Sunday 23 Feb 2020 | 02:45 | SYDNEY
Sunday 23 Feb 2020 | 02:45 | SYDNEY

Our tokenism fails to impress

26 February 2010 12:43

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

Like Sam, I understand that Hugh White  thinks 'our current commitment to Afghanistan is about right. He thinks Australia is doing just enough to "pay its dues" with the Americans yet not so much that Australia puts too many lives in danger and commits too many resources to a conflict that is peripheral to our interests'.

This is cynical, but every nation has the right to approach its international relations in whatever manner it pleases, accepting the consequences (I think there are bigger issues at play in Afghanistan).

But what if the strategic aim of a commitment was to impress the US and we used a token/niche force as the means and yet we failed to impress? It is enormous strategic arrogance to think that our allies are so dumb that they can be overly impressed by tokenism.

Australia put troops into Iraq for such a cynical strategic end. Not only did we fail to impress our allies, but we probably harmed our credibility as a reliably military ally. Yet some still advocate niche or token deployments and then convince themselves that we are impressing the US or paying our dues. We are repeating that error now in Afghanistan, though to a lesser degree than in Iraq.

Hugh says:

Knowing Jim as an old friend and valued colleague, I suspect he will be inclined to reply that, having committed ourselves to a job, we should do whatever it takes to finish it. In an operational or tactical commander, this kind of single-minded pursuit of an assigned mission is highly admirable. For a strategic-level decision maker, it is an abrogation of the responsibility to ensure that the ends justify the means.

I am sure it was Hugh's clumsy phrasing that leads him to imply that, with an operational or tactical background, I am not up to strategic-level decision making. No modern military worth its salt has, since about 1914, held up the 'single minded pursuit of an assigned mission' as a dominant quality in operational or tactical level actions.

This ignorance of the tactical tools of strategy is one reason why strategy in Australia since the 70s has been dislocated from operational and tactical means and has therefore displaced itself from reality. Go no further than every White Paper on defence since the end of Vietnam, that never created the means of achieving their own strategic ends.

You cannot separate tactical and operational issues from strategy – ends and means must be aligned all the way up and down. The only reason Australia's strategy has not been shown to be a failure is that it has not been tested – a very lucky country indeed.

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