Tom Tugendhat on Afghanistan

Following retreat of NATO troops from Afghanistan the puppet government fell rapidly to an authoritarian non-democratic government that will restrict severely freedoms related to faith, sexuality and political activism and will remove basic liberties for women.

The collapse of the Afghanistan government was inevitable given its abject lack of popular support, its intrinsic corruption and its failure to develop infrastructure in the country.  Physical infrastructure – housing, schools, hospitals, offices, factories, roads, railways, airports, sea ports –  were not improved or built during the last two decades; social infrastructure – adequate healthcare provision, pensions, welfare –  are almost non-existent.  The erased government and its controllers in NATO had no interest in improving the lives and livelihoods of the Afghani people.

NATO, led by the nose by USA, invaded Afghanistan under knowingly false pretences – searching for Osama Bin Laden – and remained there for entirely unaltruistic reasons.  Political expediency in NATO countries required the existence of external foes and there was a continuous need to support a welfare system for the arms industry.  Additionally, part-performative and part-phobic fear of influence in Asia of the Chinese government encouraged NATO to stick to its undefined and perennially failing operation.

Tugendhat statement
NATO’s retreat induced despair among self-penned ‘liberal’ conservatives.  Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, chair of the foreign affairs parliamentary select committee, released a statement wherein he was keen readers were aware of how angry he was.  His key complaint was the apparent abruptness and haste of the retreat: “The decision to withdraw is like a rug pulled from under the feet of our partners.”   But, it wasn’t hasty.  Leaving Afghanistan was decided a few years ago.  It was not a whimsical decision by the new Biden USA government.  His predecessor wanted to get out and had colluded an agreement with the opposition to the Afghan government.  USA military and all private USA businesses in Afghanistan knew they were leaving soon.  

The USA government intends to accept the new government of Afghanistan without caveats.  The people of the country will remain colonised.

Tugendhat’s account of NATO’s contribution to progress in Afghanistan was false.  “We changed the odds.  It stopped being US or NATO fighting but the Afghan Police and Army.  We built trust and ensured they had the support they needed to sustain operations.”  NATO had twenty years to “ensure” that functioning police and military could cope with “insurgent” action but, as soon as NATO’s troops left, cities were taken over easily by the Afghan government’s opponents.  That was a complete failure by NATO to do what they claimed they intended to achieve.

He asserted further that “civic institutions grew.  No, it wasn’t perfect, but it was growing and time was deepening the roots of society.”  Twenty years but such meagre progress in societal infrastructure.  

Bizarrely, the so-called training of Afghan military by NATO did not include how to maintain “battle winning technology.”  Tugendhat bemoaned the departure of USA maintenance crews rather than the absurdity of not training the Afghan soldiers to maintain the equipment.  “None of the maintenance crews able to service their equipment – that was done by US contractors, now gone.  That means battle winning technology we had taught the Afghans to rely on is useless.  Billions of dollars of assets, wasted.”  His last sentence there revealed his priority but for the arms industry the “billions of dollars” were income.  Free money.

His emotional response to the end of NATO in Afghanistan was merely a prelude to his real worry.  Like all dutiful Western imperialists, he cannot conceive a world where occidental power is diminished and fallen.  “This isn’t just about Afghanistan.  It’s about us all.  We are engaged in a challenge over the way the world works.”  His “we” and “us” meant simultaneously the arms industry of North America, Europe and Australia, and the European Christian imperialist inculcated superiority complex, a continuation of 19th century European power-psychosis.

Tugendhat expressed his fear of the influence of the Chinese government and its associated military and businesses around the world.  His fear was not just for the loss of profit for the Western arms industry but also for the reduction of regions of the world that exploitative capitalism can consume.  He said G7+ countries are stronger in a variety of ways but if “we walk away” from anywhere then that is how China will win.

This isn’t just about Afghanistan.  It’s about us all.  We are engaged in a challenge over the way the world works.  We’re seeing autocratic powers like China and Russia challenge the rules and break the agreements we’ve made to keep us all safe.  And we know what that means.  Less easy trade.  Obstacles to cooperation.  Confrontation over disputes.  But despite their size, neither is able to break our system unless we walk away.  The G7+ who met in Cornwall this summer make up  about 70% of world trade.  China, less than 20%.  Russia isn’t even relevant.  We have the financial, commercial, intellectual, military, developmental and cultural ability to defend our interests.”

The quote above is word-for-word what Tugendhat wrote with no omissions or additions.  His words depicted a worldview as detached from reality as it was offensively divisive.  Exactly like 19th century colonialists, he views most of the world’s countries, and most of the people of the world, as pawns to be used by countries with superior military might to realise greater profits for corporate exploiters.  

He was upset that the Chinese government had been more helpful to people around the world than UK had.  “We’re closing doors.  Nigerians get commercial visas to China easily, to Britain, it’s hard.  Loans from Chinese state banks build infrastructure across the world as we’re cutting our aid rather than turning it into investment.”  Yes, a communist country has helped people but a capitalist country relied on military might at its own tax-payers’ expense.

Tugendhat admitted toward the end of his statement that the plight of the Afghan people post-NATO retreat was definitely not what he was most worried about.

It is about our freedom tomorrow not just Afghanistan today.  Because the only defeat is of our own making.  We could decide to act differently.  We could rebuild partnerships and alliances.  Invest in supporting friends and building coalitions.  It costs money, it takes time, but the reward is a world of free people to trade with, who are allowed to share our values, not live in fear.  We don’t need to lose this struggle.  We’re ahead by miles and we have friends who are willing us on, but they’re also watching us at home and abroad and wonder if we really have the commitment.  Many countries are too small and weak.  A brief deployment, we make them look cheap.”

He elucidated his haughty perspective on most of the world’s people.  His remarks above were bereft of any concept of wanting to help anyone.  For Tugendhat, UK presence in Afghanistan, or in any other country, was about competition – “we’re ahead by miles” – and his preferred aim was creation of a market for privateers and creation of another badly-paid workforce to enhance profits of privateers – “the reward is a world of free people to trade with.”

This is why Tugendhat is angry: “That’s bad for us – it makes us look untrustworthy.  It’s bad for our allies – it leaves them looking exposed. It’s bad for our future – it encourages rivals to challenge us.  And it didn’t need to happen.  We have chosen to leave.  We haven’t been forced out.  That’s why I’m angry.”  He’s angry because the UK, (the UK government and the privateers for whom it works), will lose political and financial interest in another country, a country that he describes as beneath the UK, to a “rival.”

Consequences of an immediate and non-democratic change of government in Afghanistan will be awful for many people.  If NATO members had been interested in ensuring such a scenario could not occur then they would have helped to develop an effective popular system of governance with associated infrastructure throughout Afghanistan.  There were two decades of NATO presence to achieve those aims.  As Tugendhat explained, NATO was not there to help.  It was there as a competitor in geopolitical battles with the side hustle of channelling billions of dollars and pounds into the bottomless offshore accounts of arms industry and its financial backers.

Full statement from Tugendhat (August 12th 2021)
If you think I’m taking the news from Afghanistan badly and personally, you’re right.  Over my four years I met and served with the most impressive and courageous people. Afghans, Brits, Americans, Canadians, Dutch, French, Romanians, Turks, Aussies, Kiwis and many more. 

Many of us gave all we could.  The operation broke us.  Worse, it tore families apart, left children orphans and parents to cry alone.  The father carrying his bloodied daughter desperately looking for the help that was now useless haunts me every time I carry my own child.  But through failure and hardship we changed the odds.  It stopped being US or NATO fighting but the Afghan Police and Army.  We built trust and ensured they had the support they needed to sustain operations. 

We got to the point where the insurgent forces were outmatched and a standoff saw civic institutions grow.  No, it wasn’t perfect, but it was growing and time was deepening the roots of society. 

The decision to withdraw is like a rug pulled from under the feet of our partners.  No air support, none of the maintenance crews able to service their equipment – that was done by US contractors, now gone.  That means battle winning technology we had taught the Afghans to rely on is useless.  Billions of dollars of assets, wasted.  Instead of a sustainable peace, incrementally building, we’re seeing a rout.  Of course we are.  Training a man to fight with his eyes open and then blindfolding him before his title bout is going to have only one result. 

This isn’t just about Afghanistan.  It’s about us all.  We are engaged in a challenge over the way the world works.  We’re seeing autocratic powers like China and Russia challenge the rules and break the agreements we’ve made to keep us all safe.  And we know what that means.  Less easy trade.  Obstacles to cooperation.  Confrontation over disputes.  But despite their size, neither is able to break our system unless we walk away. 

The G7+ who met in Cornwall this summer make up  about 70% of world trade.  China, less than 20%.  Russia isn’t even relevant.  We have the financial, commercial, intellectual, military, developmental and cultural ability to defend our interests. 

We know that when free people choose, they choose freedom.  They come to UK, US, not China or Russia. But we’re closing doors.  Nigerians get commercial visas to China easily, to Britain, it’s hard.  Loans from Chinese state banks build infrastructure across the world as we’re cutting our aid rather than turning it into investment.  Russian military support and sales are going to countries we snub pushing them into the arms of those who oppose what we value.

So you want to know why I’m angry?  Because we don’t need to do this.  Because it is about our freedom tomorrow not just Afghanistan today.  Because the only defeat is of our own making. We could decide to act differently.  We could rebuild partnerships and alliances.  Invest in supporting friends and building coalitions.  It costs money, it takes time, but the reward is a world of free people to trade with, who are allowed to share our values, not live in fear. 

We don’t need to lose this struggle.  We’re ahead by miles and we have friends who are willing us on, but they’re also watching us at home and abroad and wonder if we really have the commitment.  Many countries are too small and weak.  A brief deployment we make them look cheap.  They can’t afford the reputational cost of a one night stand, they need a marriage proposal.  After 20 years, billions of dollars and thousands of lives, Afghanistan now looks like a fling. 

That’s bad for us – it makes us look untrustworthy.  It’s bad for our allies – it leaves them looking exposed. It’s bad for our future – it encourages rivals to challenge us.  And it didn’t need to happen.  We have chosen to leave.  We haven’t been forced out. 

That’s why I’m angry. It’s wasteful and unnecessary.  And why it’s personal?  Because I’ve seen what it costs and what sacrifices are being thrown away. And I know who’s going to pay for it – we will.  Britain is weakened when the US and NATO is weakened. 

We can turn this around.  We need to.  Investing in ourselves, our allies and partners has never been easier or more important.  This is a choice.  So far we’re choosing to lose.” Link to Tugendhat statement

Tugendhat article
Alleged liberal magazine New Statesman gave Tugendhat a platform on 16th August – Link to Tugendhat article.  In it he emphasised his fear of China with added focus on Commonwealth countries.  With concise, brief clarity he declared his ire resulted from loss of markets rather than from concern about the lives and welfare of people.  “From the Commonwealth states now receiving more investment from Beijing than from London, to the traders who find it easier to shop in Guangzhou than Glasgow, we need to realise there is a problem, and change it.” 

By “change it” he meant “we can open our markets and remember that allies extend our influence, give us distance from enemies, and enrich our economy.”  That was an expression of his honest attitude to people in other countries.  As a Tory, Tugendhat’s world is the “free market” consisting of exploiters and the exploited.  Capitalism’s vital appendage, imperialism, divides the world further into controllers and dependents.  He wants to “enrich our economy” exactly as the European nations’ governments in the 19th century (and earlier) enriched their economies – made their wealthiest wealthier – by ransacking the globe.  His reference to “enemies” was not aimed at NATO’s opponents in Afghanistan; Tugendhat meant China and Russia.

He repeated his false assessment of the operation in Afghanistan.  “This wasn’t a forever war. This was a garrison operation of the kind needed to support an embryonic government still fighting a domestic insurgency.”  That claim might be valid if NATO troops were there for twenty days but they were there for twenty years and the puppet government was in Kabul for almost all that time.  It was not an “embryonic government.”  It was a con, a pretend government.

He contrasted the retreat from Afghanistan to British military occupation in post-war Germany and ongoing in Cyprus.  “Walking out of Germany in 1950 would have resulted in a newly reformed Wehrmacht steamrolled by Soviet troops.  Leaving Cyprus today would risk another explosion of violence on the Green Line.  Instead of pulling out, we stayed in both.”  His fear for Germany was not fear of a reanimated corpse of Hitler, it was fear of further expansion of USSR.  British presence in Cyprus is nothing to do with stopping Turkey taking control of governance; the island is an ideal location for a British military airbase and naval port and both have been used repeatedly in wars.

He described the decision to leave Afghanistan as “the worst foreign policy failure [by UK government] since Suez crisis of 1956.”  He meant the failure in 1956 to not leave Egypt and to try to steal the canal from the people of Egypt.  Tugendhat compared the ensuing political embarrassment of the respective political decisions.  He was worried that the imagined glorified global status of UK government will be dimmed.  

Aside: Tugendhat on Saudi Arabia
In both his statement and his News Statesman article Tugendhat was entirely correct to highlight the murderous extremism of the politics of the new Afghan government.  His analysis of its authoritarianism and its suppression of freedoms and liberties was a necessary reminder of how people will be treated, particularly women.

Contrast his accurate assessment there with his summary of the government of Saudi Arabia: “I welcome enormously the reforms that Mohammed bin Salman has conducted recently.  He is rightly showing a vision for Saudi Arabia that sees her taking her place as a player in the global economy and I think that is incredibly positive, not just for Saudi Arabia, but for the world.  Mohammed bin Salman was very clear in his speech and I was very pleased to hear him say it that he was keen to return to a moderate form of Islam that Saudi Arabia has practised in the past.  Indeed if you look at Saudi history there is a long history of Bedouin Islam being moderate and I look forward to that asserting itself.” – Tugendhat on Saudi Arabia and Iran, 2018

Saudi Arabian government is both a strong political ally of UK and a huge spender on UK arms.  A few weeks after Tugendhat’s comments BAE sold forty-eight military aircraft to Saudi Arabia, a deal brokered by the UK government. 

Tugendhat2

Tugendhat is a PR voice for imperialism.  Humankind is, for him, relentless competition.  He couldn’t care less for people whose lives will be destroyed (or ended) by the new government in Afghanistan.  He cares that UK businesses’ market for exploitation shrunk a little.  He cares that an excuse for a supply of money to the arms industry was removed.

Tugendhat is an alumnus of £40,000 per annum St. Paul’s School.

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Tom Tugendhat on Afghanistan

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