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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
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
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
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
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.