Open Thread – our own Afghanistan debate

Coming soon: a report on the Q&A with the Australian Sex Party’s Fiona Patten at La Trobe University this week. But first …

This week saw the first Parliamentary debate on Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan. This was one of the key elements in the Labor Party’s agreement with the Greens, and welcomed by Independents Andrew Wilkie and Rob Oakeshott. Thanks to the wonders of technology, anyone who cares to has been able to follow the debate.

Most of the speakers are fairly predictable. This is a ‘just war’, we have to ‘stay the course’, etc. There were a few highlights, though. Julia Gillard kicked off the proceedings by announcing that our troops would be in Afghanistan until at least 2014, and that Australia would likely be ‘engaged’ there for the rest of the decade. Tony Abbott urged us to be careful that we didn’t execute a de facto ‘Western takeover’. Sussan Ley, unexpectedly, called for future military engagements to be subject to a Parliamentary vote. Adam Bandt said we should get our troops out as soon as possible, and Andrew Wilkie nearly broke down while reading the names of every Australian soldier killed while serving in Afghanistan to date.

It can be enlightening to hear what our politicians have to say on the matter – especially when, in effect, they’re committing us to the longest war we have yet participated in, outstripping the Vietnam conflict.

But what about the rest of us? You know, us – the ‘Australian public’, the ones our politicians are supposed to listen to and represent. We’ve heard a lot this week about what ‘Australians want’, mostly from people who, I suspect, neither know nor care what we do want.

So let’s have our own mini-debate. Let’s talk about why we’re in Afghanistan.

What are we hoping to achieve?

Have our objectives changed over the years?

Should we have gone there in the first place?

Are we really ‘denying terrorists a safe haven’?

Do we have the right to impose our political system on another country?

Should we talk to the Taliban and other factional powers in the region, instead of propping up the increasingly shaky and corrupt Karzai government?

What if our actions there are making the situation worse?

And what about next time?

Please, encourage people to add their feelings, engage with each other – get a real discussion going. This may be only one small forum, but it’s a forum that wants to hear what everyone thinks.

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25 Responses to Open Thread – our own Afghanistan debate

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  5. Aussie MP says:

    Ok Rockstar Philosopher,
    Let me tell you what I can, the traing we do over there is twofold. Firstly there is a trade training scholl to gives the local kids other career options apart from poppy growing or joining the Taliban. Teaching kids carpentry and bricklaying shouldn’t help them be better terrorists if they decide on a different career path. Secondly we do skills training for the local police so that they can do their job better its all about building your way out of a job (what people like to call an exit strategy)
    Yes there have been some unfortunate incidents where lives have been unintenionally lost but this is more to do with the enemy’s total disregard for human life than an intenional act on our part.

    Just becasue you can’t see a national interest doesn’t mean there is or isn’t one. But take it out on theose they decide where and when we go, not those who’s career choice involves following orders that we may or may not personally agree with.

    At least our way is better than one US plan of carpet bombing the entire contry and starting over again…..

  6. Amanda Parker says:

    I agree with David Fawcett’s comment to Alex Hughes…

    I was in the ADF as it is a part of my family’s tradition in both here Australia and Britain. I chose that lifestyle with a very real understanding of the dangers involved. I have family who were maimed, tortured and killed in the line of duty.

    And don’t even think about spouting some sort of rhetoric of women not being near the front lines or being in danger. There are worse things that can happen to a soldier in a war zone other than Death!

    As a soldier you are required to follow orders, this is a fact. As a soldier you have no right to question those orders, also a fact and not to mention this is ingrained from your first day in recruit training.

    Only outrage from the Country you serve is able to be a voice for you, because as a Soldier you don’t get the full picture given to you, you get given only your part of the job in the scheme of things.

    I had several friends in the ADF who resigned over the War against terror in Afghanistan, why…? Not because they were unpatriotic, but because they could not justify what they had seen and what they had done. These people would be nowhere near what I would consider weak or weak minded.

    So to go back to the author’s original post, to talk about why we’re in Afghanistan, and what we are hoping to achieve there.

    The list of questions are good, and I think like most Australians, we may not know even how to begin answering some of those questions.

    We are not a country that is rife with war within our boarders, we are not killed for our opinions by our government and we are not forced to live under strict religious doctrines. This is a lifestyle completely foreign to us!

    As part of the western societies, we will never truly understand the full extent of the barbarity of some other cultures. All we can do is help where we can, but I believe no-one should be force or coerced into our way of life. Wouldn’t that make us as bad as they are…?

    LOL… I’m picturing some people fuming right now behind the safety of their keyboards.

    I look forward to reading future posts.

    • Rhiannon Saxon says:

      Thank you for posting your perspective, it was very moving and also made some things clearer. You are right though – I wouldn’t know how to begin to answer these questions! I do think we have to look hard at whether our presence really does make things better or worse, and for that I suppose we need more information than we are getting. AND without the kind of macho rhetoric about us knowing stuff endangering our troops!

  7. Michelle Hallett says:

    @Alex, I can’t see anyone here who disagrees with your statement that we should support the troops in Afghanistan. Most people seem to be saying that we should question the decisions politicians have made.

    As for my statement that Australia is mostly there in a supporting role, it’s based on what I have read in the media, in particular the discussion on Insight. If it is incorrect, it just underlines my point, which is that those of us dependent on the media for information, don’t know enough.

    As for my belief that war has nothing to do with safe havens for terrorists, it is based on the fact that the determined terrorist seems to find recruits, places to train them and places to stage operations with or without a war claiming to prevent them. However, it is a belief, not based on fact, and I state this clearly.

    I think we’d have a better discussion here if we stopped going on the defensive and started looking at people’s arguments.

  8. Alex Hughes says:

    “I know that Australians are not fighting, they are there in a support role, building and training.”

    That looks like a statement of fact to me. It happens to be incorrect.

    “And I don’t believe this war has anything to do with safe havens for terrorist.”

    What do you base this belief on? What facts can you present in support of this belief?

    And yes I agree with you, most people who throw their opinions around should probably do a little research before expressing their opinions, their failure to do so is particularly offensive to soldiers who are hamstrung by decisions made by politicians who are equally ignorant. Put your life on the line and see how long you can remain cool, calm and collected.

  9. Nat C says:

    Debate doesn’t equal abuse, children.

    Ahem. Now. First of all, disagreement with the war doesn’t equal a lack of support for the troops – it’s ignorant, conservative rhetoric. I actually think we should have a *responsibility* to our troops to question the direction and success of any war effort. This should be done in an enlightened fashion – all war is bad, but sometimes it is necessary. We have a responsibility to the troops to ensure that what we ask of thim *is* necessary.

    If the nation overwhelmingly doesn’t believe it is necessary, and is vocal, the politicians will respond – it’s their nature. But to do so, we need to have debates and discussions like this.

  10. Rhiannon Saxon says:

    Are some of you people seriously trying to suggest that no-one should discuss any war in which our government has sent our army on our behalf, unless they are IN the army? Really? And you don’t think that may just set some sort of dangerous precedent?

  11. Dan Man says:

    Like I always say, if your not in the ADF, have been to Afghanistan, or going soon. Shut the hell up. Stick to your facebook, your crappy job and your Television.
    You dont know what is happening in the world, and just lay back and enjoy your freedom and consume.

    • The problem with that is that we are the ones who are paying for this little war, we pay to resupply you, we pay your wages.

      If you think we don’t have a right to know where that money is going you are very very wrong because guess what princess, we are the ones that decide if you fight, where you fight and when you fight. The armed forces in Australia do not decided when or if to go to war.

      You think the war is a necessary? Fine, prove it. This ‘You don’t want to know’ nonsense from Aussie MP is pure unadulterated bullshit and while you may be a happy little indoctrinated slave to authority the rest of us get suspicious when we are told that decisions have to be made in secret.

      Demanding unquestioning support for our armed services is an emotive and irrational position. I believe asking if our troops should be in Afghanistan is a necessary part of supporting our troops. If the goals of the mission cannot be accomplished then why should we put your lives at risk?

      • Rhiannon Saxon says:

        Well said.
        Not only is it is unadulterated bullshit, it is patronising. By all means say, ‘you don’t want to know’ to people who never try to find out, but don’t make assumptions about everyone else.

      • Alex Hughes says:

        “The problem with that is that we are the ones who are paying for this little war, we pay to resupply you, we pay your wages.”

        Outstanding, now do you think you can push for our Government to send us into combat with weapons built this century that actually work? That would sort of be your responsibility, see the next comment.

        If you think we don’t have a right to know where that money is going you are very very wrong because guess what princess, we are the ones that decide if you fight, where you fight and when you fight. The armed forces in Australia do not decided when or if to go to war.

        You, and I, have every right to know where the money is going. Fortunately you don’t decide if we fight, or where we fight or when we fight. Unfortunately, politicians do. Combat is a very difficult and obviously little understood art. The average General has spent something like 15 years in full time professional development. They’re better educated in this field than you can imagine, and yet they’re constantly over ruled by uneducated people whose only qualification is that they were more personable than someone else.

        Soldiers don’t decide “if” they fight, it’s their duty to do so, likewise it should be the duty of Australian citizens to ensure that they are adequately equipped, properly supported and their lives risked for adequate gain.

        I don’t know if the war is necessary, it’s very hard to judge. I sincerely doubt an absolute judgement can be made as it could in WW2.

        Demanding unquestioning support for our armed services is a rational and logical position. Questioning the decisions made by politicians in the deployment of our soldiers is a different proposition. Our soldiers should be supported until proven that an individual soldier has acted inappropriately, which is why those Commandos are currently facing an inquiry and court martial.

  12. Rockstar Philosopher says:

    I say it’s freaking ridiculous to be in the country training the people who will, once we leave, become the terrorists and terrorist trainers of the future. Remember those guys Al Qaeda? The ones who blew up the WTC? Where would they have been without their CIA training and support in the 80s?

    We’ve overthrown a repressive, yet honest, government with values we abhor, and replaced it with a government that is repressive, with values we abhor, but corrupt through to next century.

    Good work guys, this war is total fail.

  13. Michelle Hallett says:

    How much do people actually know about what we are doing in Afghanistan? I know that Australians are not fighting, they are there in a support role, building and training. That’s all I know and I suspect it’s not enough to be able to answer the questions you pose.

    I would say that I don’t support negotiation with the Taliban, because of their treatment of women. Better a corrupt government than one that imprisons half the population. But beyond that, I don’t know enough. I certainly have no data to assess if we are making the situation worse. And I don’t believe this war has anything to do with safe havens for terrorist. They operate quite happily in lots of other countries, such as Britain and Indonesia.

    • Rockstar Philosopher says:

      How to you kill 5 kids “training and supporting”?

      • Aussie MP says:

        As Dan Man said have you been there, do you know what’s going on or do you just go on whatever your favourite media spoon feeds you. Yes I’ve been there, yes I’ve investigated some of the incidents that are currently in the news. Do I know more about whats actually happening there, hell yes and will I tell you, NO. Why…
        1. My career is worth more than that.
        2. You can’t handle the truth.
        3. I wouldn’t dream of risking the good work that we are doing over there to placate the oxygen thieves that seem to infest places like this.

        If you don’t want to stand by our troops feel free to stand in front…..

      • michelle says:

        Good point. Perhaps the reports that Australia’s role in Afghanistan aren’t true

      • Rockstar Philosopher says:

        Not sure why I can’t reply to the two posts above but…

        To AussieMP:

        I can’t handle the truth? I hope you’re trying to be cute. The idea that politicians can handle a truth that that general public can’t handle the truth is anti-democratic. I’m aware that there’s a need for state secrets, but to suggest that I can’t handle the truth is the height of arrogance.

        Also, I’m getting a bit sick of this “you don’t know cos you weren’t there” crap. If we’re only involved in training and support, yet kids are getting killed when soldiers go into houses then either a) they’re using some seriously stuffed up training techniques or b) we’re being lied to.

        Now, this isn’t to say that I think we should crucify those soldiers (but yes, they probably should be facing an inquiry at least), but if they’re doing combat operations then what motivation could there possibly be to not be telling the public this other than for political convenience?

        Am I standing by the troops? I’m questioning whether it is worth them giving up their lives for something ill defined, with dubious benefits for our national interest. Damn right I’m standing by our troops. Since when does questioning the politicians who are sending these guys to war mean I don’t support the troops? Again, it’s called democracy, the thing they’re supposedly defending.

        If you don’t have the guts to stand a little debate and criticism then I suggest moving to a less democratic country, because that’s not how we do things here.

    • Alex Hughes says:

      I support open debate about almost all matters in a democracy.

      However, when it comes to war, when our soldiers are putting their lives on the line, when our comments could actually get them killed, I really wish pig ignorant civilians like yourself could have the common courtesy to keep quiet.

      Australians have elements of SASR and 4RAR Commando as well as 6RAR who are regular infantry. These are all combat units and you think we’re not fighting? We’re on a training mission which requires combat security details, but we’re also training Afghans how to fight, which means fighting alongside them.

      You don’t support negotiation with the Taliban because of their treatment of women? That’s the reason you’re choosing? How about ’cause their stated aim is to bring the entire world under sharia law, which is so much worse and encompasses your reason? Sharia law, aside from reducing 1st world countries to uneducated third world dumps, like every Muslim country, institutionalises a wide variety of behaviours we Westerners find unacceptable.

      You don’t believe that the war has anything to do with safe havens for terrorists? So where did the English terrorists get their training? Why have various security agencies from the Western world been monitoring groups of European Muslims travelling to and from “safe haven” countries like Afghan and Pstan? The al-Qaeda network has taken a beating over the last few years. This has stopped grand orchestrations but the unintentional result is homegrown terrorism, we can however, monitor that much better and enforce the rule of law to ensure terrorists never get beyond the planning stage as we’ve done on several occasions, including the group who’re currently on trial in Melbourne.

      http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/atlas_shrugs/2010/09/muslim-.html

      • michelle says:

        You must be mad as he’ll today.

        I thought I made it quite clear that I was ignorant as to the true situation in Afghanistan. My point was probably quite similar to the one that you were making in that I was asking how I could comment on Afghanistan when I don’t really know what’s going on there. I think it is a point worth making.

        My reason for opposing negotiation with the Taliban is their treatment of women. I do not have a full understanding of sharia law and therefore am not willing to come out in opposition of something I do not understand. To do so would be the act of someone who was pig ignorant.

      • Suggesting that you can’t be informed about whether or not to fight a war because you aren’t a soldier is like suggesting you can’t be informed about whether or not to build a bridge because you aren’t a construction worker.

        Every large scale construction project estimates costs in terms of money and materials as well as estimated loss of life. Soldiers are not the only people who routinely risk their lives for the good of their country.

        To put this in perspective we have lost 21 people in Afghanistan and we lost 35 people building the West Gate bridge but I don’t remember any politician tearfully reading out the names of the construction workers who died in Parliament.

        Now imagine after that tragedy someone turned around and asked, ‘Should we really be building this bridge like this?’ and they got shouted down because they weren’t construction workers and they didn’t know what they were talking about?

        It simply wouldn’t happen, if fact it would be extraordinarily negligent if we didn’t ask that question.

        BTW did anyone know this was happening last week? http://www.westgatebridge.org/

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