Notes From the Margins…

Dan Hodges Wins the Afghan War

  • March 18, 2014
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Proving once again that laziness, ignorance, and sloppy, half-baked analysis will never be an obstacle to churning 1,000-word copy, the Telegraph‘s Dan Hodges has offered his readers some spectacularly dumb thoughts about the British contribution to the Afghan war.

It would probably be more accurate to describe   Hodges’s column as a collection of words thrown together and arranged into sentences rather than thoughts, since there is little evidence of thinking at all in this crass piece of Britwar propaganda from the New Statesman’s former ‘Blairite cuckoo in the Miliband nest.’

The good news, from the point of view of those who sent British troops into Helmand province in 2006, and those who want to see more ‘adventures’ like this is that the withdrawal of British troops this year doesn’t mean that the Afghan War was a failure.   In fact,   Hodges happily informs his readers, it was a spectacular success!

The bad news is that there is certain to be a lot more of this kind of fact-free, parallel-world wishful thinking as the troops come home, by a British establishment that never admits that its wars have failed and cannot stop plotting new ones.     For these reasons it’s worth looking at Hodges’ reasoning, such as it is, in a little more detail.

Hodges rejects the suggestion that Afghanistan has ‘been now seen as a failure. Militarily. Morally. Politically’ and accompanies this assertion with the usual Cohen-ite/Aaronovichian dig at the ‘pacifist Left and isolationist Right‘ that supposedly share this view.   After dismissing the nation-building/democracy building/women’s rights justifications for the war, he reminds viewers that:

We were there because Afghanistan attacked us. Or at least, because Afghanistan was used as a staging base for an  attack on us. Three thousand dead in a single morning. The citizens of 60 countries; men, women and children. Murdered in cold blood. Crushed. Burnt. Stabbed. Suffocated. Forced to jump to their deaths while we watched them die live on television. They are why we went to Afghanistan.


They are why we went to Afghanistan. We went because, long before Fallujah and Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, Afghanistan had become a sanctuary for people who wanted to murder each and every one of us in our beds. And who under the benign eye of their Taliban protectors were acquiring the means and methods to do so.

As a result of the NATO invasion and occupation:

And now they can”t. Bin Laden is dead. His network has been smashed. The umbilical chord between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda has been severed. Unfashionable though it may be to point it out,  these are also the products of our Afghanistan “failure”.

There is a lot wrong with this.     First of all, ‘ Afghanistan’ did not attack ‘us.’     19 hijackers carried out the 9/11 attacks, who were as connected to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as they were to Afghanistan.   Most of the hijackers were Saudis, some of whose origins have never been fully clarified or investigated, because the Bush administration refused to investigate them.

According to Hodges’ logic, ‘we’ should have attacked those countries too.   Secondly, there is no credible evidence that the Taliban were acting as the ‘protectors’ of the Bin Laden network, let alone that they were aware of the planning for the attacks – most of which was done in Europe and the United States anyway.

Alex Strick von Linschoten and Felix Kuehn’s An Enemy We Created: the Myth of the Taliban/Al Qaeda Merger in Afghjanistan, 1970-2010, remorselessly and brilliantly examines the mutually problematic relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda, and completely demolishes the fantasy that Hodges so uncritically subscribes to.

Had the US taken the trouble to analyse that relationship, and shown a little more patience, and a lot less arrogance, the US might conceivably have induced the Taliban to give up Bin Laden and close down the jihadist camps in Afghanistan – camps, it should not be forgotten, that were largely filled not with al-Qaeda members, but with members of an international jihadist movement that ‘we’ had once supported.

Had that happened, then some 20,000 Afghan civilians would not have died, and nor would the British, American, and multinational soldiers who invaded and occupied the country and helped install a warlord/puppet government that has so little credibility with the Afghan people that it is only in power through rigged elections.

Applying Hodges’ logic to other similar situations, then ‘we’ should have bombed Dublin and invaded Ireland when the IRA started carrying out attacks on the British mainland, and Spain should have attacked France because ETA used the French Basque Country as a refuge/rearguard weapons depot.

As far as the removal   of the Bin Laden network was concerned, that objective was already achieved by the spring of 2002 – even though it was undermined by the collusion of Pakistan – a nominal US ally – in   allowing Bin Laden and many key AQ members to escape Afghanistan.

The British deployment in Helmand in 2006 had very little to do with al Qaeda, and was essentially directed against the Taliban.   Supposedly intended to deliver reconstruction, governance and security, as part of Nato’s ‘nation-building’ program, it has been, according to a senior British intelligence officer in 2009, been a bloody failure, whose   ‘hearts and minds’ efforts have generated the ‘opposite effect’ and resulted in a massive boom in opium production in the province.

In 2012, the US army officer Colonel Daniel Davis made very similar observations in his searing indictment of the US military performance in Afghanistan Dereliction of Duty.   None of this stops Hodges from promoting a delusional happy ending to allow the public to leave the Afghan war movie with a warm glowing feeling, but it won’t wash, and not only in regard to Afghanistan itself.

Like others who have made similar arguments about al Qaeda’s ‘command posts’ in Afghanistan, Hodges entirely fails to appreciate that a network/movement like al Qaeda does not, and never has, needed Afghanistan to further its agenda.

It doesn’t even need Bin Laden – despite his undoubted skills as a propagandist.   Such movements draw their strength – and their ’cause’   from the overreaction and mistakes of their enemies, and the US has overreacted and made mistakes so often in the last thirteen years that it is really difficult not to conclude that it has needed al Qaeda just as much as al Qaeda needed it.

The war in Afghanistan was one example of such overkill,   shown by the US and its allies, which has helped AQ to grow and expand and find its way into countries where it previously had no presence.

As Patrick Cockburn argued in the Independent yesterday, ‘The US has spent billions of dollars on its “war on terror” to counter the threat and succeeded in killing Osama bin Laden three years ago. And yet al-Qa”ida-type groups are arguably stronger than ever now, especially in Syria and Iraq where they control an area the size of Britain, but also in Libya, Lebanon, Egypt and beyond.’

Cockburn, unlike Hodges, is a real journalist who actually goes to places and knows things.   It can only be hoped that his views, and not those of the ‘Blairite cuckoo’ are taken on board. Because it’s often been said that those who cannot learn from the mistake of history are doomed to repeat them, and on the strength of this outing, Hodges shows no evidence that he is capable of understanding them at all.


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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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