x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Americans face a difficult and lonely road ahead

This is what the Taliban's leaders in Pakistan have been waiting for: a collapse in public opinion as insulated continental Europe grows weary of a war that its population does not understand or support.

So Marjah is just the beginning. General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, told America's NBC network on Sunday that the offensive in the Afghan town in Helmand province is the start of a long campaign. He warned the offensive - 15,000 American, British and Afghan troops - is the first in a 12 to 18 month campaign as 30,000 American reinforcements arrive to turn back the tide of the Taliban's power.

The battle of Marjah is the "initial salvo". Loss of life will be high, he admitted. The general's tough talk contrasts with what is happening elsewhere in the Nato alliance. The Dutch cabinet collapsed at the weekend over a controversial plan to extend its troop presence in Afghanistan. The 2,000 Dutch soldiers stationed in southern Uruzgan province will now almost certainly leave in August as planned. The prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende's party wanted a smaller force to stay on beyond August but the Labour party, a critical part of the governing coalition, insisted on a total withdrawal.

The next test is Germany. Next Friday, the lower house will vote on a proposal to increase its forces from approximately 4,000 to 5,300. Last Saturday, anti-war protesters held a demonstration demanding withdrawal. This is what the Taliban's leaders in Pakistan have been waiting for: a collapse in western public opinion as insulated continental Europe grows weary of a war that its population does not understand or support. The Dutch have lost 21 soldiers since they were deployed in 2006.

These are people for whom the bombing of Dresden and the Nazi flag hanging over the Arc de Triomphe are within living memory. It is hard to make the case that protecting a dirt track in a province whose name no one can pronounce or locate on a map is of critical national interest. It is different for the Americans. Although President Barack Obama has promised to start bringing American troops home next year, there are caveats in the fine print.

The departure of US forces and the prospect of jubilant Taliban fighters firing triumphant rounds of machine-gun fire from the rooftops of Kabul is simply not an option. It would be seen as a major defeat for American military, diplomatic and economic power and probably embolden militant Islamist movements around the world. To complicate matters even more, America is deeply involved in a covert war next door in Pakistan against the Taliban and al Qa'eda. It cannot stop fighting in Afghanistan because of the cross-border nature of the insurgency.

The Americans and the British will probably have to push on ahead, probably alone. General Stanley McChrystal, the head of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, already said this weekend that Marjah was the "model for the future". He hinted Kandahar may be next.

There was something supremely distasteful about Tiger Woods's press conference on Friday. A dozen women have come forward claiming to have slept with the married athlete with the formerly squeaky clean image. That is modern American life. He is not the first and won't be the last famous sportsman to be what British tabloids call a "love rat". But even worse was the forced and gruesome display of shame at the press conference designed to begin his public rehabilitation. It was arranged and hosted by the PGA Tour and took place at a golf course in Florida. His mother sat in the front row - next to a Nike representative. His wife did not attend.

"I ask you to find room in your heart to one day believe in me again," Woods said, adding that he would make his "behaviour more respectful of the game". I should hope he said a version of those words to his wife and family. If he did, doesn't it cheapen the impact to have to say it to a room full of reporters and company executives? The tightly controlled event seemed designed to placate his corporate sponsors: Tag Heuer, Gillette and Nike. No doubt Woods will "move on" once he finishes his therapy.

The fact that he betrayed his wife and tore apart his family is bad enough. But the moralising by multinational companies fixated on their bottom line while feigning concern about fidelity and family life is frankly gross. hghafour@thenational.ae