History doesn’t show us only mistakes to avoid. It also gives us examples of success to be emulated. We would do well to study the way in which the Soviet Union left Afghanistan.
Like Barack Obama in 2009, in 1985 the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev was faced with the challenge of how most elegantly to extract his country from Afghanistan. Unlike Obama, Gorbachev was being told by his military advisers — who had mostly been doubtful about the whole campaign from the start — that the war was unwinnable.
Retreating from Afghanistan has never been a task at which the British military has excelled. Our first incursion in 1839 resulted in the wholesale massacre of an entire division, save for an army doctor by the name of Dr William Brydon, who was spared only so he could tell the tale. Troops fighting the Second Afghan War of the early 1880s only avoided a similar fate through the exertions of General Frederick ‘Bob’ Roberts, who rescued a British force on the outskirts of Kandahar as it was on the point of being overrun.
Before the crash of 2007, as aid agencies were asking the governments of what we once called ‘the rich world’ to wipe out poor countries’ debts, Christopher Hitchens received a begging letter from his publishers.
Verso, if you have never come across it, boasts that it is ‘the largest independent, radical publishing house in the English-speaking world’. Its old stagers are Tariq Ali and Perry Anderson, Marxist-Leninists of the upper class, who had been Hitchens’s comrades on the soixante-huitard left.
Yes — Emma Nicholson
More than 20 years ago I stood on the burning sands of Iraq’s southern deserts and watched in horror as tens of thousands of desperate men, women and children struggled, some barefoot, to reach the sanctuary of marshlands in the east.
I was there as a British parliamentarian after hearing stories of Saddam Hussein’s brutal crackdown on a Shia revolt. One eight-year-old boy I encountered had lost his entire family.
Last week, at the select committee on the same-sex marriage bill, a lawyer for the Christian Institute revealed that a teacher had been disciplined for refusing to read to her charges a book about gay penguins. It is par for the course to teach kids about adult stuff through animal tales. So it makes sense that an educational establishment that wants to imbue children with respect for gay lifestyles would foist gay animals upon them.
The bandit opened fire at me from a distance of about six feet. He rose out of darkness and pumped three bullets into my car as I drove slowly through my neighbour’s farmstead gate in time for supper. The shots were loud but what I remember most is the muzzle flashes showering sparks across the windscreen. I assumed that my guest from London, who was sitting in the passenger seat closest to the ambush, must be dead — until he asked calmly, ‘Are you all right?’
I floored the accelerator and as we sped away the attacker fired eight more shots at us — we later counted the bullet casings — failing to make any more direct hits though ricochets splashed off trees or walls along the garden drive and fragments peppered my car flanks and burst a tyre.
Since many people are barely aware of its existence, I was pleased to see Commonwealth Day enjoying a splash of media attention this week. It was, of course, because the Queen was back on parade for the first time since her recent illness — and endorsing the Prince of Wales as next Head of the Commonwealth. In recent years, the post-imperial cousinhood has faded from view. When Tony Blair abandoned one Commonwealth summit to watch football on telly, some wondered when, not if, the FCO would simply drop the C.