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!

This is a rough sketch of how I think Defoe might have written it:

John Darwin, in case you spent the weekend inside a soundproof bag, is the man who walked into West End Central Police Station in Piccadilly late on Saturday afternoon, five and a half years after he went missing at sea. He has been presumed dead since his canoe was discovered in pieces near Hartlepool in March 2002. He has no memory of anything that happened after June 2000.

Imagine the possibilities. This man was a relic of the millenarian age of innocence. Is it possible that terrorists will ever make a major strike against a US or British city resulting in mass loss of life? we would ask him, What kind of group might perpetrate such a strike? If they do, and assuming they have no direct links to any particular nation state, what would be the appropriate response?

When you walked into the police station and saw that the policemen carried guns, were you surprised?

He might have been set to become a liberal’s totem, the man who sees it like it really is. Newspapers would have clamoured for his opinion. He would have spoken, a little glassily, at dinners, on the violently clashing reality around him, as compared to the world he had left. He would have addressed meetings. By and by, he might have addressed rallies. He would have been mentioned in the House.

He would hide any signs that his memory was coming back as this would mean abandoning the role of seer. If he knows he is doing and saying the right thing, where’s the harm in allowing people to believe that his words have a cache denied to those not suffering from amnesia? His pronouncements would result in good and in evil, to his own awe and horror. And a number of personal and private reversals later, he would have withdrawn from the public eye and relearned the art of living quietly.

And then, one day, a knock on the door, and this. The whole thing perhaps nothing more than a badly-executed insurance scam. There are no magic answers to the human condition after all.

Maybe it’s a little more Swift than Defoe, actually.

This time my new word is in English, not French. It comes courtesy of David Miliband, who has said that Gordon Brown would also have invaded Iraq had he been Prime Minister at the time. Well, thank arse that’s cleared up. Diplomats of the world, stand down.

Miliband’s words were as follows:

[David Miliband] conceded that decisions taken since the war “could have been done better” but insisted: “No one is resiling from the original decision.”

Resiling? I thought. Isn’t it funny when you hear a word you have literally never heard before. I mean, not just heard before and not understood, or heard before, adopted as your own and casually used in circumstances where the fact that you don’t really know what it means doesn’t matter. Just never heard before at all. I’d heard Gadarene, but not resiling.

From Merriam-Webster:

intransitive verb
Inflected Form(s):
re·siled; re·sil·ing
Late Latin & Latin; Late Latin resilire to withdraw, from Latin, to recoil

Is the Foreign Secretary playing “Use this word in a sentence in a policy announcement this week” with himself?

Last week Turkey declared its intention to send troops into Northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish insurgents, and George Bush addressed the White House press corps as follows.

“Yes, we know there is a terrorism problem in Northern Iraq. But there are better ways of dealing with it than…”

Please complete his sentence using your background knowledge.

(a) uuuh….how they’re dealing with it.

(b) lighting the beacons of Minas Tirith to call upon the horsemen of Rohan for aid, for the great King Theoden is under a curse, as it is said.

(c) invading Iraq.


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