When making a seasonal visit to British troops in Afghanistan, there were many things that the Prime Minister could not conceivably have said, and to his credit he did manage not to say most of them.
For reasons of both political expediency and courtesy towards his military hosts, David Cameron could not say what he would say in private if you tied him down and injected him with a truth drug: that the Afghan war has been a brutal exercise in nihilistic futility, in which thus far countless civilians and 446 UK troops have been lost, along with untold billions of pounds, for the primary benefit of the global heroin industry and manufacturers of choicest drones.
He might add that, when Nato withdraws and leaves that godforsaken land to its own devices, it will more than likely implode into civil war, if that isn’t too neat a term for a chaotic series of vicious struggles between warlords; that the Taliban, far from defeated, remains a major force; and that al-Qa’ida will return from the other side the Pakistan border.
Something else that he could not say is that, after a dozen years of hellish warfare, the Afghanistan abandoned to its gruesome fate will be barely distinguishable from the Afghanistan of 2001, with the exception that the poppy yield – virtually eradicated under the Taliban – is now at an all-time high.
Given the above, and recalling an infamous precedent supplied aboard an American aircraft carrier six weeks after the invasion of Iraq, the thing he could least of all afford to say is what he in fact said. In the Prime Minister’s defence, he did not use the words “mission accomplished” in that order. But then George W Bush did not use them at all on the USS Abraham Lincoln on 1 May 2003, delegating that expression of vainglorious folly to the gigantic banner by which he was framed.
What Mr Cameron actually said, when asked if the final troops would come home next spring with their mission accomplished, was: “Yes … The absolute driving part of the mission is the basic level of security so that it doesn’t become a haven for terror. That is the mission, that was the mission, and I think we will have accomplished that mission …”
All of which is, of course, a meandering attempt to redefine the mission (to capture Osama Bin Laden and destroy the Taliban) as whatever he naively believes justifies that risibly deceitful claim of victory.
This statement, which will boomerang back to smack him in the chops if and when Afghan security forces are overrun by Taliban and al-Qa’ida insurgents, seems so incomprehensibly daft that we must flail about for a charitable explanation.
Has a bout of amnesia – possibly caused by a blow to the temple, from the Danish Prime Minister’s elbow, as he scrambled to insert his inanely grinning mug into that selfie – made Mr Cameron forget that “mission accomplished” defined the hubristic crassness of President Bush? Was he so jet lagged from all the recent long-haul flying that he had no idea what he was babbling? Or did he, feeling as bleak about that eternally failed state’s future as everyone else does, intend to express his despair in code through the medium of sledgehammer satire?
There is one other explanation. On the same day that he said the unsayable, the Daily Mail published on its website a portrait of Catherine the Great in which, it claimed, the Empress of All the Russias is the absolute spit of Mr Cameron. The Mail has a habit of publishing pictures of supposed dead ringers, and by and large these juxtapositions remind you of the Madame Tussauds of old, when a waxwork of the Queen might easily have been mistaken for Frank Bruno. But in this instance, the likeness is striking. Catherine and Cameron are doppelgangers.
Assuming that he is not amnesiac, the PM will remember that Catherine the Great is best known, by those unfamiliar with other aspects of her remarkable life, for an alleged relationship with a horse. Mythology holds that she died when her equine lover slipped from the harness positioned above her bed to enable the act of inter-species love, and crushed the life out of her.
With the phone-hacking trial in the midst of its long run, the last thing Mr Cameron may feel he needs right now is a public reminder of his own troublesome, though platonic, relationship with the retired police horse borrowed on his behalf from the Met by Rebekah Brooks. Since the animal was named Raisa after a later First Lady of All the Russias – Mrs Gorbachev – one appreciates the sensitivity of any comparison with Catherine. On this basis, perhaps the PM drew the rival comparison with Bush as a desperate diversionary tactic, to remove the spotlight from that uncanny resemblance to Catherine the Great.
I know this will strike you as a deranged rationale for Mr Cameron’s absurd claim of victory, and so it is. All that need be said in its favour is that it makes infinitely more sense than “mission accomplished”.