Thursday 07 Oct 2021 | 20:46 | SYDNEY
Thursday 07 Oct 2021 | 20:46 | SYDNEY

Afghanistan: Should we stay or should we go?


Sam Roggeveen


14 March 2008 10:52

Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt calls Hugh White's latest op-ed on Afghanistan defeatist, which I guess is crudely true. But if, as Hugh seems to believe, the information to hand strongly suggests that the West cannot achieve its military or political aims in Afghanistan, then surely it would be illogical to do anything but retreat? Sensible people can disagree about whether the evidence does in fact point to this conclusion, and I notice Bolt leaves open the possibility that Hugh 'may be right'.

Hugh's piece raises another question, based on his recommendation that Australia should maintain only a symbolic presence in Afghanistan rather than increase our commitment: if the situation is as bad as he says, why should Australia leave any troops in place at all? His answer, I think, is that 'symbolic deployments have been part of the fabric of Australia's approach to alliance management for decades', and I can see some wisdom in continuing this tradition, particularly if such deployments are low-risk.

But there are surely limits to that 'go along to get along' attitude, particularly if it leads to follies like Iraq. If Hugh is right about the unlikelihood of success in Afghanistan, then doesn't the symbolic deployment of troops that he recommends reinforce a failing policy that we should instead be trying to reverse? Or, to put the question in broader terms, in what circumstances should we confront our ally to tell them that we think they are doing the wrong thing?