We live in a revolutionary age and dangers the international community face consist of subversive social movements and technological trends, as well as the re-emergence of great power diplomacy. The forces that propel this revolution are channelled into Central Asia and the Middle East. Nuclear proliferation permeates a region destabilised by ethnic nationalism weaving its way from Palestine to the Himalayas and extremist groups whose absolutist goals would disintegrate the global order. Afghanistan captures all these dangers which characterize the early 21st Century.
In Britain, however, any discussion about either the war in the Hindu Kush or our wider confrontation has been puerile compared to the intellectual heights achieved in the United States. It reflects the inadequacy of our political institutions and the media to debate foreign affairs and the result is that Britain has no foreign policy and none is being offered. Unless the Conservatives address the problem seriously then this country will slide into gradual insignificance, beginning with failure in Afghanistan.
We first need to ask ourselves what we are doing in Afghanistan. Too often, commentators and politicians reply with talk about values but this is not to answer the question. If patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, then ‘values’ are a refuge for the uninformed. What is our strategy in Afghanistan? What is its goal? How many troops do we need and with what equipment and how much can we send? How many flag-draped coffins are we prepared to stomach? As Rory Stewart said some months ago, ‘We need to take a serious look at the limits of our power, the limits of our knowledge, and most importantly of all the limits of our legitimacy.’