff free, but subject to checks. These take time. Get efficient, or get your stuff elsewhere.

NI remains in the political union of the UK and is outside the political union of the EU. It has always been my view that Ireland is one country, partition was a mistake and the sooner it becomes one the better. It is now clear this will happen because the majority will, when given the opportunity, vote for it. This will be sooner than many people think.


Pandemic Progress: Managing Expectations

Nobody expected in early 2020 that we would still have much of our lives controlled by a pandemic that few even realised was one, over half way through 2021.

Optimists now believe the vaccine roll out indicates we can ditch all restrictions before the end of this month and life can return to normal, although most accept that it will be a very different normal. Pessimists believe that while the vaccines are helping we still need to maintain some level of restrictions into the foreseeable future, since otherwise the the NHS will be overwhelmed in the autumn by a combination of seasonal flu, winter respiratory ailments among the frail and elderly and Covid among the unvaccinated.

The political problem for the government is that it has bet the house on the vaccines and the vast majority of the public across the political spectrum, whether they love Boris or hate him, have bought into the project. They have done so for their own and their families’ safety. But also, this is important, because they are doing the right thing and helping to protect others.

Now if we keep the focus narrowed to the pandemic, a compromise between these two views is relatively easy to imagine. But if we add in the economy, education, jobs, wellbeing, mental health and the whole range of socio economic challenges, then what is best is far more difficult to determine. It is clear the public has largely had enough of curbs to what they can and cannot do, especially now that the majority are vaccinated, so politically the government has little choice than to live up to the enthusiasm of its freedom day offer.

It will do this, even though the case numbers are rising fast and with further easing will rise faster still. It believes the link between case numbers and serious illness or death has been broken by the vaccine.  Even if it has, there is highly regarded modelling out there that shows a surge of hospital admissions, which though it may not topple the NHS, will again put it under considerable strain. Many more will live because of younger ages and better treatment, but the process of treatment will still demand that extra heave from an NHS which has already given more than a very full measure.

Blog Returns from Holiday

I have been away in places where Wi-Fi is in the stone age and more recently have been very busy with family reunions as lockdown restrictions ease. Now I feel motivated to start commenting again.

As an opening  thought I think it is time to update the scope of this blog. It is a commentary on politics and current affairs and has no affiliations to any political party, all of which are fiercely attacked or enthusiastically supported, depending on what they do that day. There is a general feeling that the standard of political competence is at a low ebb across the board and the fabric of the state is frayed and full of holes.

There will be two underlying themes. Rebuilding a fairer economy post pandemic and reforming of key institutions to make that possible. Beyond those developing arguments there may also be random observations about current affairs as events happen.  From time to time adverts will appear for the catalogue of current books under my authorship or my nom de plume Tor Raven.

Happy reading and thank you for your support.


Israel and the Palestinians: Violence Again: UK Foreign Office Weakness.

The terrifying upsurge of violence in the Middle East is shocking.  It is also all too regular an occurrence in a cycle of hatred and discord which seems almost everlasting. Arab and Jew occupy the same region and somehow have to be friends.

Some progress towards this obvious goal has be made recently, but the core problem, the absence of a formally recognised Palestinian state with defined boundaries and secured with a peace treaty with Israel, remains in hopeless disarray. So does the fantasy that some kind of Greater Israel can inclusively absorb and recognise Palestinian  territories and their populations into a harmonious state. The civil unrest in Israel itself is a new dimension which makes things worse not better.

There will and can be no solution until Palestine becomes a recognised state and Israel must be made to accept that. Then both states can be required to become responsible members of the international order and all its institutions. The present mix of Israel in continuous breach of UN resolutions it does not like, hell bent on illegal annexations and evictions of other people’s land which in turn provokes terrorism and violence in a desperate response, is a totally bankrupt political ideology which this country should be robust in condemning.

Instead our Foreign Office shuffles from one platitude to the next in a cowardly avoidance of addressing the real problems. Meanwhile as we wring our hands while ministers waffle catch phrases from platform to platform across the media, civilians on both sides are subjected to  bombings and rocketings which slaughter and terrify without justification by any civilised measure.

As a small child I was under bombardment from the air with missiles, bombs and rockets during WWII. I know what it is like. This should not be happening.


The Queen’s Speech

The most remarkable thing about it was that it was delivered by the Queen herself, flawlessly and without any stumbles at the age of 95, having in recent months lost her husband, had a family bust up and been locked down by Covid. No stamina or mental health issues here for sure. Whether you are a fanatical royalist, lukewarm about the monarchy like me or a committed republican, this was gold star.

Now about the content. It was big on aspiration but spare on detail. It dodged the most critical question of social care. The Tories have been in power for eleven years now and have continually promised, fudged and failed to deliver on this central flaw, not only in the welfare state but in the way our society is organised and with what priorities. After Boris promised at the beginning of his tenure on the steps of Downing street that he had a plan to fix it and he would, the vacuous remarks in the Speech, if not untypical of his showman style, were disappointing.

The proposal to sort out  some aspects of our unwritten constitution is on the other hand bold, welcome and right. It seems to be willing to deal with two points. The first is the idiocy of a fixed term parliament linked to a first past the post electoral system with a constitutional fudge which invests enormous power in the person of the monarch but refuses to allow the incumbent to exercise any of it, without the express direction of parliament which, in all matters, is sovereign.

The result was  chaos during the two years of May’s premiership following the loss of her majority in 2017, when parliament thought it could become the executive, but could not agree on any plan it wanted to execute. What should have happened (the Queen was unwilling to intervene,  her grandfather George V would have) is  either a national government or May going back to the country for a specific mandate. Finally Johnson was able to engineer this, but by a procedural manoeuvre rather than exercising the traditional reserve power of all previous prime ministers before the now tarnished Cameron, to ask for and get a dissolution. So restoring that power is very welcome.

The second point is this. You cannot have a Supreme Court making political judgements, as it did twice during the Brexit chaos, without a codified constitution which lays down clearly the rules by which government must govern. Since England, at least, seems incapable of agreeing to such a thing, the only other option is to limit by statute the power of the Supreme Court to rule on issues of  governance. This is, it would appear, the plan and it if is it is good.