There is a problem here though. Hard though it is to do this in the light of so many deaths, there is a need for a rational and considered appraisal of the effect of the intervention. Without that honest and thorough appraisal, no lessons will be learned, and mistakes will be repeated. Every single death has been a tragedy for the families affected, but we simply cannot afford to allow sympathy for those losses to prevent us discussing sensibly whether the intervention has been worthwhile or not. And we cannot allow those who query it to be simply condemned out of hand as being disrespectful to the dead.
Cameron is clearly trapped by precisely this conundrum. I find it hard to believe that he really does not understand the true position, but he feels constrained by the losses which have been sustained to insist that the whole campaign has been successful, and that the mission has been accomplished. He knows full well, of course, that things are likely to unravel once foreign troops withdraw, and he’s probably simply hoping that a decent enough period will elapse after the withdrawal before that happens.
If it has been a failure, no fault or blame attaches to those troops killed or injured in the country – or to those who returned safely, come to that. The question of responsibility is entirely a political one, and it’s a pity that Karzai seemed to be choosing to criticise the soldiers rather than those who sent them.
There are many lessons which need to be learned from recent Western intervention in a number of countries, but surely the prime lesson is that a country and its people cannot be forced to adopt a different way of doing things at the point of a gun. The very worst thing about that particular lesson is that it isn’t a new one. Whilst military force can appear to resolve issues in the short term, it is, almost invariably, really only hiding or deferring problems which will eventually surface again; ultimately, it is human, and particularly political, will which resolves issues, not military might. History is littered with wars which support that view, but we never seem to learn from that history.
Karzai claimed that the intervention was leaving his country in a worse state than it had been before the intervention. That’s an extreme way of putting it, and I doubt that it’s immediately true – but I rather suspect that it will turn out to be more true than false in the long term. The fact that saying that is, apparently, unacceptable in the view of many only makes it harder to learn from mistakes.