Pomp and substance for Obama's Britain visit

President Barack Obama and PM David Cameron at the White House on 20 July 2010 Mark Mardell: Mr Cameron and Mr Obama need one another to end the Afghan war

When President Barack Obama and the first lady visit London next week there will be pomp and pageantry aplenty.

The many Americans who seemed entranced by the royal wedding may be delighted that their president will be staying in Buckingham Palace, will be the Queen's guest of honour at a state banquet, and will get a tour of Westminster Abbey.

But it will be a time for serious business too.

The top of the list couldn't be more serious: Afghanistan. The prime minister and the president will be talking about making peace with the Taliban in Afghanistan and ending the fighting for British and American troops.

Senior Western diplomats in Washington say that the killing of Bin Laden could be a "pivot" that could give "extra vigour" to the quest for a political solution in Afghanistan.

The Washington Post reports US and Taliban representatives have held three direct meetings.

My impression is that Mr Obama and Mr Cameron will be talking in some detail about the progress and direction of talks.

One of the big issues is the role played by other powers in the region. Diplomats say Pakistan is the key, and that what's needed is a balancing act where the country is committed to a solution without exercising a veto or having an "unhealthy" involvement.

This is critical for both men - and for their war-weary electorates.

Just as President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair needed each other to go to war in Iraq, Mr Cameron and Mr Obama need each other to end the war in Afghanistan against the judgement of those in their respective militaries who would rather stay and push for a clear victory.

Mr Obama is expected to make a big speech next month ahead of the troop withdrawals he has promised will begin in July.

Just when British soldiers start coming home - and how many - probably depends on the details of what the Americans do. Mr Cameron has made 2015 a clear deadline for the end of a combat role. The senior diplomat suggested that it was difficult to imagine a serious wind down "without a decisive move in the political process".

There will be more meat in next week's visit than just what is on the menu at the state banquet.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    Re #216

    No, Lucy: prolonged wars cause only more suffering and misery than swift operations.

    The problem is that for political/PR reasons many Western leaders preferred to conduct military operations by piecemeal, effectively tying one hand of of our military behind its collective back.

    It started with LBJ in Vietnam with disastrous consequences.
    [Vietnam still suffers in a Commie yoke]

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    Pm: We've removed one worm and opened a whole can of other worms.

    It just doesn't seem very smart for economically recovering countries to get involved in long costly wars..

    Do you believe in long-term wars, Pmk?

    Its easy to spend money, but its harder to earn it just like its easy to gain weight but harder to lose it.

    USA is the best country in the world, but we need a change from war

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    Re #210 "For heavy projects we MAY need Russia.[...] They also know the social and religious sensitivity of local people."

    Indeed; in Afghanistan Russia has amply demonstrated deep knowledge of those sensitivities .

    Just like earlier in Eastern/Central Europe and now in Caucasus.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    18th maja 2011 - 20:26
    And can people stop quoting wikipedia please!!!!!! - it's not exactly the most accurate source of information in the world eh????

    Indeed. Wikileaks is much more reliable, eh????

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    163. LucyJ
    18th maja 2011 - 19:19
    Pm: Could you please advise Cameron and Sarko (not to mention BHO) - how to get out of Libyan sham?

    By removing Gaddafi? Would that be the end of us being there?

    No. Just like removing Saddam Hussein has not put an end to our involvement in Iraq. We've removed one worm and opened a whole can of other worms. Removing Osama hasn't put an end to al Qaeda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    The problem comes while re-paying the expanses for re-building process. Afghanistan does not have any known, huge natural resources (like oil etc for countries like Iraq) or even functional institutions. Its industrial and other investment potential is practically nil, for the time being at least. Western powers will not find it much attractive for long term involvement and investment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    "But soft power is "India's greatest asset" in Afghanistan, writes Shashi Tharoor, former under-secretary-general at the United Nations. He says Indian television soaps and Indian films are very popular in Afghanistan and their particular strength is that they have "nothing to do with government propaganda. Such influence engages the population in a way that takes into account what THEY want".

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    I like to include Iran, mainly because of two reasons. It has the 1) ability and 2) trust of Afghan people and government. For heavy projects we MAY need Russia. All these three countries are either direct neighbor or in the neighborhood. They can get the "work done", FASTER and CHEAPER than any (exclusively) Western efforts. They also know the social and religious sensitivity of local people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    There are currently about four thousand Indian workers and security personnel working on different relief and reconstruction projects. India has sent the country's mountain-trained paramilitary force, there are about five hundred police deployed in Afghanistan currently. India is involved in a wide array of development projects there. http://www.cfr.org/india/india-afghanistan-relations/p17474

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    Golden32 (#191). India has very elaborate an extensive involvement in Afghanistan (both in the past and recent re-building process), but does not like that to be advertised, mainly due to compulsion of internal politics (involving Muslim vote bank in India). "Since 2001, India has offered $1.2 billion for Afghanistan's reconstruction, making it the largest regional donor to the country".

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    I can give more detail answer and my aggressive opposition against Indian form of racism and all pervasive corruption in many BBC posts, in India specific Sautik Bisaws's blog. If you are interested to know more about it (or influence of perverted interpretation of "religion"- including Hinduism, Islam, Christianity) and how that prevent India from reaching its potential- please let me know.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    @ inconvenient_ruth (#192). Oh dear. I have no problem to accept the reality of Indian society- highly feudal, racist (that include caste). In my scale India would get 5 (out of 10 scale) in intra-race, while UK 9, US 3. More interestingly, people in Indian subcontinent practically worship white skinned people, while discriminate against brown/blacks!!!! India must address that ASAP. Got it?

  • Comment number 205.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    @Golden32, Definitely any peace-keeping force should play a supporting role to the Afghan army and I think regional by-in is a must for success. Even token participation or approval by another Mid-Eastern nation would suffice, but we need something of the sort.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    201. mscracker,

    There are some members of the TeaParty that have demonstrated racist attitudes. That isn't to say all TPers are racists, but the idiots always get the media coverage.

    I do, however, see the TP's ignorance of economics and governance to be a problem. They desperately need a crash course in these. Naivety can be refreshing, but it can also be dangerous and gains us nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    @Theowyn, perhaps a UN peace-keeping force can be drawn mostly from regional nations (all of whom are UN members) but that may be too sensitive, politically. Either way I would propose that their role be in support of the Afghan army rather than directing it (that's the objective of the ISAF after all). @mscracker, a perception of the Tea Party as bigots would be a minority view. Palin, however...

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    198. IHaveAQuestion
    Thanks for your response & no, of course I'm not offended. I think the Tea Party folk do give off some strange vibes but I certainly don't think of them as racist nor bigoted & still wonder why they are preceived as such-especially in Britain?
    I wouldn't say they are ignorant, but sometimes uninformed & without political savvy. Not being politically expert can be refreshing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    199. Golden32.

    Sounds good to me, but I'm not sure what the Afghan government will do. More to the point, if we get peace keepers in there and the Taliban continues to fight, we'll just have swapped one Western army for another in the eyes of the region. We need other Mid-East countries to step up and take on some responsibility, but given the unrest in the area, I'm not sure that's realistic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    @ Theowyn - It's in nobody's interests to have an unstable Afghanistan. I would hope that the Afghanistan government would welcome international support (logistics, infrastructure, civil and criminal institutions) through the UN post troop withdrawal. Would a multi-national UN peace-keeping force in support of the Afghan army be out of the question?

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    I know the Tea Party doesn't trpredent the views of all republivations and that they are just a slightly bonkers minority. My point was that i would never judge all of america as bigots based on just that one groups semming racism and ignorance. As i felt Jay was doing at the time of reading his post.
    i hope i didn't offend you - why would i be on a US thread if i didn't find you all interesting!


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