By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)
Today the British parliament is recalled to debate the chaotic collapse of the US invasion and regime change attempt in Afghanistan which the British slavishly supported for twenty years.
It cost them over 450 soldiers’ lives, many more severely injured and a sum in treasure, yet to be calculated but at least £40 billion.
There will be recriminations and finger pointing and a voluminous quantity of hot air from the serried ranks of Colonel Blimps in this Conservative government and back benches. There will be pointless prattle about the UN, pointless for Russia and China will veto any proposal for interference in Afghanistan. There will be pointless prattle about not recognising the Taliban, pointless for China has done so already and so will Russia. Britain can do nothing. No one in Afghanistan (or anywhere else) will pay the slightest attention to self-important humbug at Westminster, from a medium sized European country with post-imperial delusions.
Perhaps some MPs will reflect on the sheer deluded pointlessness of it all. At no stage did Britain have any control over strategy. The US uber-poodle Blair committed British forces just to suck up to one of the worst presidents in US history, George W Bush. Britain had no business there. Ostensibly the reason was to prevent al Qaeda attacks in Britain, but during their time failing to hold Helmand province for the US, in all the millions of rounds fired the British killed not one al Qaeda member. Instead the Afghan adventure, along with the folly of Iraq, turned Britain into a target for Islamic extremists. Finally, the British had no control over the US withdrawal plans Trump cooked up in 2020.
You’d have thought the British could have seen it coming. After all, they have form when it comes to ‘withdrawal’ or more accurately, cutting and running. After 200 years looting India they suddenly ran for it in 1947. The result: over a million dead and perhaps 15 million displaced, the largest forced migration of people ever. Then there’s Cyprus. They left the minority Turks whom they’d co-opted as a native force to the tender mercy of the Greeks. There’s no space to look at similar shameful British departures from African colonies where massacres ensued for they’d set one tribe against another. E.g. Zimbabwe.
In Afghanistan they can blame the Americans, but what were the British doing there in the first place in the nineteenth century? Using the country as a buffer against Russian expansion towards India. The British cynically called it ‘the Great Game’. Three times the British have invaded Afghanistan and three times fled in ignominy.
There’s a story that in the 1980s a newly appointed British proconsul here was being taken on his obligatory tour of the native quarters of this benighted coconut colony in a bullet-proof Ford Granada. He noticed graffiti on a wall in west Belfast. “Brits Out”, it read. “Oh yes”, he said, “But how?”. Mentally, intellectually and politically the British have already withdrawn from Ireland – and that includes here. They have no votes here, no stake.
Every unionist knows that they will eventually withdraw physically. They know that as unionists continue to decline numerically and retract into an ever diminishing space the sole official justification for Britain hanging on – that a majority of people support the union – will go. It’s that simple.
The question that proconsul asked thirty odd years ago was answered in 1998 in the Good Friday Agreement. The mechanisms for departure, withdrawal if you like, are already in place. This place is the only part of the UK which has a legal and constitutional right to secede. Yet, despite in their hearts knowing these truths, most unionists refuse even to think about preparing for inevitable British withdrawal.
They’re not alone in this failure to prepare. Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil know these truths but are too wedded to the status quo to prepare.