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Congratulations Obama: now end the bloodshed in Afghanistan

The outcome of the US elections was a moment of great joy and satisfaction.

The peacemaker Obama has been voted into power again. He is a man who voted against the Iraq war in 2003, against the jingoism of his time. He will continue to serve the world with his idealism, his intelligence and his audacity of hope. He has given politics a fresh nobility and intellectual rigour. He also leads a nation that has sacrificed more of its sons and daughters in the service of bringing democracy to other nations than any other on earth.

President Obama now has two main tasks, in my view: ending the bloodshed in Afghanistan and avoiding the possibility of a war in Iran. I believe that if Obama had been President in 2001, a war in Afghanistan would have been avoided, because a deal would have been possible if America had been willing to recognise the Taliban Government; Osama bin Laden would have been handed over. But the country was full of understandable desire for vengeance after the terrible events of 9/11.

There is an uglier side to the picture. On one side is hope, idealism and rhetoric, but it is right that we as a Parliament should confront the consequences of our own decisions. The decision to send troops to Afghanistan was ours in the House of Commons, and nobody else’s. We decided to do it, and even worse, we decided to go into Helmand in 2006. At that time, only two British soldiers had died in combat. We went in with the hope of the then Defence Secretary that not a shot would be fired, and that we would be there for three years to supervise a bit of reconstruction.

Under all Governments since that time, we have had debate after debate. I have taken part in many of them over the years—in 2008, 2009 and so on. We have always heard optimism from Government spokesmen, and the hope that things were going right. In 2004, a Foreign Office Minister told me, “We have turned the corner on drugs.”

We have turned that corner so many times that we have been around the block half a dozen times, and where are we on drugs?

That was one of the justifications for going into Afghanistan: Tony Blair and Geoff Hoon said, “Of course we must go into Afghanistan, because 90% of the heroin on the streets of Britain comes from there.” Eleven years later, 90% of that heroin comes from Afghanistan, but there is a difference: it is cheaper, and there is more of it.

This is an edited version of Paul Flynn’s first contribution to the Combat Troop Withdrawal (Afghanistan) debate in Parliament. You can read more of the debate on Paul’s website.

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