By Paul Goodman
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The joint article in a distinguished paper such as the Washington Post is as integral a part of a British Prime Minister's visit to the United States as the state dinner, the basketball game visit and the talks. What today's piece doesn't say is as important as what it does, and I do my best below to fill in the omissions.
"Over the next few days, we will consult about preparations for the NATO summit in Chicago, where our alliance will determine the next phase of the transition that we agreed to in Lisbon. This includes shifting to a support role in advance of Afghans taking full responsibility for security in 2014 and ensuring that NATO maintains an enduring commitment so that Afghanistan is never again a haven for al-Qaeda to launch attacks against our citizens."
Translation: "We both want out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible."
"We believe there is time and space to pursue a diplomatic solution, and we are coordinating our diplomatic approach with China, France, Germany and Russia, our P5+1 partners. Meanwhile, as the United States imposes its strongest sanctions to date and the European Union prepares to impose an embargo on Iranian oil, the choice for Tehran will be sharpened — meet your international obligations or face the consequences."
Translation: "Netanyahu, don't bomb Iran. Give sanctions time to work."
"We condemn the Syrian regime’s horrific violence against innocent civilians, and we are focused on the urgent humanitarian task of getting food and medicine to those in need. With our international partners, we’ll continue to tighten the noose around Bashar al-Assad and his cohorts, and we’ll work with the opposition and the United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to plan for the transition that will follow Assad’s departure from power."
Translation: "We have no intention whatsoever of sending group troops into Syria."
In other words, we are coming to the end of a ten-year cycle marked by hopes that military intervention could help to transform distant countries with different cultures into liberal democracies.
It is likely that both British and American troops will be deployed to the middle east if Israel attacks Iran or Iran attacks western interests there. But neither Barack Obama or David Cameron would do so with any enthusiasm and they will strive to keep boots off the ground.
They appreciate that the deployment of ground troops into Syria is no more likely to have a happy outcome than the sending of them into Iraq. Rory Stewart said all that needed to be said about Afghanistan yesterday in a magisterial article for the Evening Standard.
It is time to understand that there are severe limits to what the sacrifice of blood and treasure can achieve in the middle east, especially when so little of the latter is available and so much of the former has been shed to no lasting gain.