Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Iain Dale on Afghanistan - and Bracknell?

Earlier today Iain Dale wrote on his blog:
With every day that passes, I am convinced that the LibDems will enter the next election campaign with a promise to withdraw from Afghanistan. They daren't come out with it now, but as sure as eggs is eggs, that's the direction in which they are tiptoeing. If it was some principled stance, one could have a rational debate about it, but it's not. It's pure, calculated, naked political opportunism.
I don't know if this is true, but it will not worry my if that is. I have long been asking what we are meant to be doing in Afghanistan, and nothing I have read has given much of an answer.

Besides, what principle is Iain appealing to here? Presumably, that once you adopt a policy you must hold to it no matter how much circumstances change or how counterproductive it turns out to be. It is hard to see much virtue in that principle.

But why this renewed interest in Afghanistan on Iain's part? Let me offer a little conspiracy theory.

Iain Dale is one of seven Tories shortlisted for the Bracknell seat - the selection will be made via an open primary. You can find the full list on the Get Bracknell site, but as far as I can see the only other candidate with as high a profile as Iain is Rory Stewart.

Stewart is known as an expert on Afghanistan and, in particular, as a sceptic on the British presence there. Here he is talking to the Evening Standard in August:

"The fate of the world does not depend on what happens in Afghanistan and it is a ridiculous idea that if we do not fight in Afghan villages, we will be fighting on the streets of Britain. Most Afghans could not find Britain on a map."

But what of our moral obligations? "Don't we have obligations to our soldiers and to our taxpayers?" he shoots back.

"This can't be a blank cheque. You cannot say that we have an obligation to an unknown country which is limitless. You don't have a moral obligation to do what you cannot do. This is not our country."

Worse than the impotence is the irrelevance. Stewart points out patiently that Al Qaeda is not even in Afghanistan but in Pakistan.

"We have come into a room with an angry cat called Afghanistan and a tiger called Pakistan and we are beating the cat. We say, oh it is tiger/cat strategy. But it is really that we don't know what to do about the tiger."

Stewart says that President Obama is locked into Afghanistan to prove that he is tough about American security after the withdrawal from Iraq. And the British are there because we are there.

So how does Iain differentiate himself from his main challenger in the primary? Easy. By positioning himself as the uncomplicated supporter of our boys in Afghanistan and having a got at the hated Liberal Democrats in the process.

I can see that strategy working with the Tory faithful, but will it work with the wider audience the party hopes to engage through the open primary process?

We shall see. But, as I say, it is just a theory. You may enjoy Craig Murray on Rory Stewart too.


Iain Dale said...

Jonathan, I always enjoy a good conspiracy but I am afraid that you are way off beam with this. Very entertaining though!

Manfarang said...

Mr Dale has never been to Afghanistan that is for sure nor does he know his N W Frontier Province history.The lesson of which is to withdraw.

Painfully Liberal said...

I thought that that was a particularly squalid piece from Iain, questioning our motives on what he thinks may become our policy is sort of likeplaying the man ather than the ball before the man even has the ball. My football knowledge is pretty limited but I'm fairly sure that's a foul.

My theory was just that we'd reached the point that comes before every election where Iain abondons his (generally shaky) attempts at objectivity and turns his blog into a fully fledged propaganda machine (I seem to recall a business with Grant Shapps). I prefer your theory though, much more nuanced.

On Afghanistan, I do think it's coming time where we need to solidify our objections to the way it's being prosecuted - possibly draw up a list of specific questions that need to be answered if our continuing presence there is to be justified. Then if we failed to recieve adequate answers we'd have concrete arguments for withdrawing our support.