My eye was caught yesterday by a quote in Rachel Sylvester's column yesterday in The Times. She quoted the opposition Conservative Party's defence spokesman, Dr Liam Fox, making the case for staying the course in Afghanistan. “Imagine if Churchill had said — ‘things aren’t going well in the opinion polls’,” he said. “If we are forced out that would be a shot in the arm to jihadists everywhere.”
But a vivid imagination is not necessary. Here is Churchill arguing the need to withdraw from Iraq, in a letter to the prime minister, Lloyd George, in August 1920.
There is “something very sinister to my mind in this Mesopotamian entanglement” he wrote to Lloyd George. “It seems to me so gratuitous that after all the struggles of war, just when we want to get together our slender military resources and re-establish our finances and have a little in hand in case of danger here or there, we should be compelled to go on pouring armies and treasure into these thankless deserts.”
“We have not got a single friend in the press on the subject, and there is no point of which they make more effective use to injure the Government. Week after week and month after month for a long time we shall have a continuance of this miserable, wasteful, sporadic warfare…”
Churchill was overruled. But the idea that he, like any other elected politician, did not pay close attention to public opinion, is risible.