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ALP: a war party « Previous | |Next »
October 20, 2010

I just couldn't bring myself to listen to the debate on the war in Afghanistan war after listening to Question Time yesterday. Even though the House has cleaned up its act in the way it debates issues, this "debate" was always going to be a less of a debate and more a statement of commitment from both the major parties, it was too little too late, and the arguments given for this foreign occupation were going to be cliched responses that accepted the fiction of the global war on terror.

I would have found it too depressing listening to the current ALP parliamentarians turning their back on their tradition of opposing the Vietnam war, to justify a war similar to what the ALP opposed in the 1970s. The ALP has become a party of little Americans and a war party and operates within the comfortable tropes of the war on terror.


Gillard had two reasons for Australian troops fighting in Afghanistan:

One: to make sure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists, a place where attacks on us and our allies begin.Two: to stand firmly by our alliance commitment to the US, formally invoked following the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.

The safe haven argument makes no sense as Al Qaeda are based in Pakistan, which is an ally of NATO fighting an Afghan insurgency against foreign occupation. Secondly, the Karzai government in Afghanistan is now discussing a political settlement with the Taliban.

That leaves the insurance argument, which implies dumping the ALP's commitment to an independent foreign policy. Australian troops are in Afghanistan because American troops are there. Depressing. As Bruce Haigh says in Repeating others' mistakes in Afghanistan:

Debate or no debate a supine Australian government is locked into Oruzgan Province until the US withdraws from Afghanistan or until it releases the ADF from its contract. Australia is in Afghanistan to fulfil the terms of what it believes are the terms of its alliance with the US. (Former Prime Minister Howard invoked the ANZUS Treaty when committing troops to the region).It remains a fundamental belief amongst politicians and some influential defence planners that Australia needs to curry favour with the US in order to invoke an immediate and knee jerk response from the US should Australia be threatened or attacked. The fact that this is increasingly unlikely by a financially challenged and politically cautious America has yet to be factored into the political, planning and popular perception pertaining to the United States in Australia.

Even though the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable Australia will stay in order to demonstrate to the US and anyone else who cares about these things that Australia has sticking power and can be relied on to see things through. Even though the Netherlands have withdrawn, Canada and Poland are leaving next year, and the Afghan people did not ask for this war and they are not being consulted now.

Depressing. The Greens, with just one member in the House of Representatives, are the only party who support a withdrawal of all Australian troops.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:12 AM | | Comments (29)


There will be no victory in Afghanistan, known as the graveyard of empires.

The link to the security environment in Afghanistan and terrorist threats to Australia and Australians – a rationale much uttered by both the government and the opposition – is such an exaggeration that it is a deception.

How does the Afghan insurgency threaten Australia?

It is as much a political war at home as it is about the war in Afghanistan itself--especially in the US. Afghanistan is Obama's war and a protracted military engagement in Afghanistan will cut deep into his Democratic base.

This is a "dumb war".

" order to invoke an immediate and knee jerk response from the US should Australia be threatened..."

Threatened by who, how and why? Wait... ah... lemme guess... China? Indonesia?

there's a very great disconnection between our political class and voters over the war in Afghanistan.Few voters what the parliamentarians are saying in their defence of the war.

As I've written before, it seems to escape the geniuses in the ALP that the most likely source of any threat to Australia is our alliance with the USA. Having an alliance to protect us from the threats caused by the alliance is circular logic taken to a dizzying extreme.

Interesting that nobody on either side seems to regard the interests of the Afghan people as a factor worth taking into account. No, they just have the bad luck to be living where the USA has decided to indulge its paranoia and lust for revenge. Which makes the government's treatment of asylum seekers even more contemptible, if that's possible.

Howard liked to say that when you change governments you change the nation, and it was certainly true of his election in 1996. His 11 years in office have changed this nation for the worse in more ways than I can count. One of the casualties has been the ALP, which has become nothing but a collection of spineless office-seekers and time-servers. Absence of principle means incapacity to lead, and that is where our government is now.

Bin Laden and Bernie have a lot in common. You know Bernie from the movie "Weekend at Bernies" He's the guy that died and his buddies made him look like he was still alive to fulfill their needs. I see that Bin Laden has been propped up with a couple of brooms and some fishing line just recently.

Now, that is a very frustrated thread starter. Fancy not understanding the logic of shooting up of Afghanistan when the objects of their wrath are in Pakistan, or anywhere but where the bombs are falling (seemingly mainly on civilians).
For my part, I almost feel like I'm back forty years, watching Vietnam/ Cambodia unfold, there are so many similarities.

Again let me ask...

If our part in the Afghanistan saga is so imortant, why not reintroduce conscription. Surely it's only fair to share the burden across the electorate.


Because it is better to have a small highly trained force over there rather than a large semi skilled force as would be the case if consciption was used.
The less operations the less chance of deaths equals the less coffins with flags on the tv.
To our government its about showing our support for our allies (cough) and minimising coffins with flags on the news. This is why smaller nations like us try to be involved in operations like training the locals and support roles like supply and transport.

Tom Despatch has an interesting post on the status of China's quest for energy sources in Russia and Central Asia here:,_pipelineistan's_new_silk_road__/

Not entirely on topic, but good background and it deserves a reference if only for the author's entertaining description of all the Central Asian States collectively as "Pipelineistan"

No, Les.
The real reason is that conscription would be the one thing likely to galvanise public opinion against something like the Afghanistan excursion.
It seems Conservatives did learn one thing from Vietnam- that's that you don't antagonise the citizenry at home, if you want to be left alone in pursuit of your sordid little projects, elsewhere

More specifically, Paul Walter, don't conscript middle-class white boys. And make sure you control the media, too. Those are the only two lessons the Right learned from Vietnam. But never let it be said that we didn't learn anything!

Rob Oakeshot, the regional independent, is right. Neither the ALP of the Liberals are acknowledging thatnegotiations are under way with the Taliban. That changes Gillard's proposition that Australia will remain engaged in Afghanistan for at least a decade.

Dexter Filkins in Taliban Elite, Aided by NATO, Join Talks for Afghan Peace in the New York Times says:

The discussions are still described as preliminary, partly because Afghan and American officials are trying to determine how much influence the Taliban leaders who have participated in the talks have within their own organizations.Even so, the talks have been held on several different occasions and appear to represent the most substantive effort to date to negotiate an end to the nine-year-old war.

As long as the Taliban believe they are winning, they would not seem likely to want to make a deal.

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, is opposed to such talks and has a record of eliminating those Taliban who take part in m negotiations. So NATO has taken the extraordinary step of protecting the Taliban from the Pakistani military because we've decided that the latter is more dangerous.

The inference is that Pakistan opposes peace. It's military intelligence service wants to project Pakistani influence and ensure that neither India nor the U.S., which they see as India's eternal partner, ever have a stable footing in Afghanistan.

The pretexts and justifications for the war in Afghanistan keep changing. Australia never went to war to make sure it would never again be a safe haven for al-Qaeda. The pretext was to catch Osama bin Laden because Washington said that he was responsible for 9/11.

America's wars are Australia's wars. America's bad guys are Australia's bad guys. According to the Parliamentarians we are fighting because the bad guys( The Taliban) are barbarians and our job is to civilize them.

The trouble is that America is involved in a permanent state of war and has a national security economy. The American's base building in Afghanistan does seem to imply that they are digging in for quite a while--Gillard's decade?

U.S. and NATO occupation forces are currently fighting the resistance umbrella conveniently labeled “Taliban” in Afghanistan.

Gillard's 'safe haven' argument --Afghanistan will never again be a safe haven for al-Qaeda--does not make sense.

The Americans are concentrating on eliminating insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan: eg., the CIA’s drone war and U.S. helicopters pursuing Taliban fighters into those Pakistani “sanctuaries” from which the Taliban is said to be conducting its own successful surge in Afghanistan.

Pakistan isn’t Afghanistan.

It's an Af/Pak War--something our parliamentarians seem to miss. The American commanders fighting a war going badly in Afghanistan are frustrated because the " bad guys" have sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan. So they are doing something about those sanctuaries. Hence the Af/Pak war.

What the parliamentarians also miss is that the Taliban is made up of local Afghans and is a nationalist movement. The Taliban, however, harsh it is in its punishments and fundamentalist in its religion does dispense justice and governance and provides social services in a poor country. The fraud in both the presidential and recent parliamentary elections has been exploited by the Taliban to show President Hamid Karzai’s government--the US's client regime--- is hopelessly corrupt.

Will the Taliban become a movement for national liberation from the foreign invader?

Thanks Gordon. I haven't read Pepe Escobar for a while. I used to read him at Asia Times.

The argument Escobar makes is in his new silk road article is:

in the New Great Game in Eurasia, China had the good sense not to send a soldier anywhere or get bogged down in an infinite quagmire in Afghanistan. Instead, the Chinese simply made a direct commercial deal with Turkmenistan and, profiting from that country’s disagreements with Moscow, built itself a pipeline which will provide much of the natural gas it needs.

It is ironic that the war in Iraq has resulted in Baghdad having a Tehran-friendly and Shi'ite-friendly government, with intertwined strategic interests; and that most of the new oil will be exploited by Chinese, Russian and Asian companies, not US Big Oil.

So much for the neo-conservative dream of a US-controlled Iraq as "the new OPEC".

Whenever I hear it said that Australia must support the US in Afghanistan, I have started to ask what, exactly, would the US do to us if we brought our soldiers home? I recommend this as a conversational gambit. I get the most amazing Cold War stuff from the most unlikely people.

re your comment:

I have started to ask what, exactly, would the US do to us if we brought our soldiers home? .... I get the most amazing Cold War stuff from the most unlikely people.

How does the cold war relate to Afghanistan? I thought that Australia is fighting the Taliban not the Russians or the Chinese "communists". Are the Islamic Taliban communists? How do Islamists turn into communists?

"We need the Americans to protect us from the Chinese" is one that has come up several times. That's straight out of the 1950s.

yipes, the "yellow peril" paranoia complex. The Chinese are going to invade us! Definitely 1950s.

How is "the Chinese are the enemy" squared with Chinese companies cutting deals and making joint ventures with the big and small miners?

The Americans see their empire as doing good in the world Thus Thomas Friedman in a recent article in the New York times lamenting the decline of the US as a superpower says:

...the most unique and important feature of U.S. foreign policy over the last century has been the degree to which America’s diplomats and naval, air and ground forces provided global public goods — from open seas to open trade and from containment to counterterrorism — that benefited many others besides us. U.S. power has been the key force maintaining global stability, and providing global governance, for the last 70 years. That role will not disappear, but it will almost certainly shrink.

No doubt the Vietnamese would see things differently, as would the Iraqi's.

Annon, would the Cubans, the Nicaraguans, the Chileans, the Chinese themselves, the Russians, the Palestinians, the Iranians, the Panamanians, the Granadans, the El Salvadoreans, the Somalis, etc.

If you really want to drop a conversational bomb, try suggesting that what Australia really needs is an alliance with the Chinese to protect us against the Americans, not the other way around!

The "cold war view" gordon mentions is that a totalitarian China would invade Australia for our resources. We need the Americans to rattle their sabre so the Chinese hesitate in their takeover of democratic Australia.

That is why we fight in Afghanistan---to keep the Americans as our ally.

Evidence here of the confusion amongst US conservatives over the occupation, but the 'blame Obama' faction is likely to carry the day.

Tony Abbott is fighting a civilizational war and the clash of civilizations, He called Afghanistan the ''central front in the most important civilisational struggle of our time'' - a struggle that he defined as being against ''Islamist extremism''.

I infer from this neo-conservative position that Abbott reckons, the liberal democracies of the West are engaged in a death-match with hordes of dusky Muslim fanatics is "unserious" about Australia''s security and can't be trusted.

Abbott forgets to mention that in the epic struggle between East and West, some of our staunchest allies are the undisputed champs in spreading violent Islamic extremism. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan come to mind.

"War is peace; Freedom is slavery; Ignorance is strength."

That's been the message for quite some time.