After over a decade of futile bloodshed, David Cameron has declared ''mission accomplished'' in regards to the war in Afghanistan. It's hard not to wonder just how firm his grasp on reality is.
It was without any hint of irony, twelve years ago, that the Bush administration labelled its mission in Afghanistan 'Operation Enduring Freedom'. The World Trade Centre, a gigantic symbol of US commercial strength, had been freshly transformed from the tallest building in the world into dust and rubble. Within hours after its collapse, Bin Laden had been identified as the mastermind responsible. Things were moving quickly. Vengeance, it seemed, would be swift.
With all the swaggering arrogance which he became internationally renowned for, Bush told the nations of the world, ''Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists''. At this time he was enjoying that which political scientist John Mueller had long ago termed a 'rally round the flag' effect, in which international crises and similar phenomena provoke a short-term boost in a leader's popularity. Many Americans proceeded to rally around their flag and their president as he prepared to take his country to war against a state accused of harboring a non-state actor.
The US media played a role in inciting jingoistic sentiments. On the day of the 9/11 attacks, the word 'war' was mentioned 57 times by anchors, correspondents and reporters of three major news networks. The words 'Pearl Harbour' were used 41 times. War seemed inevitable. The United States thus embarked upon a military endeavour which would ultimately last longer than both world wars combined. Blair, evidently having no wish to be regarded by Bush as being ''with the terrorists'' plunged Britain into a conflict against a battle-hardened enemy which already had decades of combat experience in its native land.
Upon the 2001 invasion the Taliban was ousted from power quickly, and the puppet government of Hamid Karzai was installed. Much to the disappointment of the war's apologists, the Taliban did not fade into obscurity and leave the west to its self-appointed task of nation building. Instead it took the initiative, fighting a guerilla war against conventional armies. Human Rights Watch described 2011 - a full decade after the first invading troops trod Afghan soil - as ''the most violent year ever''.
For many Afghans, life under Karzai's ineffectual government remains on the same comparatively bleak levels as was existent under the Taliban. This is particularly true for Afghan women. Though there are still some who try to pretend otherwise, western occupation has not been a harbinger of progressive Afghan politics. Corruption in Afghanistan is rife. Poppy cultivation and production are at record highs. The dream of re-fashioning the country into some sort of western image has failed. It was an ignoble fantasy to begin with.
The war's legacy? In 2013, the Taliban remain an unbeaten enemy. 446 British lives have been claimed to date, and British forces will be leaving Afghanistan on the same terms that they could have left at any time over the past twelve years. The Al Qaeda mindset has not been contained but has proliferated across the Middle East and West Africa. In Syria it can be found comprising a large part of the rebel forces. As successive British governments were repeatedly warned, the war in Afghanistan has served as a recruiting sergeant for militant extremism. The world is a more dangerous place because of it.
If this is a victory, it is difficult to imagine what a defeat would look like.