Ending Afghanistan will aid a monstrous regime
I have listened with great interest to this week’s parliamentary debate about Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan, just as I have listened with great interest to this debate for the past nine years, since October 7th, 2001, when Operation Enduring Freedom was launched by the United States and its allies, including Australia, so that freedom so bravely won by the people of Afghanistan from communist oppression, and so cruelly lost over the following decade to civil war and Taliban misrule, may indeed return, and this time endure.
I have listened to this debate and heard many arguments that we should abandon our mission in Afghanistan.
Some of these arguments are passionate, others cold and rational; some seem sincere, while others callous. And all of them are wrong.
Wrong in principle and wrong in practice; wrong in general and wrong in particular; politically wrong and morally wrong.
Some say that force never solves anything. Tell that to the liberated slaves throughout the nineteenth century. Some say that there is nothing worse than war. Tell that to the ghosts of the Holocaust and other victims of Nazi tyranny.
Some say that all we need is more dialogue and greater understanding. Tell that to the tens of millions who perished over seven decades of the loathsome communist experiment, and to the tens of millions of those liberated from under its shadow twenty years ago.
Others, more pragmatic, will tell you that we cannot solve all the world’s problems, and so why bother with Afghanistan and not Darfur or Congo or North Korea?
But just because you can’t do everything, it doesn’t mean that you should do nothing. Think of wars on poverty, disease or carbon dioxide emissions. Isn’t it strange how no one is arguing that because we can’t completely solve these problems, we should do nothing?
Funny how this tendentious reasoning seems to only be applied to wars on terror and tyranny.
The same pragmatists will say that we shouldn’t meddle in other people’s internal conflicts, and will then go on to paraphrase Otto von Bismarck that the whole of Afghanistan is not worth the bones of a single Australian SAS soldier.
The truth of the matter is that at the dawn of the new century, and amidst our smaller and interconnected world, there is no conflict so isolated that it won’t sooner or later come knocking at your door.
One would have thought that we have learned that lesson on September 11, 2001. One would have thought that we have learned the lessons about appeasement, isolationism and sticking out heads in the sand even earlier than that – on September 1, 1939.
We value the courage of our armed men and women; we are eternally in debt to them for their service and sacrifice; we grieve with them and their loved ones for every loss they suffer.
But we also know and understand this: that they are fighting the good fight today, in the time of our choosing and on our terms, so that we all don’t have to fight a bigger fight, later on, of the enemy’s choosing and on the enemy’s terms.
We bring war to them today, so that they can’t bring it to us tomorrow – and just as importantly that they can’t bring it once again to the long-suffering people of Afghanistan.
There is hardly a cause more just than trying to prevent the return of the Taliban regime. This is the regime that treated half of its population –Afghan women – like useless trash; uneducated, unemployed, isolated, battered, hopeless and helpless.
The regime that stoned to death apostates, adulterers and homosexuals, and which denied all basic human and political rights to its people. The regime that imposed theocracy and medieval poverty on its 28 million subjects.
The regime that lived off the proceeds of the heroin trade and gave sanctuary to Al Qaeda. The regime so obsessively oppressive that it mandated beards for all men, and banned music, kite-flying and sport, turning stadiums from centres of entertainment to venues of public executions.
And yet, some are saying that we should give up, leave the people of Afghanistan to their own devices, let them sort out their own affairs, whichever way the cards may fall. This view astonishes me.
Afghanistan should be the cause celebre of the Left: protecting women’s and minority rights, fighting oppression and ethnic cleansing, battling an oppressive theocracy, promoting democracy and human rights.
And yet, according to the twisted moral compass of the Left, all these noble causes and moral considerations are trumped by one thing and one thing only: reflexive anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism.
The reasoning seems to work something like this:
a) Pick a conflict, any conflict.
b) See if one of the participants is the United States or Israel, and
c) If the answer to question b) is “yes”, take the other side.
It has been thus in every conflict around the world from the Russian Revolution and the civil war to the armed struggles of today. There’s never been a leader or a movement so odious as to be beyond pale for the Left, as long as it was deemed sufficiently anti-American and anti-Western.
Whole generations idolised Lenin, Stalin and the Soviet Union, then Mao, Castro, Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh. Noam Chomsky supported the Khmer Rouge. Michel Foucault was intoxicated by Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian Revolution.
Now Western pilgrims travel and pay homage to Hugo Chavez.
Some support our enemies openly. Others are strongly offended at any suggestion that they support the enemy – it’s just that they simply cannot bring themselves to support our side. And while these two positions might differ in the degree of moral culpability they attract, their practical consequences are all but the same.
It’s seventy years since George Orwell famously said:
“Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side, you automatically help out that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, ‘he that is not with me is against me’.”
It matters not in this context if we speak of the Second World War or the conflict in Afghanistan: no matter what your excuses, no matter what your rationales, no matter how noble and pure your views – whether you call yourself a pacifist, or a humanitarian, whether you don’t believe in violence or in meddling in other people’s affairs – by calling for the end of military involvement in Afghanistan you are aiding and abetting one of the more monstrous political and religious movements in history.
As Mark Steyn wrote a few years ago:
“Everyone’s for free Tibet, but no one is for freeing Tibet. So Tibet will stay unfree; as unfree now as it was when the very first Free Tibet campaigner slapped the very first “Free Tibet” sticker onto the back of his [car]… If [Donald] Rumsfeld were to say ‘Free Tibet?... What a swell idea! The Third Infantry Division goes in on Thursday’, the bumper sticker crowd would be aghast. They’d have to bend down and peel off the ‘Free Tibet’ stickers and replace them with ‘War is not the answer’.”
And so it is here.
My message to all those pining for the withdrawal from Afghanistan, while cloaking their stance in a lofty humanitarian rhetoric of peace, love and human right: You’re only for freedom if it doesn’t involve getting off your armchair. You’re only against oppression if it doesn’t involve any real sacrifice.
You’re only for women’s right, or gay rights, or minority rights, or human rights, or democracy, as long as it does not interfere with your political agenda of opposing what you see as the global American hegemony.
Being concerned – or pretending to be concerned – is not a substitute for action. Just as no “Free Tibet” sticker has ever freed one Tibetan, so no amount of candle-lit vigils has managed to save one Darfurian life from genocide.
And no amount of posturing that you really care about the fate of Afghan women, men and children will do one tiniest bit to ensure that the 28 million people in that country continue to lead better lives and enjoy hope for the future, if at the same time you are trying to force the withdrawal of NATO and Allied armed forces.
The day always comes when you have to make a choice: Are you for freedom or against it? Are you against tyranny and oppression or for it, whether be it out of spite, misguided idealism or merely indifference?
Think carefully about your answer before you say it, and when you do say it, don’t say it to me – go and have the courage to say it to the hidden face of a woman who will be imprisoned at home, a man who will be slaughtered because he worships the wrong god or belongs to a wrong tribe, or to a child who you’re condemning to a life with no future and no hope.
The history will judge you, and she is a harsh judge.
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