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SMH: Injured nations seek an enemy for their confusion
By Adrian D'Hagé

2/10/2001 12:21 pm Tue

Sydney Morning Herald


Friday, September 28, 2001

Injured nations seek an enemy for their confusion

Experienced military eyes see the US preparing to fight a war it doesn't understand and cannot win, writes Adrian D'Hagé.

The United States is at war. Australia is also at war, though it may not seem like it among the grand finals and spring weather. Four out of five Australians are solidly behind the Prime Minister's declaration of support for the US. In the meantime, the signals from Washington are on the one hand confusing and on the other unequivocal.

On Wednesday, the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, declared there would be no marked beginning, no massive strikes. Why, then, are there four carrier groups, complete with destroyer and submarine escorts, massing in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf? Is this designed to frighten the Taliban into submission? If so, it is unlikely to succeed. Or was it designed for domestic consumption?

The understandable need is to do something. In reality there is caution. There has been a realisation within the Pentagon that this nut will not be easy to crack. Air strikes will not succeed unless they are directed against specific targets by Special Forces.

They are there already: outstanding young men, superbly trained, silently observing. The mountain goats will be grateful for that. But if there are 300,000 fanatics participating in a jihad entitling them to a passport to heaven, it will take much more than Special Forces. And in another few weeks, the dust storms will be replaced by driving snow. At least the land mines will be covered.

In contrast to his Defence Secretary, President Bush has been unequivocal. We are part of their grief, but the rhetoric is disturbing: "We will not stop until the last terrorist group of global reach is eliminated." It is simply not deliverable.

And there is a danger of escalation into global conflict in a form the world has never experienced. The initial description of a "Christian Crusade" has not helped. Any war is ugly. Religious wars are horrendous. This campaign could run for years in several different countries. Other cells may be identified in Egypt or the Sudan. Without any debate, the youth of this country, many still in school, are signed up to fight. Four out of five Australians support this.

So in our haste to fight alongside Uncle Sam, we Australians need to know what we've signed up for, the "why" of this incredible anger towards the US and now, potentially, Australia.

Perhaps now is not the time, yet nowhere in Bush's speech is the slightest hint the US can see things from the other side of the fence. Bush has asked, why do they hate us? "They hate what we see right here in this chamber," he said. "A democratically elected government. They hate our freedoms." Wrong.

Even moderate Arab and Islamic communities are in despair over US policies. The entire casualty list of lower Manhattan is replicated every month in Iraq as a result of US-sponsored sanctions. Many of the dead are women and children. Saddam Hussein and his murderous henchmen, previously sponsored by the US, eat well. And a little to the west, 800,000 Palestinians have lost their homes, their sons, their daughters. We would do well to remember that "a man without a country is a man without dignity".

The Israelis too have suffered dreadfully, but their PR machine is better. When the hardline general - now Prime Minister - Ariel Sharon was defence minister, hundreds of Palestinian women and children were massacred at Sabra and Shatilla. He was found by the Kahan Commission to bear "personal responsibility". It matters not, the US supports the hard line. As a result, we now support what has accurately been described by Noam Chomsky as "what the US says, goes".

War. I have had the great privilege of serving with the young men and women of the ADF. Whatever the government of the day asks, they will deliver. But even an untrained eye can spot an exhausted engineer on Nauru. Chiefs of Staff take note. There are limits to their loyalty.

Keep giving them impossible tasks driven by political stubbornness and they will vote with their feet - if they haven't already. Conscription is not out of the question.

And there is an extraordinary irony in this frenzied construction. On the one hand we support the barbed wire and Howard's armada. On the other we strongly support a war that is about to produce another two million desperate Afghans. Howard's armada is costing $3million a day. There will be value for money.

I may be a slow learner, but as a soldier of about 37 years, I can say with some authority that war should be an absolute last resort. It is time to take a step back. It is time for a change of policy. Engage these desperate communities. Construct schools and hospitals. Instead of spending $200 billion trying to get two rockets to intersect in the stratosphere - when terrorists can wipe you out at 300 feet - put it into food, training and agriculture. Start a dialogue. Find out "why".

But whatever you do in this surreal pre-election period, "don't mention the war".

Brigadier Adrian D'Hagé headed the planning for defence security for the Olympics and was awarded the Military Cross for service in Vietnam.

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