Friday, 1 October 2010

A new debate on whether Australia should remain involved in the War in Afghanistan is long overdue. I agree with Scott MacInnes, a retired lawyer and lecturer, who writes today on The Drum, "It is good that there will be a debate on the war in Afghanistan."

The war started in 2001 as Operation Enduring Freedom. Sounds a bit odd and extreme, doesn't it? The Bush-era rhetoric jars, now, on the civilian ear. The robust label harks back to a time when everything was suddenly turned upside down by 19 detemined, well-organised and -trained men operating outside their comfort zone, on foreign soil, according to an impeccable plan worked out, we were told, somewhere in Afghanistan. As a result, the United States marshalled its immense military power and crossed the seas. Australia followed.

In the last year the number of evening news stories featuring flag-draped coffins, weeping children, stirring speeches delivered from the pulpit, and images of big, unbranded aircraft flying in to land has increased as the Australian Defense Force delivers more dead bodies back to the civil society that apparently sent them out, alive, to represent our interests on the international stage.

But the marketplace for ideas has altered dramatically since 2001 or even 7 July 2005, when four Muslim men attacked the London transport system with lethal effect. Freedom has endured despite, not because of, the military actions taking place in Afhanistan. Of course, some say that freedom has been the main casualty. Michael Moore calls Barack Obama a dupe to the defense lobby and the "military-industrial complex" (yes, even he cringes when using this well-worn trope).

The outlandish rhetoric of martial leaders has surrendered its place in our living rooms to the sight of small children saying their final farewells to dead fathers. Even Australia has registered 150 woundings as well as 21 deaths, in the conflict.

Another change has been on the security front. More staff engaged in counter-terrorism has meant that there have been no successful attacks in the West since 7 July 2005. The enemy has been harrassed at home and is in disarray abroad. But as Peter Black said, on behalf I think of many, on The Drum on TV the other night, it's "an unwinnable war". Institute of Public Affairs representative Tim Wilson quickly demurred when Black came out with this broadly-held viewpoint, but we know that that organisation is conservative to the core and would be unlikely to join ranks with the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" lined up with their white flags aflutter on the ideological Left of the political divide.

When it became clear that Bush, Blair and Howard had outright-lied to their constituents about the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the argument morphed into a bitter denunciation of a Bad Man. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is certainly Bad from the point of view of most White People, but continued fighting with troops, guns and helicopter-launched missiles is also cringeworthy, no? The occasional story exiting Afghanistan with the blessing of immensely paranoid military managers safely stationed in rural Canberra just seems to bounce off our collective epiderm like an errant blow-fly on crystal meth. It's too bizarre. What on earth has this stuff got to do with us? Hasn't all that stuff finished yet?

So it's good that the Greens have demanded a debate it looks like we'll finally get. In Parliament. Among people we recognise and who represent us politically. At length and to the point, no doubt, of physical exhaustion. Bravo for the Greens and Andrew Wilkie, the Tasmanian independent MP who was so brutally handled by the Liberal Party earlier in the decade. Lest we forget.

No comments: