“Supporting a just, durable and resilient peace arrangement” : Scott Morrison 25 May 2021

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, presumably signing away twenty years of misadventure and human misery

 

On the 9th of June 1978 The West Australian newspaper published my letter to the Editor which included, inter alia:

The current debate over the Vietnamese refugees is indicative of the intolerance of some Australians. ……

Ten years ago Australia had troops fighting in Viet Nam to protect the “peace loving, harmless” South Vietnamese from their “communist aggressors”. What cynicism, hypocrisy and selfishness it would be to deny the subsequent victims of that war our protection. …..

France and the United States have long recognised their moral responsibilities to these homeless people and I commend the Federal Government for accepting Australia’s responsibilities, not only to the Vietnamese but also to reaffirm our commitment to the Christian principle of compassion.[1]

Some two decades later, on the 29th of January 2003, The West Australian published a further letter from me on the same theme, as follows:

Are we incapable of learning from history? Forty one years ago Australian troops were despatched to a conflict in support of the U.S. That conflict deteriorated into a tragedy of major international proportions. It was to become Australia’s longest war and the servicemen and women returned to a community divided in which, sadly, they bore the brunt of much anger.

Today, because of the singular intransigence of our Prime Minister, our society is again divided over the moral implications of a possible war, again in support of the U.S.

Surely Blind Freddy and his dog can see that we have no business talking up war rhetoric, let alone dispatching troops for an invasion of a sovereign country without the sanction of the United Nations. Putting it bluntly, our Government has no moral right to commit troops to Iraq without the sanction of the UN and the support of the Australian people.

Our Prime Minister would do well to temper his enthusiasm for media bites farewelling the troops with a short study of history. If I thought he would listen I would be happy to share with him my experiences of returning from Viet Nam 34 years ago.[2]

My worst fears of John Howard’s military adventurism were borne out. There is no need for me to dilate upon the disaster that Australia’s involvement in the Middle East and, by extension, Afghanistan, has wrought.  For this, I hold Howard and his then political acolytes in the contempt they deserve.

Let us however fast forward a further eighteen years.

On the 25th of June this year, the Australian Broadcasting Authority ran the following story:

The ABC has confirmed that around 60 people – including Afghan interpreters and locally engaged staff in Kabul – have landed in Australia on recent commercial flights.

The ABC has been told the roughly 60 Afghans are part of a contingent of well over 200 people who will arrive in coming days.

Australia has been resettling Afghans who fear for their lives because they worked for the federal government since 2013.

Over 1,400 visas have been granted to them and their family members over that period.

But the government has intensified efforts to resettle people ahead of the US military withdrawal, which has provoked intense anxiety among Afghans who have worked for Western countries.

Violence has intensified in Afghanistan this year and some analysts predict the country could quickly fall to the Taliban after US soldiers leave.[3]

The operative words being – the country could quickly fall to the Taliban after US soldiers leave.

To punctuate this prediction, the Taliban recently published a propaganda video showing Afghan soldiers surrendering their arms and equipment in exchange for a $60 payment and free passage home. This makes for sickening viewing.[4] 

It has long been accepted by many analysts that, on the American withdrawal, the Taliban would consolidate its control over rural Afghanistan. This was a major argument for staying the distance. However, in today’s scenario, the real danger of major cities such as Kunduz and Mazar-i-Sharif falling to the Taliban in the very near future suggests the total collapse of Afghan government resistance sooner than later.  As former US Marine Corps intelligence officer and security adviser, Scott Ritter observed: “Fear and panic are contagious, and as the poorly-led Afghan troops watch as their comrades lay down their arms rather than fight –and die– in combat against the Taliban, the disease of cowardice, fuelled by a desire to survive, could very well reach pandemic proportions.[5]

After twenty years of war - what a waste of lives, civilian and military. What a legacy of injuries and trauma, military and civilian. What a waste of resources, time, money and emotional endeavour. In my view, branded upon the foreheads of every politician, every diplomat, civil servant and senior military officer of every country that enjoined in this international tragedy should be the words - What was the point?

I will however confine my vitriol to those of my own country, Australia, which from painful experience, should have known better, much better.

On the 25th of May the Australian government released a media statement in the name of the Prime Minister, complete with photo of Morrison himself, looking presidential, head down busy signing documents at a desk. Well might he have kept his head down – he hadn’t the courage to face the camera for the news he was about to impart. Follows is the full text of the statement which I urge all readers to digest:

Statement on the Australian Embassy in Afghanistan

Media Statement25 May 2021

Prime Minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Women

In light of the imminent international military withdrawal from Afghanistan, Australia will as an interim measure revert to the model of visiting accreditation for our diplomatic representation to Afghanistan, which we used from the opening of diplomatic relations in 1969 until 2006. Our residential representation in Afghanistan and the Australian Embassy in Kabul will be closed at this time.

We will close our Embassy building on 28 May 2021. DFAT officials will visit Afghanistan regularly from a residential Post elsewhere in the region.

It is Australia’s expectation that this measure will be temporary and that we will resume a permanent presence in Kabul once circumstances permit.

This form of diplomatic representation is common practice around the world. It does not alter our commitment to Afghanistan or its people.

The departure of the international forces and hence Australian forces from Afghanistan over the next few months brings with it an increasingly uncertain security environment where the Government has been advised that security arrangements could not be provided to support our ongoing diplomatic presence.

On the Foreign Minister’s recent visit to Kabul, we reaffirmed Australia’s support for the Afghanistan Government during this time of change for the country. Australia remains committed to the bilateral relationship with Afghanistan, and we will continue to support the stability and development of Afghanistan in concert with other nations.

Australia is proud to have worked over the past 20 years to assist Afghanistan in protecting itself from exploitation as a base for terrorist groups, to address inequality, and to contribute to improvements in the rights and livelihoods of women and girls. Since 2001, Australia has provided $1.51 billion in development and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. Australia remains committed to supporting an Afghan-led peaceful resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan, and to helping preserve the gains of the past 20 years.

During the time Australia has been working in Afghanistan, we have seen significant improvements in school enrolments, access to basic health care and women’s representations in politics, which has risen from zero in 2001 to 27 per cent in 2020. Maternal mortality has fallen, as has child malnutrition.

We know there is more to do, and our development and humanitarian commitments will be delivered in the coming years, including a bilateral development assistance commitment of $200 million over 2021-2024. We will continue our 52-year bilateral diplomatic relationship with Afghanistan, building on our close friendship with the Afghan people which stretches back to the historic arrival of Afghans in South Australia in the 1830s.

We remain committed to supporting a just, durable and resilient peace arrangement that is led and owned by Afghanistan, and will bring stability and prosperity to the Afghan people.

Prime Minister of Australia
The Hon Scott Morrison MP[6]

The non-too subtle subtext to this cowardly statement to the world in general reads: Piss off Earp – we’re outta Dodge!

It is blatant admission, not only of failure, but of fear and retreat. Fear of the consequences of an ill-conceived and poorly executed foreign policy disaster.

So much for Australia’s assurances and commitments to her international allies. What price her word? How cheaply can international integrity be discounted?

The fact that every other miserable member of the blighted coalition against terror chose to cut and run does not absolve Australia from shame. The fact that we picked up our swag and left the poor bastards to it should serve to brand us for what we are - and we should be called out for it – when the going gets tough we’re off!

If Australia really believes in the puff contained in Morrison’s media statement, why did it not choose to retain its complete diplomatic mission in Kabul? Why were agreements with all parties in Afghanistan not reached ensuring the integrity and safety of the Embassy and its staff? Why did the government not choose to deploy armed forces personnel and other appropriately trained security experts to protect the Embassy?

To have retained the embassy would have sent a signal to the world that Australia is a country of principle, and that it considers the people of Afghanistan are truly more important than politics. Moreover, a visible Australian presence in Kabul would perhaps do more to temper Taliban excess than sitting on the sidelines trying to forget the entire shameful episode. Australia has now lost all moral authority on this matter. 

What was Morrison thinking as he munched his way through barbequed lobster at the recent G7 conference, surrounded by fellow craven cronies in cowardice. If he was thinking at all, beyond his family tree, he certainly wasn’t thinking about the repercussions of Australia’s ‘commitment’ Afghanistan. To the vile killings that will indubitably be wrought by a vengeful Taliban. Nor was he thinking about “supporting a just, durable and resilient peace arrangement that is led and owned by Afghanistan, and will bring stability and prosperity to the Afghan people.” No: Bollocks he was.

He certainly wasn’t thinking about the crippling signal he was sending to the relatives of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, or those wounded and emotionally scarred for life by their experiences in that country or, on their return home, the realisation that it had all been a complete waste of time.

In 1982 I observed:

A lesson to be learnt from the Vietnam experience is that it is reprehensible to involve oneself in a war without the will and determination to win. It is reprehensible because in war lives are sacrificed and to sacrifice lives in a military action, where a nation is not totally committed to winning, is criminal as well as tragic.[7] 

As in Viet Nam, Australia can now count Iraq and Afghanistan as being criminal tragedies. Moreover, whether we like it or not, we have been complicit in its manufacture.

Since Howard’s ill-conceived despatch of troops to the Middle East we have seen a procession of asinine incompetents through our revolving prime ministerial doors. None of them have had the cajoneys or the nous to either lead the nation in war or to withdraw from that war in grace. Thus, when America chose to withdraw, we scampered for safety like cockroaches caught in the electric light, towards the skirting boards.

But then, perhaps what else can we expect from a country that makes much international huffing and puffing and diplomatic strutting about all manner of matters that are none of its business; a country that sells off its industries, farms and strategic assets for a quick-quid and then whinges that the world isn’t playing fair and, finally, a country that talks big on defence but hasn’t the intellectual faculties to buy a submarine off the shelf!

Indeed, what can the world expect from a country that, unable to address the Wuhan virus adequately, imposes draconian lockdowns on its flaccid, politically correct, emasculated and compliant population at the slightest opportunity. Welcome to modern Australia, diverse and inclusive and girt by sea – we want you to like us, trust us. Bollocks.

For those readers that might not have noticed, in the photo Morrison is backed by a shelf on which stands an iconic statuette of a WW2 digger in New Guinea carrying a wounded American soldier over his shoulder.[8] The statuette is peering over his left shoulder. Quite obviously the irony was lost on our Prime Minster.

Ends

2,330 Words

30 July 2021

 



[1] The West Australian. Letters to the Editor. 9 June 1978

[2] The West Australian. Letters to the Editor. 29 January 2003

[3]https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-06-25/afghan-translators-who-helped-military-flown-to-australia-/100245356

[4] Taliban gains Afghan territory, may seek ‘complete return to power’ amid US withdrawal | PBS NewsHour

[7] Coe, John. [Ed]. Preface. Desperate Praise: the Australians in Vietnam. Artlook Books. Perth. 1982