John Bruton: Tony Blair is wrong on Afghanistan – forever wars make no sense

The collapse of the western backed government is Afghanistan is a shock.

By John Bruton
Tuesday, 24th August 2021, 4:25 pm
Updated Tuesday, 24th August 2021, 4:29 pm
Tony Blair with British troops in Helmand, Afghanistan, in 2006. John Bruton says he was  altogether wrong to call the Joe Biden strategy "imbecilic"
Tony Blair with British troops in Helmand, Afghanistan, in 2006. John Bruton says he was altogether wrong to call the Joe Biden strategy "imbecilic"

The shock is being felt most acutely in Britain.

After breaking its ties with the European Union through Brexit, Britain put extra store in the constancy of its alliance with the US through Nato.

That now looks more uncertain.

Yet, when it came to Afghanistan, the US acted unilaterally, with little consultation with the UK or its other Nato allies, both in agreeing to withdraw from Afghanistan in February 2020, and then in implementing the withdrawal in August of this year.

Boris Johnson was taken completely by surprise by his US ally, with whom he had signed a high sounding Atlantic Charter only a few weeks ago.

For Nato , the withdrawal is a particular setback because this 20 year war in Afghanistan is the only one ever undertaken under Article 5 of the Nato Treaty, that is in defence of a member ( of the US after the 9/11 attack)

Tony Blair was altogether wrong to call the Biden slogan of “ending the forever war” in Afghanistan “imbecilic”.

It is not imbecilic.

All wars have to end some time. Forever wars make no sense.

It is better to accept defeat, than go on fighting for the sake of appearances.

The literal implication of Tony Blair’s criticism of Joe Biden is that the US should go on fighting in Afghanistan indefinitely.

War aims should be precise, limited, and based on evidence. It appears that Tony Blair has not learned this....even yet.

There is no easy or neat way of extricating oneself from a war that one has already lost.

It is wrong and immoral to go on fighting a lost war, just for the sake of appearances.

Some argue that the evacuation should have begun earlier, but if that had been done, it would have undermined the morale of the Afghan troops, who were still fighting against the Taliban.

Once the war was lost a sudden collapse was likely.

The real problem is that in February 2020, President Trump solemnly agreed with the Taliban that the US would withdraw its forces by May of this year, in return for an assurance that the Taliban would not harbour terrorists who might attach the US.

This deal was signed by the US secretary of state.

Under the Trump/ Pompeo deal, the Taliban were not required to give up their military campaign.

All they were required to do, under this deal, was to talk to the then Afghan government. So far the Taliban have kept to the literal terms of the deal they signed with Pompeo and Trump.

If Tony Blair believed this deal was imbecilic, he should have spoken up in February 2020, rather than wait until August 2021,long after the May 2021 exit date agreed by Trump/ Pompeo.

All those who are critics now, need to account for what they did, or did not, say in February 2020.

That February 2020 deal was done without the involvement of the US’s Nato allies, or, even more surprisingly, of the Afghan government!

Given that 60,000 Afghan soldiers have died in this war, as against only 6,000 Americans, this unilateral action was , of course, wrong. But it was fully consistent with the ‘America first’ doctrine of the then Trump Administration.

When President Biden took over, only 2,000 US forces were left in Afghanistan. This force was far too small to prevent what has now happened in a country of 38 million people.

Of course President Biden could have sent in more reinforcements but this would have gone completely against his own campaign promises.

• John Bruton is a former leader of Fine Gael and Taoiseach

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