Thursday, 3 May 2012

It's What Politicians Don't Say That Matters

The British media are obsessed with the Olympics and News International they appear to have forgotten the UK is at war with another country.

Yesterday, In Kabul (pictured) President Obama signed an agreement with President Karzai to keep a major US military presence in Afghanistan (currently about three times its original size) through the end of 2014 and to allow a significant unspecified presence beyond that date, with no end date stipulated. He stressed that no permanent US bases would be involved, but his agreement requires Afghanistan to let US troops use 'Afghan' bases.

Earlier this week Obama spoke of a transition to Afghan control but we've heard that talk for years.  We've heard it from No 10 too, but that's not surprising given that British PMs parrot instructions received from Washington.

Obama is promising to leave Afghanistan, but not yet. Except he isn't promising to ever leave at all.  The agreement is open-ended.  It says it enters into force when 'the Parties notify one another, though diplomatic channels, of the completion of their respective internal legal requirements'.

Obama, like Brown and now Cameron, said that he would withdraw troops at a steady pace and says that it will be the end of 2014, not when the last troops leave, but when a significant number of troops remain, as Afghans become 'fully responsible for the security of their country'. The troops are required in specific training roles and other miscellaneous projects.

Having read this agreement it is vague and unforgivable. David Cameron has tried - not at all successfully - to convince the British public that a only a small number of our armed services would be left in Afghanistan after 2014.  He desperately wants to assure the electorate, before the next general election, that our troops will be brought home before they go to the polls.  What he hasn't told us is that British troops may, very possibly, have a presence in Afghanistan for decades to come.

But we knew that didn't we?


JRB said...

This has nothing to do with the situation in Afghanistan. America has pretty well washed her hands on that.

This is about longer term strategic planning and maintaining a military presence in what is a highly volatile corner of the world.

To the north the Turkmenistan and all the other ‘stans’ that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. America doesn’t want them drifting back to their old allies.

To the far north, Russia, and although she me be for now a sleeping bear, the Americans are always aware of her presence.

To the east China, soon to be the worlds number one super-power. America’s presence in Afghanistan is an irritating thorn her side.

To the south-east there is highly volatile Pakistan, a country that could easily become a ‘failed state’ and fall into the hands of extremists.

And finally - the ‘big one’. Iran, on Afghanistan’s western border. This is what America is currently after. Her remaining presence in Afghanistan provides the opportunity to attack Iran, as America would appear intent on doing, on more than one front.

Afghanistan – what’s Afghanistan – its now just another strategic base for American forces.

subrosa said...

Excellent summary JRB and you've shown exactly what politicians don't want the general public to know.

They want us to believe it's to fight terror when it's to secure their interests in that part of the world.

I can't see our troops being free of operations there for decades.

Anonymous said...

SR - I agree that what politicians do not say can be very important. But when you say in your follow-up post “it’s to secure their interests", whose interests do you mean? Is it your view that our politicians have "interests" in that part of the world that are not shared by the rest of us? Maintaining the presence does not seem to be a vote winner so it is not apparent to me that our politicians would do this to bolster their direct interests (i.e. to stay in power). After all, which significant voting constituencies in the US and the UK are going to stop voting for Obama or Cameron, respectively, if the military is withdrawn completely from Afghanistan?

I think that our politicians have taken the view (rightly or wrongly – we can have a debate on that) that it is in our national interests to maintain a military presence in that part of the world. You can argue at length about their reasoning (interestingly this reasoning has been broadly shared by successive Republican, Democrat, Labour and Conservative/Libdem administrations) and also condemn the fact that said politicians are not more frank with their electorates as to the real reasons for maintaining the presence. But I think it is a stretch to say that the policy is based only on a narrow self-interest; I just can't see it.

Brian said...

JRB has overlooked the very important role of India in the region. The Indian Elephant in the room? ;)
This article is quite informative:

Perhaps America wants a peaceful, stable solution in order to make it easier for American companies to do business in the area. If so, how wicked of them.

subrosa said...

Interests such as oil, arms, minerals etc Anthony. Why else would the US etc be there? Al-Quaeda is no longer a threat there and that was the reason for the war - at least the reason the public were given.

I don't have an answer to your question.

subrosa said...

That's how I see it Brian.

Anonymous said...

SR - whose interests in "oil, arms and minerals"? Do you really think that there is a cabal behind those politicians conducting foreign policy in every American and British government of the past few decades (irrespective of governing party) that coerces those politicians (and the political rivals who will shortly replace them from time-to-time after elections) to support the cabal's nefarious business activities in the Middle East? Does that seem even remotely plausible?

Or could a simpler explanation be that ruling politicians in the US and the UK see and understand that maintenance of the free flow of oil out of the Persian Gulf is critical to the health of the global economy and that the adverse economic consequences of any interruptions to it would be so devastating that even the slightest prospect of it cannot be tolerated? And the risk that such flow would be interrupted should the US projection of power into that part of the world cease is incredibly high and very real. E.g. if the US were no longer there: a resurgent Shia Iraq invades the oil rich Eastern Province in Saudi Arabia to "liberate" its oppressed Shia co-religionists; or the Saudis and Iran have military clashes in the Gulf over the fate of the oppressed Shia in Bahrain; or the predominantly Shia population of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia rises against their Sunni oppressors, shutting down the largest and most productive oil field in the world, and so on and so forth - all such conflicts leading to shut down of the flow of oil. And if the US completely withdrew, do you think other powers who are even more dependent on the free flow of oil out of the gulf would stand idly by? How long before the Chinese navy seeks to enter the gulf to reopen the shipping lines?
While there are large reserves of oil spread throughout the world, the fact remains that the greatest and most easily accessible oil reserves and the bulk of oil production capacity is centred on the Persian Gulf. This fact is fundamental to global energy markets and, consequently, the price of transportation in every corner of the world. Allowing any power (within the region or without) the ability to shut down or slow the flow of oil out of the Persian Gulf would send a shock wave through the global economy. We saw more than a hint of this during the Arab oil boycott in late 1973 and then again during the Iranian revolution of 1979. Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and his attempted invasion of the Saudi Eastern Province during the First Gulf War also give you a real insight into what could have happened but for the United States’ willingness to project power.

So yes, we all have an interest in the continuing projection of US military power into the Middle East from Afghanistan or anywhere else. Maintaining this presence is not a matter of protecting the narrow interests of politicians or supposed related oil, arms or mining interests - protecting the commercial interests of some nasty arms traders or greedy oil executives. It is to protect our very way of life. We might not like the fact we are so dependent on an open Persian Gulf. We might think that we should do something to stop this state of affairs. But we have to face the economic reality that even now there is no economic alternative to this energy and until an economic alternative is developed we are stuck with the geopolitical consequence of that oil and the countries under which it lies. And given this reality, I for one am truly glad that we have benign, democratic, electorally accountable powers, who are subject to the rule of law and have (largely) free markets projecting their power into this critical and troubled region. This 'projection' has been very far from perfect (e.g. invasion of Iraq) and the fact it is needed at all is rightly distasteful in our post-colonial world, but unless we want to undergo a massive decline in our standard of living, it needs to remain.

hatfield girl said...

Italy's not leaving Afghanistan either. Prime Minister Monti signed a fresh agreement with the Afghan President in January.

Yes, there are troops leaving etc., etc., in 2013 and 2014 (as announced all over). No, that doesn't mean that the Herat Italian sectors will be given over to Afghanis of whatever culture or allegiance because the 'training' programme, the development and assistance programme will roll on.

I wonder if really what is being organised is a complete revamp of the command structures of the First World presence in Afghanistan.

subrosa said...

Anthony, sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction and yes, it wouldn't surprise me in the least there is some form of cabal behind the US/UK involvement in the middle east.

Of course the oil is important because the US is determined Russia won't take control of it and that's well recorded. Also well documented is the fact that the UK troops first job was to place the pipeline.They did, at some considerable expense to lives.

You're right about a Shia Iraq - but that is of the US's making as well all know.

Regardless of middle eastern oil I think our standard of living will decline in the future. The cost of renewable energy will be too much for many and therefore only the wealthier will survive. But that's another story.

Thank you for your excellent contribution.

subrosa said...

Hatfield girl, I remember that and have a note of it somewhere. Thanks for reminding me.

I'm not sure what is being organised but there's certainly something being planned.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Consider this Karzia and his warlords get more money in direct aid every year than Scotland gets from Westminster.

And no, that doesn't include the costs of the troops and the war machine.

subrosa said...

Strangely enough Crinkly, I did think that after I'd published the post. Thanks for mentioning it.

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