Letting us know some truth. If you listened to Australia’s political leaders yesterday expressing the nation’s sorrow at the death of more Australian soldiers in Afghanistan you would have thought that those deaths were an unfortunate but inevitable consequence of the well thought-out actions that have to be taken to contain international terrorism. Read The Runaway General in Rolling Stone and you will realise just what nonsense Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott spoke during their House of Representative eulogies.

The comments of the US commander in Afghanistan Stanley McChrystal have received plenty of coverage elsewhere this morning as the world waits to see if supposed insubordination leads to his dismissal by President Barack Obama. Suffice it for me to say that the Rolling Stone piece provides a rare insight into the disagreements and confusion that lie behind the pretense of there being a unanimity of purpose in the allied efforts in Afghanistan.

23-06-2010 rollingstone

General McChrystal and the handpicked “collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs” that make up his staff, that he jokingly refers to itself as “Team America”, have done us all a favour by talking so frankly and on-the-record about how decisions are really made.

Perhaps the saddest insight by Michael Hastings, the writer of this must-read piece, is this:

“When it comes to Afghanistan, history is not on McChrystal’s side. The only foreign invader to have any success here was Genghis Khan – and he wasn’t hampered by things like human rights, economic development and press scrutiny. The COIN doctrine, bizarrely, draws inspiration from some of the biggest Western military embarrassments in recent memory: France’s nasty war in Algeria (lost in 1962) and the American misadventure in Vietnam (lost in 1975). McChrystal, like other advocates of COIN, readily acknowledges that counterinsurgency campaigns are inherently messy, expensive and easy to lose. ‘Even Afghans are confused by Afghanistan,’ he says. But even if he somehow manages to succeed, after years of bloody fighting with Afghan kids who pose no threat to the U.S. homeland, the war will do little to shut down Al Qaeda, which has shifted its operations to Pakistan. Dispatching 150,000 troops to build new schools, roads, mosques and water-treatment facilities around Kandahar is like trying to stop the drug war in Mexico by occupying Arkansas and building Baptist churches in Little Rock. ‘It’s all very cynical, politically,’ says Marc Sageman, a former CIA case officer who has extensive experience in the region. ‘Afghanistan is not in our vital interest – there’s nothing for us there.'”

Strange goings on in Queensland. That strange hybrid known as the Queensland Liberal National Party clearly still has its problems in trying to present a unified opposition to the Labor Party. There are breakaways, new parties and now the former federal Liberal Minister Mal Brough is hinting that he may run again for the House of Representatives but not under the banner of the LNP whose formation in 2008 he opposed.

The speculation about the Brough political future will be enhanced by a story in this morning’s Sunshine Coast Daily where he is quoted making a stinging attack on former colleague Peter Slipper, describing him as someone for whom he has no respect, and calling for Fairfax MP Alex Somlyay to retire.

23-06-2010 malbrough

Rudd’s secret polling on his leadership. It was quite an extraordinary story in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald: a Prime Minister so friendless in his own party that he sends a staffer to check that he still has the numbers to stay leader.

“The Herald has learnt from a number of MPs that the Prime Minister’s most trusted lieutenant, his chief of staff, Alister Jordan, has been talking privately to almost half the caucus to gauge whether Mr Rudd has the support of his party.

Mr Jordan’s soundings, conducted in the past month with Mr Rudd’s knowledge, reveal three key aspects of the Prime Minister’s position.

First, he is deeply concerned about the security of his grip on the prime ministership. Second, he does not necessarily fully trust the public assurances of his deputy, Julia Gillard, that she is not interested in the leadership. And third, he does still enjoy solid support in the caucus.”

The Prime Minister apparently thinks there is nothing strange about his man “AJ” seeking opinions from parliamentary members but to me it shows just how isolated Kevin Rudd actually is from his parliamentary colleagues. He clearly has a shortage of close friends who in the normal course of events would pass on the gossip about what the members are thinking and doing. Quite sad really.

That famous victory comment. It’s a normal enough problem for politicians. They just love to be seen as winners. And then those dreaded political advisers remind them that the best place to be positioned at the start of an election campaign is as the underdog. Hence the quick denial of the stories yesterday afternoon quoting an unnamed senior coalition figure saying that Tony Abbott had told his party room that a ‘famous victory’ was within reach. The “famous victory” was quickly downgraded to the next election being “certainly winnable, but there’s an enormous long way to go.”

And, just in passing, isn’t it cute how the parliamentary press gallery continues to play the game of not telling us the name of the senior coalition figure who gives the formal briefing to journalists after the party room meetings. The quotes used to be better in the days before there were formal briefings and the journos had to cultivate their own sources.

Taking the punt on growth. Perhaps we should get ready for a little double dipping in the world economy. Britain now has joined Europe in going down the path of immediately reducing the budget deficit in a savage fashion even though the evidence suggests that consumer spending will be hard hit by the combination of rising unemployment and the impact of an increased value added tax rate.

While growth is forecast to be 1.2% in the UK this year, taking into account the new budget measures and is forecast to be 2.3% next year, 2.8% in 2012, 2.9% in 2013 and 2.7% in both 2014 and 2015, the Fathom Consulting group warned on the eve of the Budget speech that lifting VAT could cause a Japan-style fall back into stagnation.


Peter Fray

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