Gee, it’s not like we were warned

Reviewing two new books on the UK involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, Robert Fox draws some conclusions as why these campaigns became the mess they were:

The campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan were planned to be short and sharp. In the end they were neither. British troops became an occupation force, fighting a difficult guerrilla war while attempting reconstruction and nation building, tasks which none expected and for which none was trained. The human terrain was tricky, impacted, tribal and clan communities where the most profitable line of business was criminality.


In both Iraq and Afghanistan the UK forces tried to do too much with too little – and the conspiracy of events and politics in Whitehall, Westminster, and at the Joint HQ at Northwood kept it that way. Given the resources available in the British defence machine, running the two campaigns at the same time should never have been attempted. Yet the Chief of the Defence Staff of the day, General Sir Michael Walker, assured the prime minister that his forces were well up to the twin tasks.

I hate to say I told you so, but: we told you so. All those unrealistic antiwar protestors, accused of defeatism and appeasement and everything else up to treason, who didn’t see the clear task the UK had in Afghanistan and Iraq? We were right. Nothing good has come of British involvement there (or any other country’s for that matter) and it has only led to a decade and a half of worsening conditions in the Middle East as a whole.

Be honest: isn’t there anybody who’d not like to trade the Middle East as it is now for how it was on September 12, 2001?

Don’t explain as incompetence what can be explained as disinterest

Philip Oltermann in the Grauniad talks about the failure of British diplomacy in Berlin:

The Netherlands, rather than Germany, should be the country for Britain to emulate in this respect. In Holland, as in the UK, eastern Europeans are usually not recruited directly by local employers, but often via rogue employment agencies who provide little security and support for workers when their contracts terminate. Since 2009, Dutch and Polish authorities have been cooperating closely to try to licence such agencies in order to stop Poles from getting stranded in unemployment.

In Berlin, I heard countless British diplomats moan about their government’s tendency to put all its eggs in one basket in order to win the big prize, while other countries were more willing to accept that EU diplomacy is a constant give and take. In fact, all Britain needs to do is to remind itself of a simple traditional British virtue: teamwork.

I’d say the UK’s problem of engagement with Europe is twofold. First, there’s still the inflated sense of self importance getting in the way. Unlike even France and Germany, Britain has never really had to had to deal with other countries as equal in Europe and so sucks at it. Second, and more importantly, there are the domestic political realities getting in the way of proper diplomacy. Even under Labour it was often politically inconvenient to genuinely engage with Europe, let alone under a coalition government at least half of which doesn’t believe in Europe.

The myth of rescuing sex workers

Molly Crabapple on how New York’s special prostitution courts still peddle the same tired myth of needing to “rescue” sex workers and hence put them more at risk:

Police are violent in general, and violent specifically to women they think are sex workers. According to a 2012 study by the Young Women’s Empowerment Project for young people who have sold sex, a third of all reported abuse came at the hands of the police. Sources told me officers had called women “sluts,” groped them during arrests, even made jerking-off motions with their batons in court. In the Brooklyn HTIC, RedUP saw a black woman who claimed to have been beaten so savagely by police that she landed in the hospital.


According to Kluger, the HTICs are decriminalizing prostitution in the court system, despite the arrests and incarcerations that underpin the courts. Her perception of sex workers comes from the women who have stood before her bench. To her, they seem “comatose,” emotionless, controlled by traffickers and pimps. To validate their emotions, Lee and Kluger both rely on long-discredited statistics that are mantras in the anti-trafficking world: “70 percent of trafficking is sex trafficking”; “the average age of entry into prostitution is 12 to 14 years old.”

And of course it’s mostly white middle class men and women who have the power to decide how to treat the largely black, latina, trans, working class women who the police pick up for their arrest quotas, their agency denied by those who seek to rescue them.