Appearing before Westminster’s foreign affairs committee on Wednesday, Dominic Raab was bad-tempered, shifty and unprepared, acquitting himself as well as could have been expected.
The British foreign secretary’s handling of the evacuation from Afghanistan is universally agreed to have been woeful and the committee’s members made no effort to hide their derision.
Raab’s reluctance to return from a holiday in Crete as Kabul fell to the Taliban last month set the tone for much of the criticism he has faced since. But on the basis of his evidence to the committee, he might have been on the beach all year for all the preparation he made for the United States’s departure from Afghanistan on August 31st, a date that had been inked firmly into the diplomatic diary since April.
Raab did not call the foreign ministers of Afghanistan or Pakistan during the six months leading up to the evacuation and was unable to say when any of his ministers had last visited neighbouring Uzbekistan or Tajikistan.
Germany’s foreign minister was in both of those countries on Monday, securing a deal for evacuees to pass through Uzbekistan, and European Council president Charles Michel has been wooing Afghanistan’s neighbours for months.
The received wisdom at Westminster is that Raab will be moved from the foreign office whenever Boris Johnson gets around to reshuffling his cabinet. But loyalty has always been a quality Johnson values more highly in his ministers than talent or efficiency so Raab could yet win a reprieve.
The greatest British political casualty from the events in Afghanistan may not be Raab but Johnson’s post-Brexit foreign policy, which is based on the closest possible relationship with Washington. Joe Biden’s blithe indifference towards his Nato allies’ interests ruffled feathers across Europe but nowhere was the reaction as emotional as it has been in London.
To add to the humiliation of being treated so shabbily by the other half in its “special relationship”, Britain’s efforts to assemble a coalition for a continued Afghan operation without the US were brushed aside by European allies.
Without the US, the European Union has at least in theory the option of pursuing the strategic autonomy advocated by French president Emmanuel Macron, which embraces economic interests as well as military and strategic ones.
After Brexit, Britain has no alternative to remaining a loyal and unquestioning ally to a US administration that knows Johnson has nowhere else to go. It is the very antithesis of strategic autonomy, or to call it by another name, sovereignty.