At last we are to have a Parliamentary debate about what we are doing in Afghanistan. Hopefully this will go to the desired end-state (what we are hoping to achieve), how Australia’s roles (all of them, Special Forces as well as mentoring teams) contribute to the objective, how we will measure success, and the criteria by which we will judge when it is time to withdraw.
Hopefully our Parliamentarians will consider the ethical issues associated with withdrawal of NATO forces including our own. Packing up and leaving the locals to it is vastly different from not having invaded the country in the first place, so deciding that we shouldn’t be there does not absolve anyone of the responsibility to think about the trajectory by which we leave, and the consequences for the locals. I am not just thinking of the consequences for Hamid Karzai and the government he leads. I am thinking also of the village elders who have taken huge risks, for example, in permitting girls’ schools to be opened, the people who teach in those schools, the parents, the girls themselves, and all the other Afghans at the local level who by cooperating with NATO forces have exposed themselves to a charge of having collaborated with the invaders.
This is of course the kind of debate that should have been had before we became involved in military operations in Afghanistan (and indeed in Iraq). On 13 February 2008 Greens Senator Scott Ludlam introduced in the Senate a Private Members’ Bill to limit the prerogative power of the Executive to commit Australian forces to overseas service without the consent of the Parliament (see War Powers Bill). Unfortunately neither side of politics as it was then took the matter seriously and this worthy attempt to involve our Parliament in decisions about war and peace got nowhere (see War Powers Bill crushed by major parties).
For other posts on this matter see War Powers Bill: disclosure of intelligence, A Supplementary Note on Parliamentary Approval, George Williams on the War Powers Bill and War Powers Bill: submission by the Submarine Institute of Australia.
In War Powers: what the PM said I commented in detail on a disappointing response from former Prime Minister Rudd’s Foreign Policy Adviser to a letter from Dr Kristine Klugman on behalf of Civil Liberties Australia. In War Powers Bill: Pre-emptive self-defence I outlined the Caroline case, the precedent that established the international law regarding acts of pre-emptive self defence. In War Powers Submission, I noted that my colleagues and I had lodged a submission to the inquiry and provided a link to the relevant page of the Parliament House website.
I think that the time is ripe for Senator Ludlam’s Bill to get another Parliamentary airing.