In case you missed it, the Cleggster has been in Afghanistan over the weekend getting shot at. With real rockets. Presumably not accompanied by any of the usual Westminster bubble media hacks – “Nick, would you mind doing that again for the cameras? Yeah, just a bit of a flinch when the great big bang comes… Perfect.”
I don’t tend to write about war very much. It just isn’t very funny. (Actually, that’s not true. I have it on good authority from people who have done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan that it has moments of absolute gibbering hilarity. You couldn’t get through it otherwise. “Shall I take’em out, sir?” “No, corporal.” “But they’ve got a gun, sir.” “Yes, corporal. We’ve got a tank.”)
But the main reason I don’t write about war is because, obviously enough, there isn’t a liberal perspective like there is for every other aspect of policy-making. Liberalism has no answers to offer on a logistical and strategic problem like how to succeed in a theatre of war – though it has a great deal to say as soon as the last shot has been fired. Once you’ve committed to war, as the party did in this case, there’s little to do other than see it through.
So Clegg’s concerns are the universal ones – why isn’t the British purpose in Afghanistan being driven home to the public more clearly? Why haven’t we got a decent strategy for tackling the opium trade? Why isn’t the international community providing more co-ordinated support for reconstruction, without which the whole exercise will have been worse than useless? Why aren’t the troops being paid enough? And why, even after a great deal of improvement, have they still not got enough decent kit? (The answer to a lot of these questions, of course, insofar as they involve stretched resources, is a great big fat “Iraq”.)
But what, I hear you cry, does The Army Rumour Service (ARRSE) make of the party leader’s visit?
“Oh great,” says one poster, wearily, “More vote-grabbing by our dear (wannabe) leaders. Does it matter? Not like we will have a general election any time soon.”
You might just have answered your own question there, soldier. Still, another poster is more forgiving: “Well least he has gone out there to see for himself. More than a lot of MPs have done.”
Others, meanwhile, muse with gentle cynicism on Clegg’s opinion that Afghanistan is “the most important conflict of our generation”.
Poster 1: “Er, until the next one, presumably?”
Poster 2: “Beat me to it. I was going to say ‘Until IRAN!’”
Ah! as General Melchett would say, the healthy humour of the honest Tommy!