Friday, December 10, 2010

If Kevin Was Scared, He Was Right.

Is it really any surprise that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd admitted to American officials that the outlook in Afghanistan “scares the hell out of me”? Today’s Sydney Morning Herald has chosen to misquote that observation to create the sensational headline “Rudd: Scared
As Hell”. It’s a spin which is not an accurate representation of what was actually said in the leaked diplomatic cable. It is a headline which appears to be designed to give the impression of a fearful man pathetically cowering in the corner, whereas the original statement that the situation in Afghanistan “scares the hell out of me” means something else altogether. It is a commonly used colloquially turn of phrase which does not necessarily mean that the individual concerned is literally scared.

Even so, wouldn’t it make sense to have just a little trepidation about the potential for disaster in Afghanistan? In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that anyone who was in full possession of the facts about Afghanistan who was not at least a little apprehensive would have their sanity in doubt. If anything, the observations revealed in today’s instalment of the Wikileaks saga would seem to indicate that out then Prime Minister had a fairly good grasp of the seriousness of the situation, as well as pretty clear idea about the effectiveness of the strategies of the various nations involved in the conflict. If Kevin Rudd was at all afraid of everything turning to custard in Afghanistan, it’s hard to see how he was wrong.

The nature of the mission in Afghanistan is such that Australia has been dragged into a “Catch 22” situation. There was never any doubt that Australia should be a part of the effort to overthrow the Taliban and confront the threat of Al Qaeda, partly because of our alliance with the United States, but also because Australia has just as much interest in defeating terrorism as our allies do. The problem has been in the strategies employed to accomplish that mission, and in the evolving nature of the conflict. The mission now is not the same as it was when it began, but that doesn’t make it any easier to simply abandon it.

Regardless of anything exposed by the Wikileaks drama, there is still a serious challenge confronting both Australia and the United States in attempting find a lasting resolution in Afghanistan. Denying the extent of that challenge and branding Wikileaks as a terrorist organisation isn’t going to help in any way to achieve that. In fact, it’s a convenient distraction for those who have been responsible for making a mess of it to hide behind. Real terrorists are those who randomly kill and maim innocent people in the pursuit of often irrational ideological goals which do not recognise or respect the rights of others. By any definition, what Wikileaks has done is not terrorism or even aiding terrorism.

In contrast, those calling for Julian Assange to be executed are in truth revealing themselves to be dangerously close to the dictionary definition of the word terrorism: “The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.”

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