Wednesday, 27 October 2010
We parliamentarians tell the public that the 21st century struggle to overthrow the world’s first terrorist sponsored state—the al-Qaeda financed, Taliban run Afghanistan—is a direct consequence of the shocking mass murder in New York on 11 September 2001. This is only part of the narrative. We claim our long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s peace and stability is honourable because we are resisting those forces who wish to keep its people poor, its women ignorant, and we are making it a safe and modern democratic state that can deliver its own security. All this is true, but it is not the whole truth. Just as our schools do not teach that the German invasion of Poland adequately explains the causes of the Second World War, we should not limit our justifications for waging war to the emotive events of 2001. The war in Afghanistan, in which many thousands have been killed, would be completely out of moral proportion if we reduced its gravity to revenge for a few thousand people tragically killed in New York.
The seeds of the Second World War lay in the imperfect peace embodied in the Treaty of Versailles and the subsequent failure of Western nations to confront fascist adventurism. The seeds of this war in Afghanistan lay in the complacency since the fall of the Berlin Wall 21 years ago. The collapse of the Soviet empire provided greater collective security and liberty for humanity: the rapid expansion of democracies; greater access to human rights, technology and new markets and the reduction of nuclear stockpiles between former adversaries. The West may have been pre-eminent, but it failed to adequately deal with the hydra-headed struggles facing collective security: failed states led by rogue leaders, nuclear proliferation and threats arising from non-state transnational terrorism.
When the US retreated from its humanitarian work in Somalia, Islamic terrorists were emboldened. When Europe and the United Nations failed to respond to the Rwandan genocide, black-hearted leaders in Zimbabwe, Sudan, Burma and the Congo were invigorated. When the US and its allies kept Hussein in power after the first Gulf War our enemies were again emboldened. And when the US withdrew its engagement in Afghanistan in the 1990s it deluded itself that its strategic interests no longer applied to that part of the world. With all the benefits of hindsight we can say that the decision left the world with a dangerous vacuum. India, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran ran its proxy wars against each other’s and Afghani interests. By the 1990s, the Taliban-backed Wahhabists, the Pakistani security establishment and the battle-hardened Pashtun warlords had won out. It is a salient lesson to those in Australia’s strategic establishment who think American military presence in the western Pacific is outdated or undesirable. They only invite the central Asian syndrome to our region. The Taliban, financed and advised by al-Qaeda, ran a terrifying sharia regime so harsh that the Saudis and ayatollahs winced, and so intolerant of minorities that Balkan war criminals blushed. The international community shrugged its shoulders and presumed itself to be impotent. Then al-Qaeda awoke the world’s sense of outrage and justice in 2001.
This war is nine years old and is fought on many fronts, including against corruption, literacy, ethnic division, poverty, as well as Islamofascists. We are also fighting to reduce the destructive role of Pakistani and Iranian meddling. But there is one front closer to home we must consider. There is a minority of parliamentarians and those in civil society who put their hands on their hearts in a gross display of apprehension for the Afghan people and claim their interests can only be upheld through Western retreat and isolationism. Like Iraq, they erroneously claim our involvement is a quagmire, a lost cause. They fetishise the suffering of those in the Middle East as victims of Western adventurism. Their arguments are only designed to delegitimise all Western involvement among failed states to suit their weak and outdated ideological positions to oppose capitalism and imperialism. This attitude was evident in the speech by the Greens member for Melbourne in this place. All we have to do, according to him, is increase aid to civil sector institutions that foster democracy, sustainable development and human rights and the murderous Taliban will lay down their arms and preach peace to all. It is as naive as it is fantastic.
When we see so-called peace activists aligning themselves with the causes of violent Islamic radicals, they are inviting us to condemn their conspicuous compassion as moral myopia. With no regard for Western interests, let alone those among predominantly Muslim nations who want to live in peace and security, they prefer the ensuring chaos from our premature departure from Afghanistan to national and regional security. Their opposition to the war in Afghanistan is a thinly veiled self-hatred for their own society, for its successes and traditions. Fortunately, their war against Australia’s noble mission in Afghanistan is as shallow as it is transparent. I am confident that this war in Afghanistan was jus ad bellum and in bello, and will be jus post bellum.
When viable Afghan independence, with the capacity for its own security and accountability, has sufficiently taken root, then our work will have been done militarily. The argument that the war cannot be won and necessitates an early withdrawal is misplaced. Peace can also be achieved by inflicting sufficient damage on the Taliban that they realise that violent aggression is no longer fruitful. It is in this regard that we must acknowledge the work of our military forces. They are there to train the local forces. But, more significantly, they are there to remove the military leadership of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. As George Orwell is claimed to have once said, ‘People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.’ Our soldiers are not rough men and women, but the sentiment is true. Peace, human rights and a world free of terrorism will not be achieved by capitulation and appeasement.
No war is good, but some war is necessary; and, if so, leadership in a democracy demands an explanation of why it is the case. The continuing presence of our troops in Afghanistan will bring greater collective security to the immediate region and assist Australia’s long-term interests in defeating extremism in our own region. As a nation, we will continue to demonstrate the courage of our convictions that Afghani security matters for all humanity and that it is worth the sacrifices. The vast majority of parliamentarians, who support this mission, must now get behind the executive, our military commanders and our troops and let them complete their vital but perilous mission.
Sitting suspended from 5.44 pm to 5.49 pm