The West is choosing to lose – in Afghanistan and beyond
This is a choice about the kind of world we want and allies we’ll support. So far we’re choosing to lose.
TOM TUGENDHAT. MP. 13 August 2021
My friends have said I’m angry and taking the withdrawal from Afghanistan personally. They’re right. We weren’t forced out and the losses we sustained in the early years had abated to such an extent that the last British soldier killed in combat died in 2013. We chose to leave.
That’s what’s so heart-breaking for many of us. The consequences were obvious. The Afghan armed forces, trained to fight alongside Western air power, would always struggle alone. The helicopters, serviced by now-departed US contractors, wouldn’t fly and the troops would be exposed.
But more than that, leaving suddenly destroyed morale. That’s not about feeling good, it’s the belief in a future. For many Afghans, the sudden departure was a statement by the US and her allies that it’s over – good luck, goodbye.
After 20 years we walked away from a sustainable peace because it was taking too long. We stayed in Germany for more than 40 years. We’re still in Cyprus today. The US has been in South Korea since the 1950s and Japan since the Second World War. That strategic patience won the Cold War and kept the UN Green Line peaceful. We could have done the same in Afghanistan.
Keeping 10,000 Nato troops in Kabul wasn’t a huge commitment from anyone. The UK’s 750 troops and the US’s 2,500 were half a combat brigade and enabled 400,000 Afghan police and army. That’s over. Because, by leaving so suddenly, we’ve just advertised the reverse.
As we’re talking about Global Britain, it’s worth thinking hard about what this means. Potential allies have been watching us and weighing up whether we’re as good as our word. They’re not wondering now.
This isn’t just about Afghanistan. Around the world autocratic powers like China and Russia are forcing change in the agreements we’ve made to keep us all safe. And we know what that means – less easy trade, obstacles to cooperation, more confrontation. But despite their size, neither is able to weaken us – unless we walk away.
The G7-plus who met in Cornwall this summer account for around 70 per cent of world trade. China is less than 20 per cent and Russia isn’t even relevant. We have the financial, commercial, intellectual, military, developmental and cultural ability to defend our interests. But loans from Chinese state banks are building infrastructure as we’re cutting our aid rather than turning it into investment. Russian military support is going to countries we snub, pushing them into the arms of those who oppose us.
We can turn this around. We need to. Investing in ourselves, our allies and partners has never been easier or more important. This is a choice about the kind of world we want and allies we’ll support. So far we’re choosing to lose.