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Context of 'Shortly Before September 2, 2008: British Envoy Says an ‘Acceptable Dictator’ Should Be Installed in Afghanistan, American Strategy is Doomed'

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Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, believes the US war strategy there is doomed to failure and that public opinion should primed for “an acceptable dictator” to be installed in Kabul, according to a leaked diplomatic cable sent by a French diplomat who met with Sir Sherard. The ambassador’s comments are recounted in a coded diplomatic dispatch sent by deputy French Ambassador to Kabul François Fitou to President Sarkozy and the Foreign Ministry. They are later published by the French investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaîné. Claude Angeli, the veteran Canard journalist who reports the cable, says that he has a copy of the two-page decoded text, which is partially printed in facsimile in his newspaper. “It is quite explosive,” he tells the London Times. According to the leaked memo, Sir Sherard, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, tells Fitou that the only realistic outlook for Afghanistan would be the installation of “an acceptable dictator” within five or 10 years, and that public opinion should be primed for this. He says that Britain had no alternative to supporting the United States in Afghanistan despite the fact that the US-led NATO military operation was making things worse. “We should tell them that we want to be part of a winning strategy, not a losing one,” he is quoted as saying. “In the short term we should dissuade the American presidential candidates from getting more bogged down in Afghanistan.… The American strategy is doomed to fail.” The French Foreign Ministry does not deny the existence of the cable but denounces its publication by Le Canard Enchaîné. Acknowledging that the meeting between Sir Sherard and Fitou did take place, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office says that the cable does not accurately reflect the ambassador’s views. Sources in the British government say the French account is a parody of the British Ambassador’s remarks. The exact date of the meeting is unclear. The Times reports that Sir Sherard imparts his thoughts to Mr Fitou on September 2, but The Guardian and the New York Times clarify that Le Canard Enchaîné reported that the cabled dispatch was sent to the Élysée Palace and the French Foreign Ministry on September 2, relating a meeting that had just happened. [Guardian, 10/2/2008; London Times, 10/2/2008; New York Times, 10/3/2008]

Entity Tags: Claude Angeli, Afghan Government, Sherard Cowper-Coles, François Fitou

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

One month ahead of the official announcement of President Obama’s war strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan (see March 27, 2009), John McCain delivers a policy speech on Afghanistan to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), expressing confidence that ‘victory’ is possible there. Promoting the counterinsurgency strategy advanced by David Kilcullen and the approach already begun by US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and retired Lieutenant General David Barno in Afghanistan, McCain calls for a continued shift from counterterrorism to a counterinsurgency strategy focused on providing security. He also invokes General David Petraeus and the counterinsurgency strategy employed in Iraq. “As it was in Iraq, security is the precondition for political and economic progress in Afghanistan,” he says. McCain states that the US must assist an Afghan surge of security forces, “backed with robust intelligence resources and a sufficient number of troops to carry it out.” He says that at a minimum, the US and allies need to more than double the current size of the Afghan army to 160,000 troops, and should consider enlarging it to 200,000 with the aid of an international trust fund to provide long-term financing. In conclusion, he warns that the days of the war in Afghanistan being perceived as “the good war” may be numbered as costs and casualties mount. [American Enterprise Institute, 2/25/2009]

Entity Tags: David Barno, Afghan National Army, American Enterprise Institute, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, David Kilcullen, John McCain, David Petraeus

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Britain’s ambassador to the United States, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, warns that Afghanistan will need “global support” for decades before being able to govern and protect itself. “We’re going to have a very long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s future,” he says. “This is not just one year; this is going to be for decades. We’re going to help them get to a state which they can ward off the return of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. That’s our strategic objective.” Sheinwald denies that public support for British involvement in Afghanistan is flagging, saying that opinion in Britain remains evenly divided on the war and will improve when results are seen “over the next year or so.” Sheinwald is accompanying British Foreign Secretary David Miliband who is on a two-day visit to the US to discuss war policy in Afghanistan with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, among others. [Boston Globe, 7/31/2009]

Entity Tags: David Miliband, Nigel Sheinwald, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Hillary Clinton

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

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