Dominic Raab trots copy-paste sentences in an attempt to blame Afghanistan | Zoe Williams

A A therapist once presented to me a strategy that I paraphrase as “boring on purpose”: When someone talks and you find your mind is wandering, the fault may not be yours. They may be repetitive, vague, unresponsive, stuffing every sentence with generalities like cavity wall insulation, for one reason: to resist the privacy of your full attention, to distract you from everything they do. do not want to argue. If this is a useful tactic in everyday life, it is nothing about its deployment in front of a select committee.

Dominic Raab was previously known for his pugnacity, inclined to say more than he intended, with irritation. This trait was ironed out in every word management course that ministers are now forced to attend, and the select committee on foreign affairs, chaired by Tom Tugendhat, was treated to an entirely different man – quietly monotonous, defeatist without being repentant, reciting the same sentences by rote like a job of cut and paste from the remnants of the clipboard of his whitewashed personality.

“Optimism bias”; “Turkey, Qatar, NATO”; “When safety and security permit”; “Rapid deployment team”; “We don’t compare identically”, the same answers came up over and over again, sounding like fact but never close enough to the question to be factual.

Committee members, on the other hand, kept it as straightforward and simple as possible. “Everyone was taken by surprise,” said Bob Seely. “Why was that? Raab rolled out something I’ve never seen before, or maybe I did, but it wasn’t until today that I saw the joins: throwing the blame into the terms most nebulous, he cited this “optimism bias”, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the government, in the world, so widespread that the blame, once over, was only a patina, coating everyone. world – damn it wouldn’t we all, if we’re really being honest with ourselves, prefer things to be okay?

Everyone was wrong about everything – they all thought the Americans would change their minds, that the Taliban would change places. All except Raab himself, who knew after the US election that the public had lost its appetite for eternal war, and had always warned that the Taliban were “unlikely to engage.” It was a bizarre defense, confined to one of two options – either the Foreign Secretary had said it all but no one had listened, or he had kept it to himself, in keeping with his new self-effacing character.

Alicia Kearns, Tory MP for Rutland and Melton, firmly anchored in the select committee on foreign affairs, tried to corner him. If no one saw this coming, apart from Shy Raab, how is it that the evacuation of the French was so much more successful than that of the British? Claudia Webbe of Labor returned to this question much later, and the answer was the same – the situations were not the same. He never said why not.

Naturally, all of the committee members – SNP’s Tugendhat, Chris Bryant and Stewart McDonald with their own hallmarks of tenacity – pressed the Foreign Secretary for dates, names, anything to find something solid in it. soup of generalities. When was the last time he visited Afghanistan or Pakistan? Which diplomats did he speak to, from which nations? When did he issue the order to evacuate non-combatants? What day did he go on vacation?

Most of the time he didn’t remember, but most noticeable were the sashays in provocative insignificance. “Why can’t you even speak for the Defense Ministry on the number of people under Arap [the relocation scheme] are exceptional? Bryant asked. “It’s a form of prioritization according to the categories that matter the most,” he replied. Has he spoken to neighboring nations, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan? He spoke to tons of people. Was he wrong? People get it wrong all the time. “Economically, a lot of things are wrong. “

I’m sorry, what? If you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of asking a loved one if their ex was at a party, hearing the response, “there were lots of people at the party”, that’s about level d. evasiveness they had to deal with, amateurish but stubborn.

The only thing that annoyed him – with the exception of the female voice, given the strong exasperation with which he sang “Claudia” and “Alicia” – were questions about his vacation, the exact date of his departure and why he was leaving. hadn’t thought of coming back. He was not ready to embark on this fishing expedition, he said, if not with dignity, at least quietly. Hard to say what that even means, unless it casts the net for human interaction so broad – you mean vacation? Here is something that looks a bit like vacation, fishing! – that it had become surreal.

The only real moment of joy came very early; the president cited a risk report dated July 22, 2021, warning of the Taliban’s swift return to power, and Raab was surprised to learn that it was from his own department. But this does not cause anything, no worry, no visible discomfort. Raab longs for a new kind of political encounter, call it drone warfare.

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