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Degrade the Taliban to the max

More tears for our brave boys in Afghanistan last week. The sorrow was exacerbated by the knowledge that the ‘soft underbelly’ problem in armoured vehicles was identified more than four years ago and remains unfixed. We fought World War One in that time span.

Had our boys been in an American vehicle, there is every likelihood they would be alive today.

On a cost-benefit basis, both Afghanistan and Iraq have been a disaster. The Romans were more savvy when they built Hadrian’s Wall. They could have crushed the Scots had they wished. But what did Scotland have to offer them? A miserable climate – especially for an Italian – a constantly restive and warlike people (just like some others on the north bank of the Rhine – the Germans) and next to no natural resources.

As a pragmatic people they decided to leave them both to stew. So both missed out on a whole range of benefits which a more advanced civilisation had to offer. The whole of this can be said to apply to Afghanistan today.

Much of America’s financial woes can be traced back to the horrendous cost of the Vietnam war. After all, it was then that it was forced off the Gold Standard. Does anybody doubt that if the untold billions spent on the Iraq and Afghan wars had been sitting in the US treasury today that things would be looking very different? Yet exactly the same could be said about us.

Wars are expensive. From a position of incredible wealth as a country, it took just two of them to ruin us and rob us of our leading position in the world by 1945.

Afghanistan was always said to be the ‘graveyard of empires’, and no one knew this better than we did. We launched no fewer than three ill-fated forays into that country in the days of the Raj. In one of them, an entire column of 16,000 perished in the snows of the Hindu Kush on the retreat back from Kabul to the Indian frontier.

Prime Minister David Cameron would spend a long time reading out their names in the Commons. So, more than anyone else, we should have known better.

Of course it was right to go into that country to flush out Al Qaeda and punish the Taliban for harbouring them, but having done so we should have got out and stayed out. We, in our heyday, were never defeated in the field by the Afghans any more than NATO has been, or, for that matter, the Russians.

But the Afghans do not heed good advice to mend their medieval ways (especially when that advice comes from foreigners) so they must be left to marinate. Just be thankful that you are not a woman in that benighted country.

It is unlikely that if the Taliban return to power after NATO’s exit – which is probable – they will ever again allow Al Qaeda to set up training camps. They are canny enough not to go down that road a second time, helped by Bin Laden’s death. While he was their guest, there was never a snowball’s chance that they would have handed him over, even when we threatened to invade. Muslim law on hospitality absolutely forbade that.

It is always important to have an exit strategy. But it is equally important to keep the date of exit to yourself. Had we held to our original statements that ‘we are here until the job is done’ – even if you had a date in mind – then there is every likelihood that the same weariness which brought the IRA to the negotiating table would have done so in the case of the Taliban.

Why hold on, they would have said to themselves, and stay a fugitive forever and as likely not die in the struggle? Let’s do a deal.

The Afghans have always been known as the world’s greatest wheeler-dealers. Now they are going around saying ‘the West have the watches, but we have the time’. So now that we have revealed our hand, we must make every effort to equip and train the home-grown Afghan forces to look after themselves when we are gone.

Who knows, they might even pull it off, despite everything. And our boys, in the interim, must degrade the Taliban to the maximum extent possible. A weakened force might just be more amenable to a greatly strengthened home army. But the deeply corrupt Afghan government will make this an uphill struggle. We can only hope our fears are misplaced.

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The Perfect Storm

It is alarming that the markets have given a thumbs down to the Obama/Congress deal. And now we hear that they are seriously doubtful of Italy’s ability to grow its way out of the enormous debt it holds.

What with Spain teetering on the brink, and Greece, Portugal and Ireland considered lost causes, we have what amounts to ‘the perfect storm’. Yet we British have retained the market’s confidence; our willingness to bite the bullet allows us to borrow at the same rate as the Germans. But sadly that won’t save us. We absolutely have to sell our goods and services to the New World as well as the old.

43% alone of our output goes to the European Union, and another huge chunk to North America. The US Republicans – led by the Tea Party – refuse to aid a deficit cutting programme by including tax increases, even though the Federal Government’s tax take is barely half the European average. What right-minded system in today’s world allows Western drivers to fill up at not much more than half of the EU average?

Alas, Americans (and to be fair we) have been living high on the hog for too long. We in the West – especially the Americans with their consumption-driven economy – have been sating ourselves on China’s cheap goods, fueling its mind-blowing year-on-year 10% growth at the expence of increasing their own competetiveness. Industries have gone down like ninepins and jobs exported; they have allowed China to get away with a grossly undervalued currency and not to conform to World Trade Organisation rules. Perhaps most alarming of all, China stands accused of commercial and military espionage on a industrial scale by hacking into the West’s computer systems. This amounts to war by other means. So either the US treats balancing its budget almost as though it were a wartime priority, or it can say goodbye to being the world’s leading economy. Hello, China. Hello, India.

We may have been sold the idea that somethings are too big to fail, but believe me: a whole nation can fail – even the US if it hasn’t the stomach to put its house in order. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have done for the United States what the Kaiser and Hitler wars did for us… nigh bankrupted it. The difference is that in our case it was a noble struggle that simply had to be faced; a militaristic Germany bent on world conquest was a cause worth sacrificing even the British Empire for.

As far as the Euro is concerned, no matter how many sticking plasters they try to put over the crisis, nothing can hide the fact that the patient neeeds surgery. Greece and the others – the so called PIIGS – can’t service the debts they already have and provide for growth. And how does it help to foist more loans on them and push their service charges even higher? It’s the economics of the madhouse. They must all be cut loose; free to set their interest rates at the appropriate level; free to make a mess of things if they can’t get their act together without dragging everyone else down with them and also free to rejoin if they get their house in order and meet the strict criteria of membership, which they were meant to meet in the first place but never did.

The only alternative is for the sound economies of the north to take fiscal control of the hopeless cases in the south. In other words, a Fiscal Union to add to the unworkable existing Monetary Union. In the long run the PIIGS would all be better off. But would they stand for it? Proud, broken Greece would find it exceedingly hard to take the teutonic medicine that Frankfurt would insist they swallow.

As for poor old Britain, we are left dangling in the wind, waiting on events over which we have no control, but which are certain to turn all our lives upside down. I would hazard a guess, however, that if the Euro is reformed so that only successful economies can belong, then perhaps a very good case could then be made for us to join

There are huge advantages to be had in belonging to a truly powerful currancy bloc that might well take over as the world’s Reserve Currency. I fear the dollar’s day may be done, but I wouldn’t underestimate Uncle Sam’s recuperative powers and his legendary can-do approach when fired up. But please, please don’t let the Reserve Currency be the Yuan if Uncle Sam can’t make it.

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