The new comfort zone for many politicians and leader-writers appears to be the notion that if Britain withdraws its troops from Iraq and sends all the freed-up forces to Afghanistan, then all will be well. Siren voices are insisting that honour would be satisfied by such a move and we would still be pulling our weight in what Gordon Brown refuses to call ‘the war on terror’ or ‘the war against Islamist extremism’. Afghanistan, say those voices, is the crucial place to be engaging al-Qa’eda. Iraq is a sideshow.
This is no comfort zone at all. The war against Islamist extremism is indivisible. ‘The thought that Afghanistan is somehow a more righteous war is absurd,’ General Jack Keane told me this week. Keane is the soldier who helped devise present US policy in Iraq and has been critical of the British performance in southern Iraq.
Al-Qa’eda is an international criminal organisation that declared war on the West in the 1990s, and is determined to subjugate us. If we cut and run from one crucial battleground, it will be a betrayal of our allies in both America and Iraq and a victory for all Islamist extremism, Shia as well as Sunni. Moqtada al Sadr, the Shiite leader in southern Iraq, was crowing in the Independent only this week that his militia had driven the British out.
The choices are not easy. We are in the midst of a world-wide war and British forces are overstretched and underresourced, fighting as they are in both Basra and Afghanistan. With only 100,000 men and women our armed forces are fewer in number than at any time since the Victorian era. It’s a disgrace and it is the responsibility of both Conservative and Labour governments. The present crisis, however, is the result of the thoughtless cuts imposed over the past decade by the man who is now Prime Minister. …
The sirens who call for us to abandon Iraq would do well to turn an eye to history. In the careless partition of India in 1947 around a million people died. When America was defeated in Vietnam in 1975 the bloodbath theory proved true – horror engulfed all of Indochina.
In Iraq the bestial zealotry of the Muslim terrorists warns us of even greater horrors. Hundreds of thousands of people could die or be uprooted in the full-scale civil war that followed Western capitulation. Huge numbers who hoped that we really would help them create a decent Iraq are terrified that we will capitulate. And with reason. As Petraeus said recently of the aftermath of withdrawal, ‘If you didn’t like Darfur, you’re going to hate Baghdad.’
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