Pardon us for asking, but was that Julia Gillard really announcing the withdrawal of Australia’s 1550 troops from Afghanistan? We’re double checking, because this is the same Prime Minister who 18 months ago said the mission could last another decade. Nonetheless, the big question that remains unresolved since Ms Gillard’s much publicised speech this week is whether our troops get out quickly or get out slowly. In either scenario, Kabul’s fate will ultimately be determined by the Afghans once the US-led Coalition leaves. The omens are not good.

We are among the few media voices in this country who have argued in recent years that we have lost the war; and that even if we stayed for another century, we would change nothing in this implacably alien and xenophobic land. Harmid Karzai’s government, riven with internal conflict and endemic corruption, is rotten to the core. The Afghan army and police, lacking pride, personnel, equipment and training, are unlikely to become capable of sustaining a war against the insurgents after we leave. The Taleban will still constitute a threat, because they will still live there when Coalition forces turn tail and run. And the Afghan people know it. As a leaked US intelligence report ‘The State of the Taleban’ recently revealed, Afghans are coming to grips with the return of their former rulers and subsequently may even welcome a return to some semblance of stability after more than a decade of widespread chaos.

If we are quitting anyway in 18 months, as the Prime Minister and Opposition leader appear to agree, why not leave now? After all, Osama bin Laden is dead. Leading Islamist terrorists have long been either captured or killed. Al-Qa’eda has been missing in action on the ground for years. Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott will try to spin the war as some sort of victory. The truth, though, is that the long and costly campaign will end badly. If victory is defined as achieving the objective of creating a viable democratic state and ending a war with Western security enhanced, then Afghanistan, like Iraq, should be counted as an expensive defeat. And if failure in Afghanistan were bad enough, bear in mind that Washington’s meddling in central Asia has damaged relations with nuclear-armed Pakistan and reinforced strident anti-Americanism in that former ally.

The great British historian A.J.P. Taylor once said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And there is no question that the decision in 2001 to invade Afghanistan and topple the turbaned tyrants in cahoots with the 9/11 perpetrators was morally right and strategically sound. But it’s neither in our competence nor our interest to conduct a foreign policy based on the illusion that democracy is an export commodity in the Muslim world. Too bad it’s taken a quagmire in what is known as the ‘graveyard of empires’ to shatter that naive ideal. 

In praise of Bob Brown

‘All political careers end in failure.’ Not so. We are delighted to say that in Australia there are a few notable exceptions to this rule, and we congratulate Bob Brown for joining Bob Menzies in defying Enoch Powell’s iron-clad law of political survival by resigning at the peak of his powers. Knowing when to jump is the one sure way of ensuring a satisfactory political legacy in these treacherous days of Prime Ministers being stabbed in the back by their own parties, or being unceremoniously bundled out of parliament by their own constituents.

Although the Greens icon never made it to PM, he came as close as a minority party leader ever can. Uncomfortably close, as the country is about to learn with the introduction of the unpopular carbon tax, the pointless mining tax, and whatever other rotting bones Wayne Swan intends to throw to the rabid Greens in his imminent ‘back to surplus’ budget. Less than three hours after our editorial last week had hit the newsstands – in which we called for the mainstream media to take a closer look at the more extreme and damaging aspects of the Greens leader’s ideology – the Senator had run up the white flag and decided to call it quits. We’d love to take the credit, but the more likely explanation is that Mr Brown, having sifted through the entrails of the Queensland election, realised that the Greens have peaked and it’s downhill from here on in. The unwavering polls pointing to a Coalition victory with a vengeance would have been ringing in his ears as much as the pleas from his partner for them to spend more time together. Clearly, Bob Brown has no desire to be branded a failure. Enoch Powell and Robert Menzies would be impressed.