Thus begins a jaw-dropping editorial in the Times today*, with the spectre of democratic accountability looming over our Afghanistan mission, whatever that vaguely-defined entity may have evolved into since last we looked. It's a stunning piece, one that could've been churned out at any point in the last hundred years.
Imagine, restive electorates, possibly pressing their governments over an eleven-year long war! Why, the nerve of people in these democracies, I ask you.
So Britain, our Timesman continues, finds itself balancing grief with a deep gratitude for the sacrifice of two of its servicemen. That's an interesting take, since I myself have noticed neither grief nor gratitude for some time now. Whether any individual incident in the war in Afghanistan intrudes into the lives of the general public seems to depend upon whether it can be wedged sideways onto The X-Factor, or whether the story involves a cute springer spaniel.
Anyway, today's editorial is a rather stark tonal shift in the paper's sales job for the war. Recall, the chronology of justification for our invasion and occuption of Afghanistan is as follows...
2001: To smoke out those evildoing Al Qaeda scum that attacked America, especially that Osama Bin Laden, and show them that they cannot hide from American justice etc.
2002: To mop up Taleban remnants. And, to train the Afghan army.
2003: Painting some schools, educating some little girls, training the Afghan army and encouraging an entirely organic liberal democracy to flourish spontaneously in a barren land run by heavily-armed warlords and clans, that kind of thing. Oh, and mopping up Taleban remnants.
2006: Mopping up the suddenly-resurgent Taleban, who may or may not be infested with Al Qaeda. And painting schools. And training the Afghan army. And, bombing Pakistan, for some reason. And also, liberal democracy, all that jazz.
2010: Surging troop levels way past Soviet occupation numbers to really get that mopping-up job done once and for all. Also, preventing the atrocities that are continuing to happen even now, while troop levels have surged way past Soviet occupation numbers. Here, look at these pictures of atrocities, while we get busy training the Afghan army.
Well, here we are in 2012. Osama is toast, his evil crew long since captured or incinerated and the US has been running high-profile victory laps around Al Qaeda's smoking corpse for about two years.
So, why do we still have thousands of soldiers in Afghanistan? Here's the Times, today - our grief is laced with a resolve...
"...To make clear to Afghanistan's militants that the withdrawal of British troops from the country will be dictated by a timetable set in Downing Street and the White House, not by murderers in Afghanistan".
I'm unsure whether the Taleban only have to realise that we will dictate our withdrawal, or whether they have to agree that this is the case in a lawyer's letter. After all, we can't leave now because of "the unreadiness of the Afghan forces to secure Kabul".
Now, here's a lesson from American military history - if you've been training an army to defend its capital city for eleven years and it still isn't up to the task, it's probably not that interested in defending its capital city.
Bonus points too for the sunk-costs fallacy: "A premature exit that abandons the ambitions and achievements of the past decade would be a betrayal of those who have given their lives to make Afghanistan more stable".
Translation: We must continue to get our soldiers killed in an effort to achieve the impossible, because doing otherwise would be disrespectful to all the soldiers that we have already got killed by trying to do the impossible.
As Kipling almost said - If they question why we died/Tell them because our fathers
Additionally, Barack Obama hopes that his recent agreement with the Afghan government will "persuade the Taleban that negotiating now will pay greater dividends than waiting for American soldiers to leave". Diplomacy, after all, is the art of saying "Nice Doggie" while groping for a rock that doesn't exist, in a room full of ravenous timber wolves.
And that's it. That's the sum total of their best case, their most convincing justification for British troops staying for the next two years.
I've been saying since, oh, 2002? that if we want to show our gratitude for our soldiers, we could always repay them by bringing them back to Britain and buying them a round of drinks, rather than by forcing them to act as target practice for any passing Pashtun with a grudge.
After all, as an American politician once famously asked - How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?
The answer comes back firmly and confidently from the Times editorial board - On pain of court-martial.
*As ever, it's paywalled. I'll post the full thing in comments when I get a minute, so you can judge for yourselves.