Most people want out. Of Afghanistan, that is.

Our Essential Media polling on the subject is currently being hashed over on the website: Essential found support amongst those surveyed for increasing our commitment is in single digits. Support for keeping it at the same level comes in at roughly a quarter of voters. Support for withdrawal is over 60%.

But why do we only discuss the war in depth when Australians die?

As Bernard Keane wrote yesterday, it’s partly because our “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”.

But as Crikey reader Jan Forrester points out:

“…it is not just our soldiers who are paying the ultimate price: every day Afghans — most of whom are just making a living — are killed just going about their business, by American drones or suicide bombers, or hired gunmen … As for lack of progress: it totally escapes me why we think such a country will become a model democracy in just two electoral cycles — post-Taliban and 35 years of occupation, war, civil war.”

There’s one point that no one can find fault with: the successors of the governments who made the fatal decision to venture into Iraq “…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”.

So what is our moral obligation to this war, and this country? How do you judge the worth of a war? Is the measure of success simply a matter of counting the number of fatalities on both sides? Are we making life better or worse for the Afghan people?

There might not be any definitive answers, but these are the questions that need to be asked. And every day, not just when Australian troops are tragically killed.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey