‘We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country. We are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened.’
– Liam Fox, Defence Secretary
It’s no great surprise that Liam Fox has sought to present himself as ‘a guarantor for the Conservative Right’ in the new coalition.
He’ll delight many Tories with that pitch, given that the Lib Dems have somehow bagged the chairs of more than half the cabinet committees where ministers hammer out the detail of government policy. It can’t be long before every Lib Dem MP is a minister — good for them — and perhaps Cameron really is delighted to be able to neuter the Tory right. When the Conservatives swing back to the right, as they surely will, Fox will be hoping to lead the right against the Lib Cons and later lead the party.
Yet his comments on Afghanistan, in which he belittles nation building, show that he is a man of little vision. He is right that Britain cannot be the world’s policeman and it follows that we are even less able to run the world’s schools, but he fails to recognise that poverty and ignorance are radicalism’s greatest allies. Educated, wealthy peoples do not go looking for wars that will take them back to the thirteenth century (or whether it is Fox finds Afghanistan).
We can’t fix everywhere, but we need to do all we can with Afghanistan. Afghanistan really is home to a band of ultra-conservatives who think bringing down liberal democracy is a religious duty.
Reading Fox, one can’t help but remember that he is the founder of the Atlantic Bridge, a think tank originally established with the ‘simple aim of “Strengthening the Special Relationship” exemplified by the Reagan-Thatcher partnership of the 1980s’. So what would Thatcher do? Thatcher was no nation builder. She preferred to use the overseas aid budget to support the career of her arms dealer son, a man who may not enter the USA because he has been convicted of a terrorism related offence.
Fox’s belittling nation building in Afghanistan further confirms that he remains a simple Thatcherite. Those who believe that there is no such thing as society simply cannot see the need to build it up.