David Blackburn

The future of neo-conservatism

The future of neo-conservatism
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Writing in this week's Spectator, internationally renowned expert John. C. Hulsman argues that America is too economically imperilled to commit to expensive foreign adventures that yield nothing. Hulsman urges Obama to learn from the foreign policy mistakes made by Britain, the last western imperial power. He gives a whistle-stop tour of humiliations, from Amritsar, Ireland and Suez, and sketches how obvious decline forced Britain to re-imagine its foreign policy objectives. 

Despite pressure from neo-conservative opposition, Obama must pursue a new modus operandi, as British imperialists were forced to do. The key is to recognise Afghanistan's political complexity and seek stability through compromise and realism, starting with the Afghan constitution. Hulsman writes:

'It is common knowledge that Afghanistan is one of the most disparate polities in the world (read Kipling). A series of tribes form the local unit of politics, rather than some Jeffersonian ideal. As such, a confederation, with as much power as possible being devolved to the local level, would suit the country’s realities. Sadly, the Afghan constitution vests far too much control at the national rather than the regional level, where the political rubber hits the road. This is a recipe for endemic conflict.'

Obama is correct to take time and consider. However, a fudge is engendering. The Guardian reports that David Kilcullen, a leading counter-insurgency expert and contributor to the Spectator, is criticising the Obama administration’s “messy pontificating” over the Afghan surge. Kilcullen tells the paper:

"It feels to me that all these options are dangerously close to the middle ground and we have to consider whether the middle ground is a good place to be. The middle ground is a good place on domestic issues, but not on strategy. You either commit to D-Day and invade the continent or you get Suez. Half-measures end up with Suez. Do it or not do it."

The middle approach is a fudge determined by economic frailty, the US’ declining international strength and Nato’s inability to pull together. The unconditional surrender of the Taliban is a hopeless fanstasy; yet the strategy remains unchanged. This meandering war exacerbates jihadism, accelerates the spoliation of American power and endangers Nato’s integrity. Coffee House has been urging Nato to talk to local Afghan potentates; the leaked Foreign Office plan to engage with elements of the Taliban represents the way ahead.