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.
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.
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
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.
tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
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.
One mans freedom fighter is anothers terrorist
Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing
by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.
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.
We've been online since 1997.
out the archives or
on earth are we doing in Afghanistan?
is something otherworldly about the news these days; something faintly
redolent of Pravda in the old days. Take, for example Chairman
Rudds 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 latters 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 Peoples Republic of Afghanistan
after which the two leaders watched quaintly-costumed ethnic
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 Wests 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 Ladens culpability and an open-ended War on
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 couldnt 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. Australias token commitment
will continue in a pattern of meaningless activity organised with
great professional expertise.
What were 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 everythings 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
werent 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, well be gone and theyll
have to live with the Talibs again.
In the final analysis, its 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 hadnt then been
comprehensively trashed by decades of war. If the Taliban regime had
been assisted with the same money thats been poured into the
present war, things would have been very different indeed.