Thursday, October 21, 2010

Time to stop the war in Afghanistan

Periodically, when I pass Throssell Street in Perth, I think about the person after whom the street was named – WA’s second premier George Throssell – and more particularly his son, Hugo. Hugo Throssell was famous for coming home after World War One and announcing, with the authority of someone who’d won the Victoria Cross, that the war had turned him into a socialist and a pacifist.
I wonder what would he say about the current war Australia is fighting that was only debated in parliament for the first time this week?

While opposition to the war in Iraq was widespread in the Australian community, the same hasn’t always been the case with Afghanistan.

Kevin Rudd, who ostensibly opposed the war in Iraq, described Afghanistan as “the good war” in the lead-up to the 2007 election. On becoming prime minister, Julia Gillard emphasised that Australia’s war policy would not change and then pointedly made her first international visit to Australian soldiers in Aghanistan.

Since then, she’s said that she is prepared to increase Australian troop numbers and, in parliament on Tuesday, said that Australia should be prepared to stay in Afghanistan for the rest of the decade at least.

The problem with the “good war” theory is that supporters of the war have to resort to lies to sell it. Consider some of the porkies that Ms Gillard thought she could get away with in the parliamentary debate:

  • “We went with the support of the United Nations.” Not true. The UN never endorsed the invasion of Afghanistan. Instead, the US relied on the provisions of the UN charter that any country has the right to self defence against attack. However this was dubious since the state of Afghanistan was not the sponsor of the September 11 terrorist attack on the US. The Taliban regime even offered to hand over Osama bin Laden if the US could provide evidence that he perpetrated the 9/11 attacks – something the US never did. Arguably, the leaders of the original invasion, including former Prime Minister John Howard, are war criminals for this invasion alone which was in violation of international law.
  • “Al-Qaeda remains a resilient and persistent network”. This may or may not be true in a global sense but it hardly justifies war in Afghanistan when even the CIA Director Leon Panetta says there are only 50 to 100 and “maybe less” Al Qaeda members left in the whole country.
  • “We respect innocent civilian life.” The occupying powers pay lip service to these words, but the lie is exposed by the deeds of the war machine, including those revealed in the WikiLeaks’ Afghan War Diaries: multiple bombings of wedding parties, whole villages bombed and countless deaths of innocent civilians. Neither Australia nor the US military keep a record – accurate or otherwise – of the numbers of innocent civilians killed. However, the numbers are in the tens of thousands – many more than were killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks.

More revealing is what Ms Gillard did not talk about: systemic corruption, rigged elections (euphemistically passed off by Ms Gillard as “problems”) and human rights abuses by the government of Hamid Karzai.

Perhaps the most important truth Ms Gillard acknowledged in her speech was that Australia is involved in the war to support the “US Alliance”.

But this undermines the central excuse given for the war – that this is a “war against terrorism” – since the US is arguably the world’s leading terrorist state. The US refuses to sign a number of UN conventions against terrorism, harbours convicted terrorists such as Luis Posada Carriles with impunity and continues to pursue its global political objectives (including in Afghanistan) by means of force and violence.

I don’t think it is very likely that Hugo Throssell would have supported this war. And the rest of us shouldn’t either. It is time for the troops to come home.

[This article by Socialist Alliance co-convenor Alex Bainbridge was published in the Perth Voice 23 October 2010 edition. Bainbridge has been an anti-war activist since the 1991 invasion of Iraq. He has been actively involved in campaigning against the Afghanistan war since 2001 and was an organiser of the October 9 protest in Perth that marked the ninth anniversary of the war’s beginning.]