You don't have to agree with his conclusion, but at very least, Alan Fitzgerald makes a cogent and persuasive case that it is time to quit Afghanistan.
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THERE has never been much enthusiasm among voters for Australia’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan. Provided it was no more than a token commitment, such as the one Australia made to the subsequent invasion of Iraq, then the public would accept it as yet another down payment on the American alliance.
Australia paid the first of these instalments in Vietnam. Haven’t we learned anything from that? That the US is capable of error in attempting to make the world safe for democracy.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not only a mistake but a disaster for the Iraqis and the Americans who mismanaged the operation from the start due to an overdose of Yankee hubris.
The first Iraqi war, which liberated Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s forces demonstrated how easily defeating the Iraqi army could be done. However, the US and allied forces stopped at the border allowing the tyrant Saddam Hussein to crush an uprising against his regime in the south. These people assumed the Americans would continue on to Baghdad but they didn’t move from Kuwait. They just sat and watched tens of thousands die in the failed uprising.
Things changed, and now Saddam Hussein was alleged to have acquired weapons of mass destruction, and was claimed to be a threat to peace in the Middle East. Having survived one President Bush, Saddam now faced the son, George W, who was determined to invade despite there being no proof of weapons of mass destruction.
The crafty PM John Howard went along with the lie, but ensured that due to the size and shape of Australia’s commitment, the casualties would be few.
The problem the Americans never addressed in the second Iraqi war was what do you do next, when effectively you become an occupation force in a nation riven by ethnic and religious rivalries.
President George W Bush and his neocon advisers neglected to ask the British who had great colonial experience in both occupying and running Iraq for more than 50 years. The British had managed to neutralise the religious rivalries and place a compliant King on the throne.
The murder of the royal family in 1958 and the takeover of Iraq by a succession of military strong men maintained the peace at the price of dictatorship. The secular Baath Party crushed the Communists and won the support of the Americans who supplied Saddam Hussein, the latest strong man, with the military might to go to war with Iran. Since the overthrow of the Shah by religious extremists, Iran was a potential threat to America and Israel.
This war proved to be war not unlike the First World War with huge casualties on both sides, using infantry, tank battles and extensive laying of minefields. The American military could watch it on TV, via satellite imagery at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Millions died and the war was fought to the point of exhaustion but everyone in the Middle East knew Saddam Hussein was a client of the Americans.
Which brings us to the folly of the second Iraqi War. Instead of taking British advice or learning from history, the Bush administration allowed a bunch of inexperienced zealots to fill the vacuum created by the overthrow of the regime. They naively believed the Iraqi people would automatically embrace American style democracy –the Big Mac version.
To compound this basic error, the Americans disbanded the Iraqi Army in a shambolic process that allowed the troops to decamp with their weapons. These weapons provided the arms for the militias that sprang up to kill US troops and civilians. The Iraqi army was the only unifying force in the country. Had it been taken over relatively intact and cleansed of its worst elements – Baath Party Generals and Officers – then some stability could have been imposed while the governance of Iraq was addressed.
What we got was chaos. The occupation was run by Washington Beltway amateurs and the US army had to contend with a new war in the suburbs of Baghdad and other cities, which generated civilian casualties. Worse were the explosive devices and those carried by martyrs, happy to die for Allah if they could take US soldiers, and men, women and children with them. A civil war by rival militias as well as a war against the occupation forces soon developed.
From being a relatively wealthy Arab country, with an educated elite, Iraq turned into a another Third World basket case, with ruined infrastructure. Iraq does not have a Government, six months after a questionable election and still the bombs go off in the streets.
Only the Kurds who have partitioned themselves off from the rest of the country appear to be at peace with themselves.
For President George W Bush, it was “mission accomplished’’. The American and allied dead and the thousands of US soldiers maimed are proof of that.
The Afghan Disaster
Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan which commenced in October 2001, one month after the sensational September 11 attacks on America, goes on. The aim was to defeat the Taliban regime in Kabul that had given sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, the terrorists responsible for 3,000 deaths at the World Trade Centre.
President George W Bush had no choice. He had to wipe out the hurt and national humiliation caused by the attack on the World Trade Centre. He didn’t have to invade Iraq two years later and over-stretch the US military’s capacity to wage two wars simultaneously.
Prime Minister John Howard was at his side. Australia would be there as a loyal ally. No debate in Parliament about the wisdom of the invasion of Afghanistan or what would follow.
Nine years later, we and the Americans are still in Afghanistan with no discernable progress.
Since 2001, almost 2000 coalition forces have been killed, including 900 Americans, 330 British, 130 Canadians and 21 Australians. The death and injury toll is actually rising as the Taliban go on the offensive, using sanctuaries inside Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan, which has been destablised by the conflict.
As war casualties go, the rate of these deaths and injuries are acceptable but are they worth it?
The cost of waging the war is immense, beyond the capacity of a debt ridden America to finance it. As a world power, America is in serious trouble, possibly in decline. Its enemies are delighted to see it bogged down in a war in Afghanistan it cannot win. President Obama who inherited Bush’s war, wants to find an exit strategy that will save face but leave something positive behind. What can possibly be achieved in Afghanistan?
This is a country with a medieval Muslim mind-set. It is less a nation than a place ruled by feudal lords at the head of rival ethnic and religious groups, financed by the drug trade and corruption. Billions of dollars have been spent on civilian aid in Afghanistan with very little to show for it. Much of the money has been creamed off by a corrupt elite, associated with the President . The extent of his rule lies within the boundaries of the capital, Kabul. The President can’t event trust his own army to protect him, but is guarded by foreign mercenaries. The cultural oppression of women continues, girls are not educated and discrimination against then is endemic.
The Afghans do not want to change. They do not want Big Mac style American democracy. They are content to remain a backward, feudal, failed Islamic state. Historically, they have defeated the British in the 19th century, and the Russians in the 20th century. Why should the Americans be any different in the 21st century?
The foreign troops fight battles against the Taliban who retreat or merge with the local population. The locals’ loyalty is suspect the moment the Taliban appear on the horizon. The Taliban are even paid to allow conveys of vehicles bringing supplies from Pakistan to reach their destination.
The Afghan Army is a joke. Billions have been spent on its training but even American army generals claim it will be another ‘nine years’ before it can become an effective force. If the Afghans won’t fight for themselves – just like the South Vietnamese –then what point is there in fighting a war on their behalf? With friends like these who needs enemies? Meanwhile Australia is expected to take refugees from these ingrates and opportunists.
The original aim of the American invasion of Afghanistan was to deny Al Qaeda a base. Al Qaeda doesn’t need Afghanistan as a base any more. Al Qaeda has become a franchise, with bases in many Muslim countries, from which it can plan and launch attacks on the Western world. There are 1,300 million Muslims around the world, the majority sympathetic to Al Qaeda’s objectives; recruits are not a problem.
Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, attacks against the West are now being carried out by native born Muslim citizens of Western countries desiring revenge against the West for America’s ‘war against Islam’. Attacks have been planned but luckily frustrated in Australia. So what’s the point of wasting Western soldiers lives in Afghanistan in a war that not only can’t be won, but isn’t worth winning?
Sadly, the Australian Government and Opposition do not agree. Tony Abbott, in one of his more boof-headed moments, even wants to increase the size of our commitment at the same time as the Americans are planning to reduce theirs. The Dutch have pulled out, the British want to get out.
Paul Howes, the left wing national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, claims Australia should stay in Afghanistan, because if we fail to defeat the Taliban, it “could set off a domino effect in the Middle East with the potential to unleash a new global force, hell bent on subjugation under their [Islamlo-fascist] ideology “.
Geography and other matters apart, Howes appears to have been smoking something akin to the Afghan poppy’s popular by-product. Unfortunately, as Howes is close to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, his muddled thinking may represent official ALP policy.
A sane assessment of the situation in Afghanistan would lead the Government to announce the withdrawal of Australian forces by the end of 2011. If we finally have a debate in Parliament about the war then that is the recommendation the Parliament should reach.
In war as in life, there is nothing to be gained by refusing to face reality.
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