It was only towards the end of yesterday that I got round to finishing reading the Guardian and looked at the letters page. There, sat at the top of the page, was the following letter from Paddy Ashdown:
Simon Jenkins’s ability to break wind at length on your pages provides one of the Guardian’s most enjoyable and readable high points. His seeming aversion to ever expressing a modulated opinion somehow does not appear to diminish the pleasure.
But enthusiasm to make a point is not an excuse for inaccuracies. In his piece this week, he said I had “returned recently from Kabul consumed with imperial zeal” (It takes inane optimism to see victory in Afghanistan, Comment, August 8). In fact, I have never been to Kabul.
As for “imperial zeal”, which Sir Simon spends much of his article attaching to me and railing against, if he had read my recent book, Swords and Ploughshares, before commencing bombardment, he would have found it dedicated to the proposition that the era of imperial intervention is over – I call it “gunboat intervention” – and that we have to find a different way of doing things.
Finally, he accuses me of saying on your pages that success in Afghanistan was “probable” (his quotation marks). I said no such thing. In fact, the word “probable” does not even appear in my article.
What I actually said was that failure was likely, unless the policy radically changed. There is a difference between the two.
We all know that, as the Guardian’s highly successful resident controversialist, Sir Simon’s job – and nature it seems – is to relish failure more than success. But he would be more powerful, and no less enjoyable, if he took a little more care to be a little more accurate.
Norton sub Hamdon, Somerset
Of course, there is little love lost between our party and Simon Jenkins, so it came as little surprise to read the article which prompted this letter, where Jenkins essentially makes the argument that Afghanistan is a lost cause and that we are being imperialist to continue to try not to let it slide into the mire which Iraq has already found itself in. I don’t know if I agree, but if the facts are as slapdash as Paddy suggests, I don’t know if it’s even worth engaging with.