Afghan adventure was not in vain, claims former Liberal minister

Former Australian foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer is an expert when it comes to revisionism, and he regularly indulges in these exercises using the Australian Financial Review, where he is a columnist (God knows why!) to do so.

His latest exercise is to try and whitewash the sorry 20-year war in Afghanistan as some kind of necessary adventure. Right through his exercise, one can spot the little twists and turns he does to paint a narrative that is sharply at odds with reality.

First, Downer claims to have been an “important part” of the decision taken by prime minister John Howard to join the US in invading Afghanistan in 2001. It seems more likely that Howard was just told he would have to send Australian troops to act as cannon fodder for the Americans as has always been the case. The US was aiming to go into Afghanistan in order to exact revenge for the bombing of the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001, an act that was said to have been planned by Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda.

One can gauge the way the Americans went about forcing people to join this so-called coalition from the way they approached then Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf. US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage went to see Musharraf and told him the equivalent of “you can either join us or we will bomb you back to the Stone Age”, A nice, polite way to recruit an ally, much in the typical American way of doing things.

Downer then points out that if he had opposed the decision, he may have had to resign from the post of foreign affairs minister. Doubtless, Alexander would have always wanted to keep his ministerial perks and privileges; he is reputed for being a fop.

Downer fails to mention that the Afghanistan government offered to extradite Bin Laden if the US could provide proof of his involvement. But then the Americans probably figured this was an insult; after all, the world is expected to accept anything that the Americans say as gospel. That’s probably why Downer did not bother with what a brown government said.

The US president at the time was George W. Bush, a man who was not particularly blessed with brains. Had he taken the trouble to read – or have read to him – the history of Afghanistan from any decent encyclopedia, he may have thought twice about the adventure he was about to undertake, given that not even the British Empire at the height of its might and power had been able to subjugate Afghanistan. The only man who managed to keep some semblance of order in the country after invading it was Genghis Khan: he killed all the fighters and built mountains out of their skulls to remind them that Mongols are not to dallied with. But even he was wise enough to make a dash for India as soon as he could. Alexander the Great and the Soviet Union could not subjugate the Afghans either; the people of that country simply refuse to put up with foreign occupation and rule.

Downer talks of “the role Australia played in helping our allies overthrow the Taliban government and evicting al-Qaeda from Afghanistan”, which is nothing short of rubbish. The Americans wanted troops on the ground as they are basically cowards who will only fight from the safety of an F-16 or an Abrams tank after the way they were slaughtered in person-to-person combat in Vietnam. Australia is a servile nation and willingly plays that role. Why, Australia has a day dedicated to the battle during which it suffered an appalling defeat in Turkey: Anzac Day. Most countries would celebrate military might on the day when they won a victory; Australia rejoices in defeat.

Downer talks of the things the Australian military has done “to give the people of Afghanistan some hope”. The whole point of going into Afghanistan was to bash the hell out of Al Qaeda and then leave while the going was good. It was not to try and make the same mistake that countless other US expeditions have made: trying to convert the natives to an American model. Hope was not on the menu.

But Downer thinks these unnecessary activities were much needed and invokes that famous Western saying: “The Taliban regime was a brutal and evil outfit.” There are no good and bad people in a war. The bigger bully wins.

Then comes another lie. Downer says the alliance that Australia has with the US “brings obligations to support each other in times of need.” He talks of the 1999 East Timor intervention by Australia but fails to mention that Bill Clinton snubbed Howard when he sought American help in that mission. Alliance? Sure, but a one-sided deal.

The rest of his article is filled with vacuous observations about what should have been done and how it should have been done. Last year, Donald Trump proposed a pullout of American troops, but the American intelligence agencies were against it and they mobilised forces through the media, leaking a story that Russia was paying bounties to the Taliban to kill Americans. (It’s doubtful that the Taliban need any motivation to kill Americans given the horror that the Yanks have wrought in that country.) But this helped to stall Trump’s move.

Joe Biden has attempted to implement this again, and overridden the military bosses with his decision to end the Afghan adventure by September 11 this year, the 20th anniversary of the 2001 attacks. There will be further moves to try and prevent this decision being implemented, of that one can be sure. Defence companies in the US want the war to continue else their profits will be lessened. The mainstream TV channels also want war to continue, else they tend to lose advertising from these same defence firms.

Downer says the 41 Australians who died in Afghanistan did not die in vain. If the Taliban were in power back in 2001 and will take over a few months after the Americans and their coalition partners leave, what gains have been made? Downer conveniently forgot the hundreds of Australians who have taken their own leave after suffering post-traumatic stress disorder which has brought about serious depression.

But you can’t stop him, he is off to draft his next chapter of revisionism. The first one ended up in exposure; he tried to paint Howard as being the man who tried to create an alliance between Japan, India, the US and Australia, from which Australia unilaterally withdraw when a Labor government took office in 2007. He earned a sharp rejoinder from Kevin Rudd, who was the head of that Labor government, that it was Howard who shut the door on this dialogue.

What’s next on Alexander’s revisionism schedule? One awaits his next attempt to rewrite history with bated breath.

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