Tuesday, 16 November 2010

British Realism on Al Qaeda?

Something The US Should Also Learn

General Sir David Richards is the newly-installed Chief of the Defence Staff. He is a 39 year career army officer. In an interview published in the Daily Telegraph, he appears to present a more contained and realistic view on dealing with Al Qaeda and other forms of Islamic militancy. Whilst he has to defend his country's current commitment in Afghanistan, he does so with an expression of wishful thinking, rather than military conviction.

Defeating al-Qaeda and Islamist militancy

The general subscribes to the notion that such an ideologically-driven adversary cannot be defeated in the traditional sense, and to attempt to do so could be a mistake.

"In conventional war, defeat and victory is very clear cut and is symbolised by troops marching into another nation's capital.

First of all you have to ask: "do we need to defeat it (Islamist militancy)?" in the sense of a clear cut victory, and I would argue that it is unnecessary and would never be achieved." It is a bold statement and he quickly adds: "But can we contain it to the point that our lives and our children's lives are led securely? I think we can."

This sort of talk would have you "gone by lunchtime" in the United States. He goes on to suggest that Islamic terrorism is not fundamentally a military problem but a religious and philosophical one. He believes it will only be "defeated" by westernising those lands where Al Qaeda is now supported. He does not use the term "westernise" but that is actually what he has in mind.
Education, prosperity, understanding and democracy, he argues passionately, are the weapons that would ultimately turn people away from terrorism, although he admitted that to believe that such an undertaking could be achieved "within the time frame of the Second World War would be naive in the extreme".
Ah, yes, back to that doomed notion of "nation building".

We believe a far more sane and enlightened approach would be for the US and others to focus their military and policing efforts on protecting their citizens from attacks. It should not be upon removing the threats. Such a goal is idealistic and naive. It sucks nations into social welfare programmes and "nation-building" in such extremely primitive places like Afghanistan (which, of course, have to be protected by the requisite military force and presence.)

Reading between the lines, General Richards appears to be setting up a point at which he will begin to argue for withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"I believe the sacrifice made by British troops in Afghanistan has been worth it," he said, the smile slipping from his face. "I keep well in touch with servicemen and women and that is all our views."

Recent polling in Afghanistan also suggests that up to 90 per cent of Afghans do not want the Taliban to return but the general admits that the country is beginning to tire of Nato's failure to deliver on many of its promises.

He continued: "If I thought for one minute that the majority of the Afghan people didn't want us any more – then I and everyone else would say that it's time to go, we've failed.

"But there is no indication of that. The vast majority do not want the return of the Taliban and it must be in our strategic interest to see that whole region stabilised before we eventually go, which we will do.

Ninety percent of Afghans do not want the Taliban to return. Must have been some real smart polling that was done. If that were true, victory would have been achieved five years ago. He cannot really believe that. We suspect he is looking for as fast an exit as possible.

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