In an article reported in the New Zealand Herald, prominent American foreign policy analyst Michael O’Hanlon has advised Australia to step up its military presence in Afghanistan. According to O’Hanlon: “If America can muster 200,000 troops for two wars, a country of Australia’s size should proportionately be able to find 5,000 troops.” Apparently, O’Hanlon has totally missed an issue that many Australians appear to find much more pertinent: just what the hell are Australian troops doing in Afghanistan in the first place?
According to O’Hanlon, Australia risks losing its “special” diplomatic relationship with the US, unless the country is prepared to step up its war effort. “Alas, as things stand, Australia is not an obvious key to solving any problem for Obama, be it Afghanistan or anything else,” pontificates O’Hanlon. “As such, it is not the talk of the town in Washington and it probably will not become so any time soon.” Perhaps O’Hanlon has failed to appreciate that being considered a pet interest of the White House administration is not necessarily first among priorities for most Australians.
O’Hanlon is full of insightful and helpful advice for the Australian people, however: “This situation should be addressed seriously by Australians. If they consider the Afghanistan war to be a reasonable enterprise with reasonable goals and a true importance, they should not be content with their present contribution.”
Thanks for that, O’Hanlon. Only problem is, it does appear that Australians have given the matter serious consideration. And unfortunately for O’Hanlon, they don’t appear to consider the Afghan War to be a “reasonable enterprise with reasonable goals and a true importance.” According to a Newspoll survey conducted in March, 2009, 65% of Australians are opposed to sending any more Australian troops to Afghanistan. Furthermore, in a Lowy Institute poll conducted in October, 2008, 56% of Australians want to see Australia’s involvement in the Afghan War cease altogether.
But despite steadily increasing opposition to the Afghan War among the Australian public, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has actually stepped up Australia’s military presence in Afghanistan. The number of Australian troops deployed in the tortured nation now stands at 1,550. To Rudd’s credit, he delivered on pre-election promises to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq, but why remove Australian troops from one destructive, pointless theatre of war, only to step up their presence in another?
What is it Australia actually hopes to accomplish in Afghanistan? The officially stated aim of protecting Australia’s borders from “terrorists” is hardly worth taking seriously, given that Australia has never been threatened by any faction operating out of Afghanistan. In fact, Australia was never on the radar for any kind of militant Islamic activity, until John Howard’s conservative government elected to throw Australia’s lot in with the US by sending Australian troops to the Middle East.
The only conceivable reason for an Australian presence in Afghanistan is to preserve diplomatic relations with the US. But should we really be required to send Australians to war in order to achieve that aim? And if that is the case, are US relations really worth preserving? Former Prime Minister John Howard was said to share an especially deep and meaningful relationship with fellow arch-conservative, George Bush. In return for the Howard government’s support in Iraq and Afghanistan, Australia was rewarded with such dubious pats on the head as 2004’s Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, which appears to have done little other than increasing the level of imported US goods to Australia while decreasing Australia’s overall level of exports elsewhere.
Every twelve year old in Australia is aware that the country’s future economic well being is now far more closely linked to South East Asia than it is to the US. And the US, of course, is sinking deeper into a quagmire of failed international adventurism and a collapsing domestic economy. Why sink with it? Is it really worth risking Australian lives in order to preserve a meaningful relationship with a rapidly fading superpower? Not to mention the lives of Afghan civilians, such as the five Afghan children killed by Australian special forces back in February.
All of which appears to be rather over the head of supposed foreign policy “pundits” such as O’Hanlon, who measure war time carnage in abstract terms relative to “achievable goals”, rather than as actual events that take place in the real world, causing suffering and loss to real people. Australia’s policy on Afghanistan can only be evaluated so far as it coincides with US policy, and not along any kind of ethical rationale, or even according to utalitarian benefits for Australians. If the US sends a certain percentage of its population into combat, then Australia should also send a certain percentage of its population into combat. It’s all just numbers on a calculator. Just who is this O’Hanlon guy anyway?
A brief check of O’Hanlon’s background reveals the danger of taking supposed foreign policy “experts” too seriously. Apparently, O’Hanlon is a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution – one of those mysterious non profit “think tanks” operating out of Washington that appear to serve no particular purpose other than to lobby the White House into following certain political agendas. O’Hanlon also serves on the US Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board. Given the colossal failure of the US approach to international security over the last eight years, perhaps we can safely make a few assumptions regarding the quality of O’Hanlon’s advice.
But most revealing of all, O’Hanlon has written dozens of “Op-Eds” in prominent US papers in support of the Iraq War. Yep, O’Hanlon is one of those guys – through both media shilling and government channels – who urged America into the disastrous invasion of Iraq, a war that has left perhaps as many as 1,300,000 Iraqis dead and cost the US tax payer $673,000,000,000 – all to no apparent purpose.
A detailed log of O’Hanlon’s commentary on the Iraq War has been maintained by Salon blogger, Glenn Greenwald. The staggering level of inaccuracy with which O’Hanlon called the war at every stage is grotesquely comic, until you consider that the guy is actually paid good money to spout this kind of hogwash and have it taken seriously. In any field of employment other than “foreign policy expert” – O’Hanlon would long ago have been dismissed with contemptuous laughter for his complete and utter bungling ineptitude. But within the realm of what passes for political punditry in the US – where stupidly going along with official doctrine is the best path to career ambition – O’Hanlon is rewarded with prestigious posts and newspaper columns.
Offering bad advice to both the US Department of State and the American public hasn’t been enough to satisfy O’Hanlon, however. Now he wants to advise Australians on what they should think about the War in Afghanistan.