Friday 3 September 2021
Claudia, narrating: Hi, I’m Claudia, and this is Sensemaker.
One story, everyday, to make sense of the world.
Today, how a holiday became the talk of the town as the Taliban took over Afghanistan.
The Americans want to avoid a Saigon moment but today there was more than a hint of comparable chaos here in Kabul.ITV
On the 15th August 2021, Kabul fell.
After nearly two decades of war, thousands dead and millions more displaced, the Taliban were officially back.
But the news that was dominating the Sunday papers that weekend in Britain wasn’t what was happening in Afghanistan. No, the pages of the papers were awash with something else: the foreign secretary Dominic Raab’s holiday in Crete.
Given that every hour counts do you now wish you’d come back from holiday when you were asked to do so.Good Morning Britain
The words ‘Missing in action’, and ‘AWOL’, were emblazoned across headlines.
As Prime Minister Boris Johnson cut his holiday short to chair an emergency COBRA meeting, Dominic Raab was still nowhere to be found. And whilst the world’s heads of states, diplomats, and politicians were scrambling to evacuate people from Afghanistan, our foreign secretary seemed to be, as one paper put it, holidaying as Kabul fell.
But the idea that this was the lead story when the Taliban was taking over Afghanistan feels like an odd judgement call.
And more than anything else, it conjures up a question.
Was Dominic Raab being set up to be the fall guy?
Instead of everyone looking at the rest of the government’s general non-response to Afghanistan, the pressing eyes of the public, and the media, were looking somewhere else.
In the following days another story appeared about Dominic Raab asking a junior minister to make a key phone call about the evacuation of Afghan translators.
An image was brewing of Raab – a lazy delegator, who was lounging in the sun as one of the biggest geopolitical events of the 21st century was unfolding. Inevitably, calls for resignation came from all the opposition parties and a few anonymous Conservative MPs.
I think it’s absolutely clear that his position is untenable and he should go. It is unbelievable that as Kabul fell to the Taliban as they advanced across the country when the Afghan foreign minister needed help, and hours and minutes mattered not days, that the foreign secretary of the United Kingdom didn’t pick up the phone.Lisa Nandy on Channel 4
And in the weeks since, the questions haven’t let up. In fact on Wednesday, Dominic Raab appeared before a committee of his fellow MPs.
It was led by Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat. And of course, the holiday came up.
Chris Bryant: Were you already on holiday?Sky News
Dominic Raab: I’m not going to start Chris adding to frankly the fishing expedition uh beyond the facts that i’ve articulated in a fulsome statement.
The committee wanted to know why Britain seemingly did nothing as the world tried to mobilise. And they became increasingly frustrated with Dominic Raab’s non-answers.
You’re not answering the question.Sky News
But it’s important to remember that other parts of government – like the Ministry of Defence, and 10 Downing Street – had a significant role to play in the government’s strategy in Afghanistan.
So why was Dominic Raab seemingly standing out in the wilderness, taking all the heat for what went wrong?
Dominic Raab was made Foreign Secretary in 2019 by Boris Johnson. His hardline stance on Brexit and his unwavering loyalty to the prime minister made him a shoo in.
But now it seems he’s on his own.
Now, the criticisms and the grilling that he’s getting isn’t unfounded. It’s literally his job to oversee issues exactly like the one in Afghanistan.
But it’s also clear that he’s become the latest fall guy in Westminister’s briefing war.
I spoke to Matt d’Ancona – an editor here at Tortoise – who’s been knocking around Westminster for a while and knows a little bit about the political dark arts.
And I asked him if and why political parties really set people up. How do they actually go about it?
Matt d’Ancona: In a very close-knit team, and this is true of any Number 10 operation, the briefers know the prime minister’s mind and they do know that Boris Johnson’s starting to think about moving Dominic Raab. So almost as a kind of collective instinct they will just move naturally towards the cabinet minister who’s the best and likeliest and most plausible victim of their briefing. And you could see that happening that weekend.
Claudia, narrating: So, the way Matt sees all this, setting Dominic Raab up as the fall-guy isn’t so much something that’s been ordered by Boris Johnson and the people around him, it almost happens naturally.
Matt d’Ancona: So was there a kind of text sent out saying blame Raab? I doubt it very much. Did the briefers all know, because they knew Boris Johnson’s mind so well, that he was the right person to call out as the patsy, as a full guy? Absolutely. It was quite clear reading the press, that there were enough people out and about, metaphorically speaking, speaking ill of Raab to ensure that the message got across that he was the villain of the piece.
Claudia, narrating: The Conservative MP David Davis told The Telegraph that Dominic Raab was the victim of a “malicious” campaign.
And it’s been pointed out that his holiday helped deflect attention away from the fact that other senior politicians in the MoD and Home Office were also on holiday at that time. And that other departments were also deeply unprepared when Kabul fell.
But untangling this web of score-settling and responsibility-dodging seems irrelevant compared to what many are calling the biggest foreign policy failure in a generation.
Dominic Raab’s misdeeds and shortcomings became the primary example of how this whole government seems to be asleep at the wheel.
And the rest of the government seems to have gotten away with it relatively unscathed.
This episode was written by Nimo Omer and produced by Katie Gunning.
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