From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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What on earth are we doing in Afghanistan?

24 July 2008

There is something otherworldly about the news these days; something faintly redolent of Pravda in the old days. Take, for example Chairman Rudd’s “busy one-day visit” to the fraternal Semi-Democratic Republic of Malaysia, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald. The National Leader chatted to First Comrade Abdullah Badawi (presumably in breaks in the latter’s tight round of meetings to supervise sodomy allegations against his factional rival, Anwar Ibrahim). They agreed on a sister schools program and a joint effort to send 30 “master teacher trainers” to the People’s Republic of Afghanistan … after which the two leaders watched quaintly-costumed ethnic dancers.

Meanwhile, in the real Afghanistan, a huge, ruined, landlocked, mountainous, desertified, deforested disaster zone north of Pakistan things were sliding out of control. The vast countryside was falling under control of the Taliban, leaving a motley foreign garrison and a puppet government isolated in Kabul. One could almost hear the Australian media collectively thinking: “Is this really the ‘good war’ we have made it out to be?”

A feckless opportunism characterises the West’s invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. Within hours of the Twin Towers coming down, almost every politician in the Great and Liberal Democracies, urged on by their journalistic cheer squads, rushed to endorse the official US story about Osama bin Laden’s culpability and an open-ended War on Terror.

It was the ‘responsible’ thing to do, and it was what George Bush wanted of them. Even if they harboured private doubts about the 9/11 events (as we now know many did) it was best not to get on the wrong side of the Americans, eh. But what they actually contributed, when the call from the White House could no longer be avoided, was another matter. Nobody was willing to enter wholeheartedly into a conflict in an obscure country in which they had no compelling interest.

Even the US threw in just sufficient troops to push the Talibs out of Kabul and Kandahar and not much more. The doubters pointed out that the experience of Vietnam and Algeria (not to mention Afghanistan itself in the previous 150 years!) suggested that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to prop up a puppet government for long enough for it to establish legitimacy and stability. Rumsfeld and the rest of the neocon crew paid no attention.

After the US-led invasion, the Taliban did the sensible thing. Rather than fight a war they couldn’t win, they hid themselves in the villages. To prevail all they had to do was survive.

The Western coalition was a patchwork of parsimonious military contributions, in which the US chucked in the only element of useful size. The Yanks have proceeded ever since to wage the war mainly from the air, throwing down Hellfire missiles on village weddings and wandering herdsmen as often as on Taliban fighters.

Of course the soldiers involved all know that the task is a hopeless one. Hell, the Russians had given it their best, and look what happened to them. So wrecked was Afghanistan after almost a decade of war between the Soviet-backed Kabul regime and the US-backed mujihadeen (famously including Osama bin Laden) that Afghanistan ranked 170 out of 174 in the UN's Human Development Index. Five million had fled the country, mainly to miserable refugee camps in Iran.

In the aftermath, the US cynically decided not to reconstruct the country. Their ally, Pakistan, proceeded to sponsor competing warlords who further trashed the place until the Pakis grew sick of them and backed the Taliban, who took over, and insisted everything be done brutally, By The Book. Pity about the rights of women and kite enthusiasts, but at least they brought stability, de-weaponised the country, promoted cricket, and ended heroin production (for the bargain price of $40 million in aid).

So where to from here under the Rudd Regime?

Probably, nothing much will change. Australia’s token commitment will continue in a pattern of meaningless activity organised with great professional expertise.

What we’re doing is “winning hearts and minds”, rather than, like the Yanks, bombing weddings. So our guys (and girls) identify a need for minor repairs to the local mosque in a dirt-poor village a few kilometres from their base. They sally forth in a convoy of armoured vehicles with lavish air support and carefully secure all approaches to the village before the CO drinks tea with the mullah. When everything’s safe, the tradesmen go in for a few hours and then the whole convoy packs up and shuffles back to base before nightfall.

The whole exercise has probably cost a million, but have we won hearts and minds? When our troops disappear the Taliban sneak back (if they weren’t there all the time). Of course the locals are pathetically grateful for the carpentry and the free exercise books but they know that, within months or a few years, we’ll be gone and they’ll have to live with the Talibs again.

In the final analysis, it’s hard not to conclude that Afghanistan was better off under the Taliban than it is a present. It was better off still under the Soviet-backed governments, at least in the early years, and it was certainly better off before the Soviets under old King Mohammad Zahir Shah, if only because it hadn’t then been comprehensively trashed by decades of war. If the Taliban regime had been assisted with the same money that’s been poured into the present war, things would have been very different indeed.