Transcript of an interview after the fall of Kabul
BBC2 Newsnight – 18 August 2021
Kirsty Wark: … Joining me now is Labour's Stephen Kinnock and Julian Lewis, the Conservative MP and Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, although he cannot discuss their work in public. He is appearing tonight in his capacity as former Chair of the Defence Select Committee. Good evening to both of you. Julian Lewis, you heard what Nick Watt said there, so what was going on, why did we get it so badly wrong about how fast the Taliban was moving? Was the intelligence not there or, in fact, did the politicians ignore the intelligence?
Julian Lewis: I’m sorry, Kirsty, but your first question to me is about intelligence matters and, as I’ve made it clear, I have come on this programme to talk about military strategy.
What we really have to ask ourselves is: why did President Biden decide that he only had a choice between a total withdrawal under hasty and disorderly circumstances or massive reinforcement? There were all sorts of choices in between, and there is a strategy which we must have; because, if our only choice other than nation-building is total withdrawal, then what are we going to do if we are attacked again by al-Qaeda either from a newly Taliban-controlled Afghanistan or from some similar rogue state. We cannot go into each of these states and take on the task of bringing them into the 21st century. That’s why I’ve been arguing for the past ten years that we need to adapt the policy of Containment and have a method whereby we go in, we punish rogue regimes for harbouring terrorists, we put terrorists to flight and then we withdraw with the threat that we will come back and do the same thing again. But we don’t get sucked in, as we did in Afghanistan.
Kirsty Wark: That’s very interesting that you say that, because I would then say “Who is the ‘we’?” Is it the UK on its own, or is it the US? I wonder if this whole debacle has been actually detrimental to the US–UK relationship – that Special Relationship.
Julian Lewis: That’s a very good point, and the fact is this was a NATO operation, and there are few people who would claim – from the Cold War onwards – that, other than in exceptional circumstances, and a very limited circumstance like the re-taking of the Falkland Islands, our security can in any way be separated out on the international – on the larger international – stage from the NATO alliance. And the NATO alliance has suffered as the result of this in its credibility; but that’s what happens when you announce, as two successive American Presidents did announce, that having got into nation-building and total support and micro-management of a country like Afghanistan, that you were then going to set an arbitrary date for withdrawal, thus pulling the rug out from under any possibility of a negotiated solution. So, the fact is, we must get, and remain, close to our allies – America and our NATO partners – and remember, there was a huge coalition, at one stage, involved in Afghanistan. But we must think clearly and strategically, and we have to have a policy not to get sucked in whenever a few hundred, or at most a few thousand, terrorists operate in a failed state – we then get sucked in there while they start putting their efforts into other states. …