Daily Archives: July 14, 2009

Gideon Rachman

The British news at the moment is dominated by the sad sight of coffins returning from Afghanistan. For the first time for ages, there is a sign of the political consensus behind the mission beginning to fracture. The Conservative line is that the war is still essential, but that the military are being under-resourced. It has been left to the Liberal Democrats, the third party, to question the underlying rationale of the mission. But Nick Clegg their leader cannot quite bring himself to call for a pull-out. Instead he is arguing that the mission is over-ambitious in seeking to create a democratic Afghanistan. I sympathise with his desire to open up debate about the war. But it seems an odd criticism for Clegg to make. First, its an out-of-date argument - both the Americans and the Brits have already adopted a more “realist” security-based approach. Second, if there was any party that I would expect to stick up for human rights and democracy, it would be the Lib Dems.

But there is a broader peculiarity to the British debate. We are so (understandably) fixated on the losses of UK troops, that there seems to be very little attempt to understand how what Britain is doing fits in with the broader coalition strategy.  

Gideon Rachman

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, it suddenly became obvious that the USSR had never been a proper country. It was a multinational empire held together by force. Might we one day say the same of China?

Of course, any such suggestion is greeted with rage in Beijing. Chinese politicians are modern-minded pragmatists when it comes to economic management. But they revert to Maoist language when questions of territorial integrity are touched upon. Supporters of Taiwanese independence are “splittists”. The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, has been described as a “monster with a human face and an animal’s heart”. The Muslim Uighurs who rioted violently last week were denounced as the tools of sinister foreign forces.