Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 18:27 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 18:27 | SYDNEY

Afghanistan is not worth their sacrifice


Raoul Heinrichs

3 June 2011 15:29

My colleague Rodger Shanahan has suggested that my policy prescriptions for Afghanistan were made emotionally, and were inattentive to what really mattered to the formation of national policy — the motivations of soldiers. He is mistaken.

For what it's worth, I've recommended withdrawal from Afghanistan, preceded by retreat behind the wire before. Of course, that has never accorded well with the honour code of soldiers, which stresses courage, sacrifice and forging on above all other considerations and at any cost.

That mindset, itself underpinned by an emotional response to war, no doubt has its uses on a battlefield. It has no rightful place in our national strategic calculations. By Rodger's logic, we'd still be in Vietnam.

While tens of lives don't usually figure all that prominently in the calculations of national strategy, that's only because strategists tend to concern themselves with matters of truly vital national interest. In a situation like Afghanistan — where no vital interests are at stake, where the very idea of success is elusive, and where, with some adroit diplomacy, the alliance will be on solid footing regardless of what we do — the preservation of even a small number of Australian lives should be a matter of paramount importance.

Rodger is right to bring up the contract between the military and government. An implicit clause of that contract, however, is that government will weigh any decision to expose our personnel to the kind of grave risks they encounter in Afghanistan judiciously and with utmost seriousness.

The best way to honour the sacrifice of our soldiers is not to sacrifice more of them, to lay wreaths, march down the street or observe minutes of silence. Rather, it's to get the policy right — to make sure that we don't sacrifice any more life than is absolutely necessary to our national well-being.

(Ed note: Raoul will be debating this issue with Jim Molan, philosopher Peter Singer and others at an IQ2 event in Melbourne in July). Photo courtesy of the Australian Department of Defence.