Is our continuing role in Afghanistan in the national interest?
Defence Minister Stephen Smith insists it is. The Prime Minister, after she finally agreed to a parliamentary debate on Afghanistan, insisted it was. Both sides of politics agree.
But the evidence that our continuing role, that the continuing loss of the lives of young Australians, the continuing expenditure of billions of dollars, will make any difference to the long-run outcome in Afghanistan remains thin. It is hard to find between Afghan soldiers turning their weapons on ISAF soldiers, including Australians, Taliban insurgents launching co-ordinated attacks in Kabul and the persistent evidence the Afghan government we are propping up is corrupt and harbours a deeply fundamentalist reflex.
At 1pm today, Julia Gillard, in a speech as usual leaked ahead of its delivery, is expected to indicate Australian will begin withdrawing later this year, once the Afghan government declares its fledgling National Army can take over security in Uruzgan province. It has the air of George Aiken's famous advice on Vietnam, that the US should declare victory and leave, except that Australia is merely a (small) component of the overall ISAF force.
Polls consistently show deep antipathy toward the conflict on the part of voters. For several years, both major parties have blatantly ignored the views of voters and insisted on continuing with our involvement. It is time they heeded the views of voters that our involvement in this increasingly pointless conflict should end. As quickly as possible.