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Forty years later: British soldiers in the North were initially sent in for a 'limited engagement'

Lessons from Northern Ireland on Obama's Afghanistan decision

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Forty years later: British soldiers in the North were initially sent in for a 'limited engagement'

The first British commander in Northern Ireland in 1969 told Prime Minister Harold Wilson that it was very easy to send the troops in but very difficult to pull them out. He was right.

The BBC report of that day started off "The British Government has sent troops into Northern Ireland in what it says is a "limited operation" to restore law and order."

Forty years later they are still there. Some limited action!

I hope President Barack Obama knows the truth of that tale when he sends 30,000 or so extra Americans to 'limited' war again tonight in his televised speech.

I hope he remembers they are all some mother's son, some wife's husband, some child's mother or father, that he doesn't just see them as men on a map ready to move hither and yon to defeat the insurgent enemy.

I hope he remembers that Britain and Russia fought in those very same desolate places in Afghanistan in the 19th century in the war known then as The Great Game and neither side won.

The war in various guises, with different nations, but equally bloody results and  uncertain outcomes  has been going on ever since. It is still the Great Game

The single most powerful piece of television I have seen was on BBC World News when they visited a memorial and graveyard for British troops somewhere in Afghanistan.

As the reporter remarked they had been dead almost two centuries but would recognize instantly the battlefields still being fought over today. Plus ca change.

I hope Obama doesn't listen to the middle-aged summer soldiers back home who bay for blood and a long war and who never kitted up to go to battle themselves. I hope he remembers that young men die fighting old men's wars

I hope he has better commanders who really understand the quagmire that war can be than those in Iraq.

General Haig commander of the British Army in the First World War. was the worst soldier ever. 
Much of the kind of the fighting taking place in the First World War was alien to him. As a cavalry man he preferred horses.  "The machine gun is a much over-rated weapon," he said in 1915; he made similar remarks over the use of the tank. He led hundreds of thousands to their death at The Somme.

I hope Obama understands that war cannot succeed without massive civilian outreach and American "soft power."

Above all I hope he knows what he is doing. It is the most difficult decision any American president has to make to put our soldiers in harm's way.

We have lost a lot of young Americans this decade. Let us hope we will not lose many more.

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