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The following article appeared in Pearls and Irritations on 12 September 2021.

America, backed by Australian think tanks supporting and supported by the US, has Australia trying to sell stale Pizza in Asia.

The Foreign Minister, Marise Payne and Defence Minister, Peter Dutton, were in Jakarta on 9 September touting security co-operation. Dutton justified the pitch on the basis of, ‘Indonesia and Australia must become anchors of co-operation in the Indo-Pacific region.’ He described the region as ‘increasingly contested’ and the Chinese as ‘coercive and harbouring a zero-sum mentality, aggressive and bellicose’. All of which might have come from an ASPI briefing to whom Morrison is close. It was extraordinary anti-China rhetoric to be dishing up while a guest of the Indonesian Government and no doubt somewhat embarrassing for them. They probably felt the need to apologise along the lines that it the remarks were crude and off the cuff from someone not trained in the arts of diplomacy.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijam, said the remarks were ‘extremely dangerous and irresponsible.’ He said Australia needed to stop hyping up the China threat and seeing China as the enemy Australia will shoot itself in the foot.

After Jakarta, Payne and Dutton will travel to India, South Korea and Washington for the annual AUSMIN talks. China is expected to be a major item on the agenda. Indonesia was aware that Australia came to the meeting wearing its regional US deputy sheriff hat. Indonesia knows how to conduct balanced diplomacy. For years during the Cold War, it played off the US and the Soviet Union, as a non-aligned state. It does not want to get Australia offside but it recognises the growing importance and influence of China in the region and unlike Australia it knows on which side its bread is buttered.

Payne and Dutton met with Indonesian Foreign Minister, Retno Masudi and Defence Minister, Prabowo Subianto. Agreements were signed covering counter-terrorism, cyber security and defence. The first two are already covered in other arrangements and nothing of substance was agreed with respect to defence. The two sides agreed that Indonesian troops, ‘may (at some later stage) join Australian troops on training’. Naval co-operation already exists. The visit was a damp squib, no doubt undertaken at the urging of the US.

Co-operation between Indonesia and China is set to grow. It has entered into important Belt and Road initiatives with China, most notably the Global Maritime Fulcrum which aims to build 24 new Indonesian ports and the construction of a high-speed rail between Jakarta and Bandung. The Indonesian Foreign Minister, Masudi and the Minister for State Owned Enterprises, Erik Thohir visited China in August to discuss extending the BRI. Indonesia is aware that Morrison forced Victoria to tear up its BRI.

China has agreed to make Indonesia the hub for distribution of its Covid vaccines in the region. It has entered into a joint venture with Indonesia’s Bio Farma to produce the Sinovac vaccine and has given 160 m doses.

China is Indonesia’s second biggest source of foreign investment after Singapore. China was Indonesia’s biggest export market in 2019 and the largest source of imports. They have signed an agreement to promote the use of their currencies in trade deals, marginalising the US dollar. Indonesia has resisted pressure to increase defence ties with the US. It does not want to be drawn into the US anti-China campaign.

Defence ties with China are strengthening including the purchase of patrol vessels. The Chinese will raise the Indonesian submarine which recently sank in the Java Sea; an undertaking designed to enhance their standing in the Archipelago.

On the same day that Ministers were meeting in Jakarta, former Malaysian Prime Minister, the venerable Mahathir Mohamad, opined that Australia was needlessly risking its security with the stand off with China. He attacked the use of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue as a vehicle to confront China. He called it provocative and aggressive. He said Australia was responsible for the problems it had with China.

Mahathir said Australia was perceived in the region as an extension of the United States. ‘Americans think of Americans first. America is forever trying to help people but when the help is extended it’s not in the interests of the country concerned.’

Malaysia, like Singapore, has a sophisticated relationship with China. It has a major BRI project, the East Coast Rail Link. The Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, delivered the same message as Mahathir, to Morrison on a Singapore stop over on his way as an observer to the G7 in Cornwall. But it would seem it was in one ear and out the other.

Nothing has been achieved by Dutton and Payne from their visit to Indonesia. Offering stale Pizza was never going to cut the mustard and abusing China was an insult to Indonesia. It would only serve to bring the two closer together. Everyone in the region laughs at the crude barbarians from the south; we unify in the region in their derision.

For absolutely no advantage we have been used by America. Australia has not gone up in the estimation of the Indonesians, rather it has gone down. They fed us hollow words whilst despising our craven US presentation. Their relationship with China is nuanced and sophisticated. They wonder why we cravenly cling to the US, seeing a lack of self-respect and courage. They wonder why we fear China so much, when they don’t?

Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat and political commentator.

The following article was published in China Watch, a think tank attached to the China Daily, on 10 September 2021.

America has been forced into an ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan, similar to its withdrawal from Vietnam forty-six years ago. In scenes similar to the mayhem and fear abroad in Saigon as the US withdrew in confusion as the NVA occupied the city, so it has been in Kabul.

There is nothing in the US departure to match the hubris that surrounded their second occupation of Afghanistan couched in terms of assisting the population. The first occupation was to crush al-Qaeda, responsible for 9/11, who had been permitted to use Afghanistan as a base. The second occupation was during the American war with Iraq when it was decided to deny other ‘terror’ organisations Afghanistan as a base and give the US a Central Asian pivot from which to control surrounding regions including the Middle East.

One hundred and sixty years earlier colonial Britain had a similar notion. It wanted to deny Afghanistan as a route to British India for the Russians. That resulted in the massacre of a British Army; later punitive expeditions failed to occupy the country. The Russians invaded in 1980 ostensibly to support an Afghan communist party under domestic pressure but also with an eye to gaining access to a warm weather port, oil and minerals. That resulted in defeat and a withdrawal by Russian President Gorbachev in 1989.

The British, the Russians and the Americans all knew very little about Afghanistan. It was all to do with them rather than the people of Afghanistan and that very quickly became apparent with the consequences now well documented.

America is not motivated by altruism, if it were there would not be the number of people living in poverty in the United States. America is an inherently violent society driven by the need to feel in control. Preparing for war and conducting war is part of the American psyche. Since it became a nation in 1776 America has been at war for 222 of the past 245 years. It has been at peace for 21 years. Since 1945 it has fought five major wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan, only the Gulf War can be regarded in any way a success.

Following the need to rapidly arm in WWII, the American arms industry expanded significantly. It made many corporations and people wealthy. Unwilling to forgo these profits American businessmen created what President Eisenhower called the Military/Industrial Complex. It became a very powerful lobby group in Washington. Once created the Complex had to be fed. Vietnam was very profitable for the Complex as was Iraq and most recently Afghanistan. The Complex has no interest in peace. It stokes US rivalry toward China. US Congressmen and Senators are beneficiaries of largesse from the Complex, which reaches into Western countries around the world. It has as much influence over the US as the East India Company had over the British government.

The United States has an unerring ability to mis-read the rest of the world, particularly states it feels are inferior. American exceptionalism is as lethal as Covid 19. The US saw Vietnam as a backward state which could be bombed into submission. Despite the deployment of 500,000 troops America lost the war to a far more determined and skilled army which possessed little of the technology available to the US.

America came out of the war humiliated, its prestige in tatters. However, its self-confidence was soon restored by an array of new products from the Complex. Like the court Jester the Complex whispered in the ear of Washington that Vietnam was an aberration and that the US was a powerful country once more with all the new technology now available to it.

So, it went in hard in Kuwait following Saddam Hussain’s invasion. That worked. The United States followed up after 9/II with a full-scale attack on Iraq which did not work. It created a mess in the Middle East, enhancing the prestige and power of Iran and allowed Israel to move further from US control.

Faced with these complications the US decided to follow up their earlier mission into Afghanistan and reshape the country in its own image to provide a haven for US power in Central Asia and the Middle East. The problem for the US was that Afghanistan exists as a country only in the minds of major powers and the media. To the people that live there it is no such thing. Tribal groupings and villages are of far greater relevance and the centre of their existence, the broader notion of country or nation is not a notion they embrace.

Afghanistan is in many ways the creation of colonial boundaries. The Pathan tribal grouping is arbitrarily divided by a British imperial decision to draw a line through the tribal area. It is known as the Durand Line and was ratified in 1919. The presence of a large number of Pathans in Pakistan with family, friends and commercial ties on the other side of the border gives Pakistan a great deal of leverage in the affairs of Afghanistan, fostered and promoted by the Pakistan intelligence service, the ISI.

There are four major tribal groupings in Pakistan. The Pathans constitute around 50% of the population and are the dominate tribe; they are Sunni and comprise the majority of the Taliban. They oppress and dominate the other tribal groups, particularly the Hazaras who are Shia. Kabul is and will remain a city state, divorced from much of what goes on in the rest of the country.

We have witnessed the Americans scrambling out of Kabul. They have learnt little from their other wars, they seem incapable of doing so. The Complex will ensure that. There is too much money involved. The Complex props up the American Stock Exchange. War is factored into the US economy.

America is a dangerous failing state.

The US has been forced to leave Afghanistan for the same reason it was forced to leave Vietnam; a lack of objectives and strategic plan demonstrated they didn’t know what they were doing. They made-up reasons to justify the needs of the Complex, until public opinion and the ill discipline and weariness of US and Afghan troops forced a decision. In addition, hubris, an over reliance on technology, poor intelligence and the topography all added up to a failed venture. In military terms the US should have left Afghanistan in 2006/7.

American prestige has suffered but the Complex has moved on to what it sees as a bigger prize, China. It has been boosting the confidence and egos of US and allied politicians with talk of the inferiority and weakness of the Chinese system of government and superiority of western democracies in meeting future challenges, a claim that is not upheld in light of their response to Covid 19 and Climate Change.

China is in the sights of the Complex and is a bigger prize than Iraq and Afghanistan. Demonisation of China by the US and its allies promises the construction of many new planes, ships and submarines. The Complex is not noted for its social conscience or considerations of long-term consequences. Climate Change does not figure in its plans for a profitable future. It operates in the here and now.

Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat and political commentator.

The following article appeared in Pearls and Irritations on 30 August, 2021.

The largest group of people seeking refuge from the new government of the Taliban will be Hazaras, the majority of whom live in the Hazarajat, an area west of Kabul, including the provinces of Bamyan, Daykundi, Ghor, a large part of Ghazni, Urozgan, Parwan and Maidan Werdak.

Hazaras also live in Kabul and Quetta in Pakistan. When the Sunni Taliban seized power in 1996, they declared Jihad on the Shia Hazaras. There are four major tribal groupings in Afghanistan, Pathans, who are the largest comprising 50% of the population, the Tajiks, the Uzbecks and Hazaras, comprising 9% of the population or around 4 million people. The Taliban are Pathans.

In 1998 the Taliban conducted a regime of cruel repression in the Hazarajat leading to many Hazaras fleeing the country to Pakistan and from there to western countries they thought might accept them as refugees including Australia.

In 2001 the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar instructed that the Hazaras cultural heritage be destroyed plus forced land dispossession. The action of the Taliban encouraged discrimination by the broader Pashtun community and led to the diminished social standing of Hazaras in Afghanistan, many were forced into manual labour.

Improvement to Hazara lives and living conditions over the past 20 years under the Coalition are about to be undermined by the new Taliban government. The offshoot IS K, comprising some of the uglier elements of the old Taliban can be expected to aggressively target the Hazaras. Their emergence has already had the effect of making the Taliban look ‘moderate’ following the bombing of Afghan evacuees and US Marines last week at Kabul airport.

From 1995 to 2000 I was a Member of the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT). In 2000 I made the benchmark decision for the RRT relating to an Hazara seeking refugee status in Australia. Ruddock, the then Minister for Immigration, was not pleased and nor was the then Prime Minister Howard. Typically, they saw the decision as opening up the flood gates. Most other Members of the Tribunal followed the precedent created by my decision, but some, with an eye on reappointment by Howard did not. As a result of the Hazara decision and positions I took toward Tamil and East Timorese refugees I was not re-appointed to the Tribunal.

Howard deliberately set out to muddy the waters with regard to Afghan refugees. He seemed to have a primal hatred for them. There was Tampa and then children overboard and then 9/11 after which he implied that amongst Afghan refugees coming to Australia were terrorists. The Australian community was fed the most awful propaganda about refugees, particularly Afghans, by the Howard Regime making it difficult for refugees to get a fair hearing and settle in Australia.

In 1997 I bought a farm near Mudgee and split my time between the farm and the RRT. In 2002 sixteen Hazara Temporary Protection visa holders came to work at the Abattoir in Mudgee. A branch of Rural Australians for Refugees was already in existence and took them under its wing. One of the refugees was 17; in the three years he was in Mudgee his hair turned white from the trauma he had been through. The dedicated members of the branch put together the necessary paper work and advocated for the Hazara men and all were granted permanent residency. Those with wives and children in Afghanistan applied to Immigration and all were given permission to come to Australia.

None ever applied for government assistance. All have done very well. Some, at least on paper are now millionaires. Children have been educated, gone to university, into the work force and some have married and have children. People in the Hazara community look after each other. They have great pride. They are an asset to Australia. Howard and the Murdoch press said they were doll bludgers.

Howard’s poisonous racism infected the ruling Liberal National Party (LNP) to the point it was impossible to gain pre-selection and preferment unless his irrational and rabid response to refugees was mirrored if not magnified. Abbott was a cruel disciple, along with Vanstone, Morrison and Dutton. Openly expressed hatred of Hazaras and later of Tamils was a badge of honour in the LNP. It is a sick in-house culture which has been encouraged by that sagging racist Murdoch and infected many otherwise good Australians.

Morrison and Dutton, in particular, picked up and ran with the Howard/LNP anti-refugee ethos. Both were Ministers for Immigration. People smugglers were paid off not to ply their trade and refugees who had come by boat were demonised. They still are. It was the flavour of the month to poke fun at refugees, like dwarf baiting. Never mind that 60,000 asylum seekers, many of them not genuine, have come by plane in a huge unexplained racket run under the nose of Border Force and Immigration. They are not demonised. Only boat people in a totally puerile and cruel campaign, perhaps to curry favour with the LNP father figure, the diminutive John Howard. It’s sick.

Refugee haters Morrison and Dutton are being asked to accept refugees from Afghanistan, many are Hazaras, following the unseemly collapse of the Coalition in Kabul over the past week or so. Under pressure Morrison has said he will take 3,000, but this figure is within the existing annual quota of 12,000.

Australian RAAF planes sent to pick up Australians and Afghans, and their families, who have rendered a service to Australian troops over the past 20 years, took out a total of 4000 people. In terms of the short notice, commendable, in terms of what might have been done pathetic. The Taliban had taken most of Urozgan province, where the Australian troops were stationed, by mid-June. The Taliban advance was swift; that was the point at which the Australian evacuation of at-risk personnel and their families should have begun.

Anyone following events in Afghanistan for the past 20 years could have predicted the rapid fall. The exit of the Russians from Afghanistan was a good indicator. Hiding behind ‘intelligence’ is a poor excuse. US intelligence relating to Afghanistan has been as bad as their intelligence on Vietnam.

Canada, the UK and the US have said they will take 20,000 refugees and it looks like the US will take more. There have been calls for Australia to commit to a similar figure. Evacuation flights have ceased. It is hard to know how the Canadians and British will meet their commitment. Pakistan has closed its border, but might be persuaded to reopen for a specific humanitarian intake.

As always Morrison’s words are hollow. There are 4000 Afghan TPV holders in Australia, some have been waiting for up to 10 years to be granted PR status. Their lives have been in limbo. There are 14000 Afghan asylum seekers warehoused on Java, who were on their way to Australia. All of these people should be given a life, in Australia. As my daughters say all Morrison has to do is press the button; but he need not, as they, and none of their friends will be voting for him. Morrison is in the Berlin Bunker and is being fed pap. MSM opinion polls are nonsense, that is not what the street is saying.

Thirty, Forty, Fifty thousand refugees are not a problem for Australia to accept and make a part of the community, there are so many examples before us. The problem is the racism of the people in positions of responsibility who we require to make the decisions. They cannot be relied on to make the right decisions on Refugees, Covid, Climate and China. They are criminally incompetent and morally depleted. They are immature, they believe their own propaganda and the myths of Howards moral supremacy, reinforced by Murdoch’s fear of encroaching mortality and need to control and contain events in the face of that fear. A weak man with a lot of power.

So, the people standing in the way of the issue of visas allowing Hazaras to stay in Australia and for allowing an intake of Afghan Refugees are Morrison and Dutton. Nobody should be allowed such power over desperate and vulnerable people.

This is the email sent by the to frightened and desperate Afghans who were associated with the Australian Government in one way or another.

“Given your links to Australia, while you have not been certified as a Locally Engaged Employee, you will be given PRIORITY FOR CONSIDERATION as part of the 3000 places in our humanitarian program as recently announced by the Government. We have passed your details to the Department of Home Affairs who will be in contact with you directly as soon as possible to gather the necessary information to CONSIDER YOUR CLAIM for protection.”

The weasel words are in caps. The advice is a fob off. An intention on the part of Morrison and Dutton to do nothing. Those poor people conned by the morally bankrupt.

Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat, policy analyst and political commentator.

The following article was published in Pearls and Irritations on 20 August 2021.

The American War Machine (AWM) is big and brassy.

Sound and light, chest thumping, shock and awe. It is an extension of the American psyche.

Big, fast, expensive items of metal. Lots of noisy guns, big bombs to ‘lay waste’, the nasties, the goons, the gooks, slope heads, rag heads, kooni’s, rumjad’s and whatever other racist and dehumanising name that is deployed to describe American military enemies.

The AWM is stuck in the 1960’s. It has not moved on from the heavy metal of Detroit. It has to be seen, it has to be admired, it has to inspire respect and fear. It is gunboat diplomacy in overdrive. Pompously sailing around the South China Sea, acres of grey paint. Planes take off from miles and miles of decks. Vroom, vroom, Top Gun.

American diplomacy and negotiating skills are not very good; in the back ground, to back up the brief case and power dressing, is braid, brass, buttons and miles of medals. Americans get medals for killing people, for not killing people, for learning to kill people, for acting like they can kill people, for assisting people to kill people, for identifying people who should be killed, for tracking people who might get killed.

Americans join the AWM to kill people and mostly they are not disappointed. They kill people overseas rather than in American high schools or shopping malls.

Preparing for war and conducting war is part of the American way of life. Since it became a nation 1776 America has been at war for 222 of the 245 years. It has been at peace for 21 years. Since 1945 it has fought five major wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan, only the Gulf War can be regarded in any way a success.

Noting America’s penchant for war, American businessmen created the Military/Industrial Complex. WWII made many millionaires. Once created it had to be fed. Vietnam was very profitable for the Complex as was Iraq and most recently Afghanistan. The Complex has no interest in peace. It is stoking the rivalry between the US and China. US Congressmen and Senators are beneficiaries of largesse from the Complex which reaches into Europe, the UK, Israel, Saudi Arabi, the Gulf States, Canada and Australia. It has as much influence over the US government as the East India Company had over the British government.

It is insidious. It provides substantial financial support to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) to act as an echo chamber for views it wants pushed with respect to China. The Morrison government favours ASPI advice over that of its own defence and foreign affairs departments. It would wouldn’t it.

The United States has an unerring ability to mis-read the rest of the world, particularly states it feels are inferior and they amount to a lot. American exceptionalism is as lethal as Covid 19. The US saw Vietnam as a backward state whose ‘problems’ could be solved with a bigger pay load of American bombs, dropped without any interest in accuracy, on Europe by the allies in WWII. Kissinger advised Nixon to go back to the Paris peace talks when twelve B 52 bombers were shot down over Hanoi in a week in December 1972. Millions of Vietnamese were killed, including with Napalm; Agent Orange still kills and maims Vietnamese children. Despite the deployment of 500,000 troops America lost the war to a far more determined and skilled army which possessed little of the whiz bang technology available to the US.

America came out of the war humiliated, its prestige in tatters. Like Morrison and Berejiklian with respect to Covid, it learnt nothing from its ill-judged venture into Asia. After a while, a short while, its self confidence was restored by an array of new products from the Complex. Like the court jester the Complex whispered in the ear of Washington that Vietnam was an aberration and that the US was really a very powerful country, particularly with all the new gear available to it.

So, it had a bit of a go in the Gulf. That seemed to work so it had a bigger go in Iraq and that did not work; it created a mess in the Middle East and enhanced the prestige and power of Iran and allowed Israel to get further away from US control.

Faced with this developing mess, the US decided to follow up an earlier mission into Afghanistan and reshape the country in its own image to provide a haven for US power in Central Asia and the Middle East. The problem for the US was that Afghanistan exists as a country only in the minds of other countries and the media. To the people that live there it is a post-colonial mish mash. The Pathan tribal grouping is arbitrarily divided by a British decision to draw a line through the tribal area. It is known as the Durand Line and was ratified in 1919. The presence of a large number of Pathans in Pakistan with family and commercial ties on the other side of the border gives Pakistan a great deal of leverage in the affairs of Afghanistan.

There are three other main tribal groupings. The Hazaras and Uzbeks make up about 9% each and the Tajiks 25% of the population. The Pathans are 50% of the population and the dominant tribe, they are Sunni and comprise the majority of the Taliban. They oppress the other tribal groups, particularly the Hazaras who are Shia. Kabul is and will remain a city state, divorced from much of what goes on in the rest of the country.

The Americans have had to scramble out of Kabul in the last few days in scenes reminiscent of their exit from Saigon. They lost the war for the same reason they lost in Vietnam. Hubris, an over reliance on technology, a failure of intelligence, US and Afghan troops not committed to the undertaking and enemy troops who were, plus topography, loss of US public support and war weariness. Additionally, the Taliban were receiving increasing support from Pakistan and financial support from Saudi Arabia and China.

Based on what happened when the Russians announced their intention to withdraw, I did not believe the Afghan army would fight for long and that is what has happened. They never had much to fight for.

American prestige has and will suffer but not for long. The Complex is moving on. Boosting the confidence of US and allied politicians with talk of the inherent inferiority and weakness of the Chinese system of government and the superiority of western democracies in meeting future challenges, a claim that is not immediately apparent when response to Covid 19 and Climate Change are factored in.

China is the bright new target in the sights of the Complex. It is a much bigger prize than Iraq and Afghanistan. The Complex is not noted for its social conscience or considerations of long-term consequences. Climate Change does not figure in its plans for a profitable future. It is here and now.

Of course, Australia should never have followed the US into Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. It has cost us dearly in lives lost and hearts and minds damaged as well as money that might have been spent on the greater social good. Australia should certainly not follow the US in China bashing. We are the yapping dog on the US lead. Take the lead off and we will run a mile. We have a lot more to lose than the US should ever we find ourselves arranged against an openly hostile China on the side of the US. Our yap dog follies have already cost us over $50 billion in trade with China. There has been no loss to the US, which in fact actively sought and picked up 40% or over $20 billion of that lost trade.

Afghanistan should demonstrate the Australian need for an independent foreign and defence policy but with ASPI leading the LNP by the nose and it in turn being cajoled by the Complex it is hard to see how reason will prevail.

Bruce Haigh is a retired diplomat and political commentator.