FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Australia in Afghanistan

It was made as a special statement. The Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott wanted it known that Australian soldiers who had fought in Afghanistan in what has been the country’s longest war should not be treated like those who had fought in Vietnam. “Afghanistan is a better country because Australia was there,” he explained to returning soldiers on March 21. Then, a nice little contortion of language, and reality. “That war ended, not with victory and not with defeat, but with hope, hope for a better Afghanistan and a safer world.”

This statement of ritual stalemate on Operation Slipper – the Australian mission in Afghanistan – is suggestive. The Vietnamese War was marked by false logic, misguided ideology, and hare-brained cultural assumptions that led to a generation of Australian soldiers being ridiculed and vomited on as cultural abominations. Prime Minister Robert Menzies, on April 29, 1965, spoke of fears how “the takeover of South Vietnam would be a direct military threat to Australia and all the countries of South and South-East Asia. It must be seen as a part of a thrust by Communist China between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.” Tinker with such terms as “communism” and replace with “global fundamentalism,” and the raison d’être for unlimited war is revived.

A great evasion has therefore developed towards the role of Coalition forces in Afghanistan, clothed in the language of humanitarianism and the stuffing of good feeling. Notable Australian voices such as Professor Hugh White have argued that Australia’s mission, and by implication those of others, was a “total failure”. White, writing in 2013, was examining the withdrawal of Australian forces from Oruzgan province. Its objectives, he argued, had not been achieved. “That means that Australia’s military operation in Afghanistan has failed.”

Every measurement of success, taken through the doctrine of counter-insurgency (COIN) suggested the converse. The Afghan government backed by foreign forces continues to be debilitating in its corruption. “Any government that is too weak to win a counterinsurgency without massive outside help is too weak to be worth supporting.” The reasons for placing troops in Afghanistan to deny it to al-Qaeda “never made sense” – the terrorist franchise was out of Afghanistan and sprouting like well-fed fungi “long before we went to Oruzgan.”

Others like Peter Jennings of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute engage in acts of gymnastic overstretch, hoping to grasp a rationale as to why Australia was there. He is only left with naked, circular presumptions – Australian soldiers were obviously engaged because it was necessary for Canberra to have a presence. “My view is that Australia’s participation in the war was necessary; it has produced some positive outcomes and created the basis for cautious optimism that Afghanistan will have a better future.” Jennings takes it as a given that, if the US was in Afghanistan to fight that grand nonsense of “global terrorism,” then Australia had to be as well.

Standard economic measures are wheeled out in the manner Graham Greene so significantly skewered in The Quiet American – the good forces of modernisation fighting nationalist primitives in the name of a civilising mission finds virtue in buildings, infrastructure, and roads. “Progress in social and economic development has been made of a type that probably looks more impressive to Afghan than Australian eyes.” Abbott’s own commemorative address noted those materialist achievements: “girls’ schools, roads and bridges where there were none.”

The mid-road here comes from such commentaries as those of Army veteran and Lowy Institute fellow James Brown. First, the deployment of Australian troops was deemed necessary to back US interests – every satrap needs his calling, and “it was entirely correct to support this mission with our military forces.”

But the mission changed. Brown, without any evidence, suggests that the deployment did reduce the threat of terrorism in Australia, another example of how empirical evidence persists in being an enemy of the good, let alone necessity. Neither side of politics could quite explain the “why” of Australian involvement as the torpor began setting in. This, Brown chewed over, had little to do with reality and everything to do with image. The ADF had “forgotten many of the lessons of the East Timor conflict. Like finding a way to tell your story and get the media on side.” The right war was simply fought in a “dumb” way.

For all of that, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, on whose behalf foreign forces were fighting and dying for, found little room for sympathy. His reflections typify how gratitude can never be possible for occupation forces, however efficient their mission or purpose. “The war on terror was not conducted where it should have been, which was in the sanctuaries and the training grounds beyond Afghanistan, rather than what the US and NATO forces were conducting operations in Afghan villages, causing harm to the Afghan people.”

Importantly, the most brutal observation from Karzai lies in the failings of the mission. It is something that will, and should haunt, endeavours of such intrusion and blindness. This was a defeat of NATO and US forces, since there was never any victory to define, let alone gain.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

January 22, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
On the Brink of Brexit: the Only Thing Most People Outside Westminster Know About Brexit is That It’s a Mess
Raouf Halaby
The Little Brett Kavanaughs from Covington Catholic High
Dean Baker
The Trump Tax Cut is Even Worse Than They Say
Stanley L. Cohen
The Brazen Detention of Marzieh Hashemi, America’s Newest Political Prisoner
Karl Grossman
Darth Trump: From Space Force to Star Wars
Haydar Khan
The Double Bind of Human Senescence
Alvaro Huerta
Mr. President, We Don’t Need Your Stinking Wall
Howard Lisnoff
Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali
Nicole Patrice Hill – Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Scarlet “I”: Climate Change, “Invasive” Plants and Our Culture of Domination
Jonah Raskin
Disposable Man Gets His Balls Back
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail