Friday 10 Apr 2020 | 00:32 | SYDNEY
Friday 10 Apr 2020 | 00:32 | SYDNEY

Bolting from Iraq


Sam Roggeveen


3 June 2008 11:14

The trouble with Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt's argument that, with our troop withdrawal, Australia is running away from victory, is that it allows too little for sunk costs. I don't mean to be dismissive of the apparent recent progress in Iraq. It is extremely welcome and long may it continue. But if this is indeed victory in Iraq, it is far from clear that it has been worth the price. Bolt makes a comparison with Vietnam in his post, arguing that the earlier war resulted in 400 Australian combat deaths and a lost war leading to communist takeover. In Iraq, by contrast, we've had no combat deaths* and, according to Bolt, our side has won.

But if victory is what matters above all, then Bolt presumaby feels the US and its allies should have stayed in Vietnam until that war was won. If Vietnam had been stabilised, democratised and developed a functioning economy by, say, 1980, that might have made the whole enterprise worthwhile.

That's not an indefensible proposition, but one does have to consider larger questions than victory or defeat. It might have been better to win Vietnam War than lose it, but how much better? And as for winning in Iraq, it won't solve all our problems in the region, just as losing will not be disastrous for Australia. In fact, Bolt's trumpeting of Australia's low casualty figures merely reveals how relatively unimportant the previous government thought the Iraq war was to our strategic interests. We've had relatively few troops there, and as soldiers have begun to complain, they've largely been given missions out of harm's way. When you combine that with the excellent training, equipment and general professionalism of our forces, it's little wonder the casualty figures are low.

* Incorrect. We've had one.