Most Australians want us out of the Afghanistan conflict.
It doesn’t matter how old they are, how they vote, or how much they earn. That’s what Essential Research found in the course of its polling last week.
Support for increasing our commitment (the Coalition’s policy) was in single digits. Support for keeping it at the same level was around a quarter of voters. Support for withdrawal was over 60%.
Many of the breakdowns in Essential’s polling data are too small to make meaningful judgements, but it was noteworthy that fewer women want more troops sent, and more want us to pull out, compared to men. And Greens voters are much more strongly in favour of withdrawal.
And opinion against the conflict has hardened over the last 12 months. In March 2009, Essential found that 50% of voters wanted withdrawal. Just 14% — double yesterday’s figure — wanted to increase our commitment. Support for retaining the same level of commitment was the same at 24%.
Driving this is the damaging combination of a slow, steady drip of casualties coupled with the impression we’re not getting anywhere. Those literate in international affairs would be aware of the deep problems of corruption and fraud around the Afghan government, but that won’t register with most voters. They just can’t see why we’re continuing to sacrifice our young men for what appears to be no good reason.
There may still be strong support for the strategic goal of stabilising Afghanistan and preventing it from returning to a haven for large-scale terrorism, but there’s strong doubt it can be accomplished in the short or medium term.
And the rate of casualties is sufficiently low that each one can be grieved over individually, unlike in larger-scale conflicts. There’s no risk of anyone becoming inured to the loss of Australian troops when we can see each of their families, and our leaders attend each of their funeral services.
Those with real responsibility for the ongoing problems in Afghanistan appear to have escaped judgement. US neo-conservatives and officials in the Bush adminstration and Blair government are why we are still mired in a seemingly endless conflict. The 2001 attack on the Taliban, their removal and the occupation of the country was justified morally and legally.
Instead of devoting resources to stabilising, securing and rebuilding Afghanistan, the US and the UK, with Australia supporting them in the role of international neo-con yap-yap dog, launched an illegal and immoral attack on Iraq that will remain an example of tragic mis-judgement for generations.
Our soldiers continue to pay the ultimate price for that decision, which left Afghanistan as a second-tier conflict that reinvigorated the Taliban and dramatically increased the cost in lives and resources — Afghan and western alike — required to achieve the goals of the original invasion.
The successors of those governments, all of whom inherited the mess in Afghanistan, have been left with no easy, inexpensive or satisfactory options, only voters who are sick of the lack of progress and want to stop the casualties.