The farce this week of two rivals holding separate presidential inaugurations in Afghanistan should raise questions of why the US ever went there, why Australia followed, and once there why have we stayed so long?
The short answer is that the politicians learned only one lesson from the Vietnam war, instead of the many they should have learned. That lesson was that if you are going to be suckered into a war by the military-industrial complex, avoid conscription.
Conscription brings those facing conscription on to the streets along with their mothers and sisters and other family members. That can result in electoral pain.
But with no conscription, opposition to the war in Afghanistan has been muted, even though majorities in both the US and Australia would support withdrawal. But it is not a vote-changing issue, in the way that Vietnam was.
That said, the only realistic choice for the US in Afghanistan is to do what the British did in 1842 and the Soviet Union did in 1989 – just withdraw.
But no. The US is going through the same doomed exercise it did in Vietnam – propping up a local government with dubious democratic credentials while negotiating a peace with the other side, knowing that it will not last a day after withdrawal. Only 20% turned out for the presidential election and the winner got 50.6% of the vote – not a big endorsement.
Whatever the US does, Australia should withdraw its remaining 1550 troops. We have no reason to be there. We never had any reason to be there. The Afghan War (both Australia’s and the US’s longest wars) along with the illegal invasion of Iraq have made both countries more vulnerable to terrorism, not less.
And the cost in blood and treasure has been immense. For Australia is has been 41 dead; 261 wounded; $9.3 billion in direct spending; untold millions in treatment for PTSD and other conditions for many of the 26,000 who have served there; and the costs of the Inspector-General of the ADF’s inquiry into alleged war crimes committed by Australians.
For the US, it has been 2400 dead; 20,000 wounded; $2 trillion on direct and indirect costs so far and untold millions in future treatment.
For Afghanistan, the civilian losses have not been fully tallied, but the economic and human cost has been crippling.
And for what? The evil Taliban are biding their time to sign a sham peace agreement and take over the country again with their hellish treatment of women, strict application of radical Islam and intolerance of any dissent.