Sunday 03 Jul 2022 | 10:20 | SYDNEY
Sunday 03 Jul 2022 | 10:20 | SYDNEY

Are we debating the wrong war?


Michael Wesley


13 October 2010 11:14

As Sam and Rodger have already noted, we're nearing a parliamentary debate on our military presence in Afghanistan. Notwithstanding Peter Leahy's thought-provoking analysis on the need for full parliamentary discussion of military commitments, I have two reservations about the value of our upcoming debate.

The first is a growing scepticism about the real value of debate. I think we idealise debate because we think that by airing and having to justify our positions, we'll collectively arrive at a more considered and consensual outcome. But I'm not so sure that's what debate delivers in the Fox News age.

Perhaps it's the complexity of issues or the sheer availability of information that backs any side of the argument, but we seem to have eroded our ability to genuinely listen to the arguments of others and to concede when they have a point. As many of the print media responses to Hugh White's Quarterly Essay showed, there are too many people who mistake name-calling and sloganeering for actual debate.

My second reservation is that our parliament will be debating the wrong war. Whatever's said, agreed to, or disagreed in the chamber will have little effect on the outcome of the conflict in Afghanistan. In the highly unlikely scenario that the debate delivers a complete change of Australian strategy, what's the likelihood that we'd be able to convince our coalition partners to change course' If it results in a resolution to withdraw, our allies will have to scramble to fill the gap in Uruzgan, but it would hardly be the difference between success and failure.

What no one in this country, or any other country that I'm aware of, is debating is the more relevant war – the one that hasn't happened yet.

In other words, what do we do the next time a major terrorist attack occurs on the homeland of one of our close allies, one mounted from within a fragile state' What are the likely reactions of our allies to a massive attack in Times Square or Trafalgar Square, planned and financed from Yemen or Somalia' And how should we be involved' What are the lessons we would draw on from our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan'

I'm not sure a parliamentary debate will help with that – but surely it needs to be something we think about before it happens'

Photo by Flickr user justinknol, used under a Creative Commons license.