The U.S. and Britain are in Afghanistan primarily for reasons of national security, said the United Kingdom’s Shadow Secretary of State for Defense, Dr. Liam Fox. In a short address at the Heritage Foundation on September 18th, Dr. Fox addressed the war in Afghanistan and why America, Britain, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) need to stay until the war is won.
These groups are in Afghanistan “out of necessity, not choice,” said Fox, adding that the people need to be reminded of the reasons why these countries are in Afghanistan. The will of the people matters in a democracy, he said, and public opinion will erode if leaders do not make the reasons for being in Afghanistan clear. He warned people not to conflate the ideal of bringing democracy to Afghanistan with the necessity of bringing stability to a region which could otherwise be a haven for terrorists. The main goal of coalition forces is “to ensure that it does not become again a launch pad for terrorist attacks” and not to establish a Jeffersonian democracy, he said.
Dr. Fox argued that the path to stability should complement the top-down approach of government with a bottom-up approach because Afghans do not have a history of being ruled by a central government in Kabul. Due to the tribal history of the region, he said, coalition forces “should not try to impose an alien model on it.”
With Congressional liberals pressuring Obama to scale back, many question whether the U.S. should send more troops to Afghanistan. Dr. Fox disparaged the failure of his government to provide adequate funds to both Iraq and Afghanistan war efforts. However, he said that only increasing the number of ground troops would maintain the status quo, winning only some temporary battles, but that long-term stability would need a corresponding effort by coalition forces to stabilize the government. Using Iraq as an example, he pointed to the fact that Sunnis were re-engaged in political decision-making there.
If coalition forces lose, “it would send out the signal that we do not have the moral fortitude to see through what we believe to be a national security emergency,” warned Dr. Fox, asserting also that failure in Afghanistan “would be a shot in the arm for every jihadist across the globe.”
So if to be forced out of Afghanistan is a losing strategy, then what is a winning one? According to Dr. Fox, a victory in Afghanistan would be establishing a country that is stable or “stable enough” to resist the re-establishment of terrorist camps and threats to national security.
Unfortunately Afghanistan is only a part of the problem, argued Dr. Fox. He presented the war in Afghanistan as a package deal, identifying Pakistan as an integral part of the conflict. He advised the audience that Afghanistan and Pakistan be viewed as a single unit because both are vital to a stable region, and neither are stable nor have either been stable for decades. As a policy recommendation, he suggested that the U.S. support the Pakistan government in fighting the al-Qaeda network in its northwestern region.
However the U.S., Britain, and NATO choose to stabilize the region, Dr. Fox made it clear that those involved cannot afford to give up; “we need to find the will to see it through.”