Afghanistan has rather dominated the headlines this week. In the last few weeks President Obama has claimed that we are at war with terrorists, not Islam. But is that really true?
The case for the Afghanistan war
The Punch a few weeks back tried to make the case for Australia's continuing involvement in Afghanistan by quoting Tony Blair:
"Blair admits that the decision to go into Iraq and subsequently into Afghanistan was not just a matter of principle but payback. And rightly so – what happened could never have gone unpunished. But the bigger question which Blair canvasses retrospectively is – the payback of whom, as it is now quite clear that we are not up against a small band of would-be hijackers, who could be rounded up and dealt with like some IRA terrorist cell:
“The history of Islam – its origins, its rise, its present predicament – is essential to understanding the significance of the events of September 11. It is precisely here that I made a mistake: I misunderstood the depth of the challenge. I was ignorant of the pervasive nature of the phenomenon. As at September 11, 2001, I accepted what most accepted: this at was perpetrated by a small group of fanatics wholly unrepresentative of Islam who could and would be crushed."
The Punch article goes on to argue that the war against the extremist version of Islam is important to fight:
"For the Left, in particular, it should be every bit as compelling a cause as the Spanish Civil War, as in the Taliban we have an enemy which aside from its violent opposition to democracy, pluralism, freedom of assembly and worship, is also committed to a bloody and active brand of misogyny which kills teachers for daring to educate girls."
The case against
The problem with this argument is the nature of the Afghan Government that we are propping up, as Charles Richardson argues in Crikey:
"The Afghan war, like many Afghan wars before it, has been a litany of mistakes and misjudgements. It’s certainly possible that if the American-led forces had put serious effort into nation-building in 2002 and 2003, instead of being distracted by an illegal and pointless adventure in Iraq, then a reasonable degree of peace and freedom could have been established and all or most of the troops could have come home.
But that opportunity, if it existed, has passed. Policymakers like to think they can turn back the clock — that if they work out what the right policy would have been, they can apply it now and all will be well. Not so.
In the interim, the Afghan government has shown itself to be corrupt, incompetent, lacking in popular support and almost as captive to primitive misogyny as the Taliban that it replaced. But most important of all, the foreign occupation is not helping with any of these things: it is manifestly making things worse."
Meanwhile we are living with the consequences....
Charging our soldiers - The big issue in the media this week has been the decision to charge a group of Australian soldiers in relation to the death of civilians in Afghanistan. We do not, of course, have access to all of the material that the Defence decision-maker had access to. All the same, the decision to charge soldiers should never be lightly made, and should certainly not be influenced by appeasement. There are good reasons to be uneasy about the decision to prosecute.
Resourcing our forces adequately - The Opposition has been calling for an increase in troop numbers, based on comments from troops on the ground; the Chief of the Defence Force says they aren't necessary to do the tasks assigned to Australia. Relying on a few emails from disgruntled troops is the kind of political stunt only open to an Opposition aiming at destruction at all costs. But there are real questions about whether or not the Defence hierarchy are actually listening to the commander on the ground. Dangerous stuff indeed...
Processing asylum seekers - Around half of Australia's bulging number of asylum seekers are from Afghanistan, so the decision to restart processing and thus eventually allow those with legitimate claims out of detention is a welcome one. What though about those whose claims are rejected? It is impossible to repatriate them at the moment, Afghanistan being a war zone. So under our outrageous mandatory detention policy they will be in jail indefinitely, with all the adverse psychological effects that entails...
**PS A useful article by Scott MacInnes focusing in on just war criteria has gone up on the Drum.