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The following article was published in Pearls and Irritations on 12 October 2021.

In my opinion Abbott delivered a most imprudent speech to the Yushan Regional Security Forum in the Taiwanese capital Taipei on 8 October. He referred to Xi Jinping as the new red emperor accusing him of bullying and belligerence; listing all of China’s ‘sins’, from Hong Kong, Uighurs and trade sanctions against Australia as reasons to support Taiwan politically and militarily. He advocated Australia’s phantom submarines patrol the ‘Taiwan Strait’ whilst exhorting Canberra to deepen its ties with Taiwan.

Abbott was welcomed by none less than the Taiwanese President, Tsai Ing-wen and Foreign Minister, Joseph Wu. He spoke at the Forum immediately after the President.

It is fair to say that Abbott is not known for his balance and his performance in Taipei does nothing to alter that judgement. The question arises who put Abbott up to it?

Prior to his Yushan speech Abbott had not expressed himself in such rabid terms about China and nor in such fulsome terms about Taiwan. We saw from his torrid time as Prime Minister that he is no great shakes as a thinker, in fact he was able to advocate and believe, like Morrison, in two completely contradictory propositions at the same time, such as the welfare of Indigenous Australians whilst cutting funding and arguing for jobs while axing the car industry.

Abbott is easily bought whether by Murdoch or Pell, so who bought him this time? Before Abbott gave his address Morrison said his visit to Taiwan was private. Why did he feel the need to say that? Unless he had been forewarned on what Abbott might say. And if so by whom? Morrison is not known for his truth telling, so his denial of the nature of the visit means little and on his past form probably means the opposite.

The Abbott speech was in advance of anything he has said so far on tensions between China and Taiwan. So, who wrote it? It contained a strong message and a line that has been pushed by ASPI. The tone, intended or not, reflected the language we have become used to from ASPI. Did they write the speech and work with DFAT to help organise the visit?

Abbott would have received a handsome fee for his appearance. Airfares and accommodation were most likely found by the Taiwanese. Who put that together for him? Abbott is notoriously unable to organise and look after himself.

The senior Australian representative in Taiwan, Ms. Jenny Bloomfield, accompanied Abbott. As a former Prime Minister, he is entitled to official assistance by an Australian embassy or post, however accompanying a former Prime Minister on his private visits and to official functions is not part of the duty statement.

In matters such as this only one of two things are likely to have occurred. An official instruction sent from Canberra directing the head of mission, Bloomfield, to accompany Abbott and give him the required assistance for him to successfully fulfill his undertakings to the Forum, on this occasion a speech of some significance. The other thing that might occur is that Abbott or the Taiwanese would get in touch with Bloomfield to advise of the visit. She would then seek instructions.

Canberra might say provide only minimum assistance in accord with his former office or do everything you can to assist. If the latter, Canberra becomes attached to the visit and a party to whatever occurs and is said. The visit then becomes, to all intent and purposes, an official visit. By her presence Bloomfield has accorded that status to Abbott’s ill-advised jaunt and intervention. Additionally, the tone and nature of the message, taken together with Bloomfield’s support, provides the hallmark of official approval.

This intervention by Abbott has about it, the inept diplomacy which has seen relations with China, France and the EU collapse. Ham fisted, poorly timed and not co-ordinated with regional countries and other players including the US, Japan and France.

The US must be aghast at the Abbott foray at a time when it is trying to develop a dialogue with China. But then maybe not, perhaps Australia was used as the dead goat in the Afghan sport of buzkashi. Maybe the Americans are happy to bounce off our stupidity in their difficult and delicate discussions with China.

Leadership in these difficult times whether from former prime minister Abbott or the current prime minister has been and is appalling. We really have been condemned to be a mob of losers under Morrison.

Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat and political commentator.

The following article was published in Pearls and Irritations on 30 September 2021.

Coercion is the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats. For example, by pointing a gun at someone’s head or holding a knife to their throat.

American diplomacy is conducted under the cute umbrella of coercion. The British called it gunboat diplomacy, American universities and think tanks prefer the phrase Coercive Diplomacy. It is a recognition that all American diplomacy is conducted with the military in the room. Military coercion underlines, supports and reinforces American foreign policy.

Without the presence of coercion Americans can’t negotiate. It is the diplomacy of the wild west, don’t go to town without a gun. It is embedded deep in the white American male psyche.

What does American foreign policy do? It intervenes on behalf of American interests, which are extensive, world-wide, and forever in play. These interests cover perceived and real military threats; trade; access to resources – primarily oil; mouthing democracy even when backing dictatorships; targeting Communism and fundamentalist Muslims and upholding American values through the preservation of American power and influence by the deployment of coercion resting on the threat of military intervention.

At the end of WWII, completely ignoring the contribution of the Russians, the United States declared itself the winner. It set about producing atomic weapons, huge cars, ships and planes and declared war on Communism, which nearly came unstuck in Korea and totally unstuck in Viet Nam. It laid siege to Cuba and was surprised when the Soviet Union challenged it.

America does not like competition, it will do whatever it takes to contain or crush it.  Between 1946 and 1990 the US initiated 191 sanctions against 74 states and between 1991 and 2018, 252 sanctions against 101 states, in those latter years the US was the world’s dominant power. Since then, China and to a lesser extent Russia have changed the status quo. And that is the source of America’s current anxiety, insecurity, neurosis and obsession.

America has sought to change governments in South America, most recently Venezuela and Haiti. It orchestrated a change of government in Chile from the democratically elected Salvadore Allende to the cruel military dictator Augusto Pinochet, a friend of Margaret Thatcher. It has tried for years to bring down the government of Iran.

It used military coercion against Iraq which, although killing nearly a million Iraqi’s, failed to achieve the desired outcome. Afghanistan ended in failure and the return to power of the government they sought to crush. The record is not good, but undeterred America now seeks to coerce China, to contain China, to control China. Why? Rivalry and racism. An Asian ruling elite must in no way end up superior to a white ruling elite.

The pitch, which has been accepted by the white Western male-controlled media, is that China constitutes a military threat. It does not. The US has 400 bases ranged against China, plus spy satellites, drones, underwater listening devices and megabytes of paranoia. On the basis of security, the US got its allies to ban the Chinese communications company Huawei, which had nothing to do with security and everything to do with competition.

China has an assertive and nationalist leader, Xi Jinping, who confesses respect for Mao and contempt for Trump, that does not make him Richard Nixon. He was insulted by Morrison, he took offence and action.

Chinese constructions in the South China Sea constitute less of a threat than Diego Garcia and Pine Gap. Commentary about the China ‘threat’ too often lacks balance and is abusive. It is driven by the US military/industrial complex, Murdoch and the right wing of western politics.

The problem with US coercive diplomacy is that there is always the possibility that the invisible line will be crossed and hostilities occur. In the unfortunate game with China, the West is dependent on the judgement of US naval officers and airman patrolling these ill-defined lines and, on the capacity, and judgement of the US Executive; we are now aware of how close the world got to hostilities under Trump.

Coercive diplomacy relies on fear. It is international bullying. It works when the other side blinks and backs down. If that doesn’t happen the only tool left is to up the ante which could lead to war. It is unsophisticated, crude and puerile diplomacy, yet this is what the US and Australia are engaged in with China.

US coercion toward Australia started in WWII with the Australian based US Supreme Pacific Commander, General MacArthur, when he got General Blamey to sack Brigadiers Potts and Allen on the Kokoda Trail for failing to attack. They had undertaken a brilliant fighting retreat to shorten their supply line and were in the process of bringing up ammunition and supplies from Port Moresby for an offensive. Vasey took over Allen’s plans and received all the credit. Blamey was a MacArthur lick spittle. Curtin did not stand up to MacArthur who gave Australia it’s first taste of US coercive diplomacy, which continues to this day.

Under MacArthur Australia was used as a US launching base for its thrust into the Pacific and South China Sea; the US is positioning Australia for the same role now against China. It is a rerun of history.

Australian compliance with US foreign policy objectives during the Cold War obviated the need for the deployment of coercion throughout the 1950’s and early 60’s. From the end of WWII Australia has been a member of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing arrangement which comprises, the US, UK, NZ, Canada and Australia. Australia signed the ANZUS Treaty in 1951.

In 1966 Australia agreed to the construction of a US intelligence gathering facility at Pine Gap near Alice Springs. It began operating in 1970, with the arrival of 400 families from the US. Pine Gap is a super spy facility which monitors global communications. It provides guidance to US killer drones and spy satellites. It operates on behalf of the CIA, US National Security Agency (NSA) and US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). In the past it has been headed by a senior CIA officer. It is a massive complex with 38 radomes. It is estimated to now have 800 employees.

Menzies was cajoled into allowing secret British Atomic tests on Australian soil in the 1950’s and coerced into sending Australian troops to the American war in Viet Nam. Menzies announced the deployment in Parliament on 29 April, 1965 and 1 RAR departed a month later. The decision had been taken months earlier. It was a dirty secret deal, leading to involvement in an unwinnable war that ended badly for all involved.

The coercion of Menzies was nothing compared to that of Whitlam. Shortly after coming to power Whitlam condemned the Christmas bombing of Hanoi, greatly upsetting Nixon. His next transgression was to raid the headquarters of ASIO which caused the CIA concern believing that their secrets might be compromised, including undeclared CIA agents in Australia. But Whitlam’s greatest transgression was to threaten the future of Pine Gap, which played into his dismissal. The CIA was certainly seized with deep concern.

Even before this great challenge to the authority of the CIA, NSA and NRO to operate in Australia there had been US diplomatic and intelligence concern about the commitment of Whitlam to the Alliance. There has been considerable speculation that the Governor-General, John Kerr, responsible for Whitlam’s unprecedented dismissal, may have bent to both the CIA and MI6. Whatever the truth there can be little question that the CIA was a serious player in Australian domestic politics and no doubt still is.

It was said that the leader of the National Country Party at the time, Doug Anthony, was close to the senior CIA operative in Canberra. The Nugan Hand Bank, 1970, in Sydney was a front for the CIA and handled payments for them, until its fraudulent activities were exposed. Brian Toohey details the involvement of the CIA in Australia, and more, in his book, ‘Secret, the making of Australia’s security state’, MUP, 2019. And ‘The Palace Letters’ by Jenny Hocking, published by Scribe, 2020, touches upon their likely involvement in the dismissal of Whitlam.

Australia has been co-opted by the US into their coercive anti-China diplomacy. Morrison was stupid enough to take his marching orders from Trump and lost a significant slice of trade to Chinese tariffs, which the Americans took advantage of. Rather than learn from this, Morrison has sought to curry favour and praise from Biden by taking every opportunity to further bad mouth China.

It would appear that the Americans coerced Australia, during the course of secret discussions, to gazump the French submarine deal in favour of US nuclear submarines, the first of which will not be operational until 2050!

At the same time, in small print, was the announcement that the permanent presence of US troops, naval vessels and bombers in Australia would be significantly increased under a new security agreement known as AUKUS. It seems Britain has become involved to try and boost its prestige after the disaster of Brexit. Otherwise AUKUS is being driven by the US, keen to do whatever it takes to coerce China into accepting American dominance of the world order; a rules-based world order in which America writes the rules.

The US submarine deal does not stand up under any sort of scrutiny; it seems it was the smokescreen to hide a significantly enhanced American defence presence in Australia. The haste in which it was put together, from the time of the G7 meeting in Cornwall in mid-June until the announcement in mid-September, a mere three months, indicates the Americans have got themselves into something of a panic over China’s intentions.

Very quickly Australia has moved to go all the way with the USA. The unprecedented shift into the American defence structure closes options to forge a new and independent relationship with China. In one fell blow we have handed our future defence planning and foreign policy formulation to the United States. Morrison, in his infinite wisdom, has put all our eggs in one basket. The sovereignty that Morrison likes to talk about has been lost. We are about to become a different country.

The US likes to deal with stable countries, particularly if it has invested in them. It does not care whether they are dictatorships or democracies as long as they are predictable, stable and malleable to US needs and requirements. The dismissal of Whitlam is salutary; if the US believes it interests are likely to come under threat or are under threat it will remove that threat. AUKUS means a greater CIA presence in Australia and expanded interference in the political process.

Morrison has ceded a great deal of sovereignty and as a result made himself a puppet. Members of the radical right will no longer have a place in Australian politics as the US moves to alter Australia’s position on climate change. The CIA and its Australian operatives will be the foot soldiers bringing change to the Australian political landscape to mirror that of the US Administration. Imagine the changes to the operational brief if Trump, or someone like him, were to be returned to office. As a captured process, Australian politics would change dramatically, for the worse. As a vassal state, Australia, now more than ever, will reflect the complexities and vicissitudes of US Federal politics. And now, more than before, Australia is committed to going to war alongside the US.

US coercion, our own lack of self-confidence and the fear generated has got us to this point. Having forfeited so much sovereignty to the US, expect their coercive diplomacy to play an increasingly prominent and negative role in Australian decision making and affairs.

Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat and political commentator.

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.

The attached was published in Independent Australia on 2 August 2021.

As each day passes Prime Minister Morison diminishes in size. He hitched his political wagon to a failed policy of opposing lockdowns and encouraged Gladys Berejiklian to do likewise. This policy is in the process of crash and burn, apparent to all except Berejiklian. Morrison, or at least the precocious minders who surround him, can see it and the political danger posed. Morrison has declared for hard lockdowns but too late.

He has been widely condemned for his failure to rollout vaccines and to build stand alone quarantine facilities, both Federal government responsibilities.

Morrison is a shallow, superficial bully whose only concern has ever been himself. He singularly lacks ability, including any form of intellectual strength. More importantly he lacks leadership; as the crisis of Covid deepens so does insight into how limited are his capabilities in this area.

Morrison is not helped by the dearth of talent on his front bench. We see Albanese saved by the talent of many of his shadow ministers, not so Morrison, in fact most often they dig his hole deeper.

His handling of the Porter rape allegations and the parliamentary rape of Brittany Higgins have revealed an ugly man bereft of morality and belying claims that he is a Christian. It is far easier to substantiate claims that he is a fraud. And this characteristic is highlighted by Audit Office findings relating to LNP placement of funds, amounting to rorting, of grants for sporting clubs, car parks and other infrastructure development to LNP electorates.

Just as Morrison and his lacklustre parliamentary LNP have to deal with Covid they also have to deal with climate change, but they can’t. Lack of intellectual capacity coupled to a weird revisionist ideology have rendered them as immobile as a kangaroo in the face of a brace of spotlights. They can’t move, can’t think and can’t compute the danger.

But they will because Australia is about to be hit by carbon tariffs from the EU, UK and the US, which certainly has our back, it is pondering just how many knives it can put into it. Europe and China have been hit by massive floods and Canada and the US and southern Europe with forest fire storms. They are in no mood for Morrison’s crap. If he puts his head up it will be shot off.

Starting with Howard and his racist policies toward refugees Australia has worked itself into pariah status on equal footing with Apartheid South Africa. We are neither respected nor liked. Morrison was variously treated like the village idiot, a gate crasher and light weight at the G7 meeting in Cornwall and Biden snubbed him at his climate change meeting. He has not garnered the respect of one foreign leader but he has made a permanent enemy of Xi Jinping.

The Chinese have no incentive to improve the relationship with Australia until Morrison and the LNP are gone from power. There is anger at Morrison knowingly having sought to humiliate Xi. Their opinion of Dutton is not much better. They are aware of his ignorant deep-seated racism. The LNP seem not to understand or comprehend that the Chinese have the capacity to listen to many of the dirty, cheap and racist conversations undertaken, and remarks made, by some senior LNP figures on their mobile phones.

Australia under the LNP has lost significant markets to China, many taken up by America as it watched our back, because of sanctions imposed following Morrison’s rude and gauche pronouncements, and more will be lost. The LNP by listening to the IPA and the US acolyte, ASPI, will ensure that. Having gone from the mantra of balanced budgets under Howard and Costello, the LNP is now spending with little thought on how the money will be repaid. It has doubled the debt in five years. It has not opened up new markets, and how could it under Tudge.

Sailing up and down the South China Sea within kilometres of the Chinese coast in company with the US and UK navies is not a measure that will open up dialogue with China. It confirms in the Chinese mind that we are sycophants to imaginary US power driven by fear, insecurity and an inferiority complex. Like an annoying lap dog, we bark at China in the false belief that the US will never take us to the pound.

One thing the Morrison government has not got its head around is the prospect of Covid induced social unrest. Covid is causing untold hardship in poorer countries and heightening existing social and economic tension. We have seen violence erupt recently in South Africa on the pretext of the gaoling of former President Zuma but in fact resulting from unaddressed issues of poverty exacerbated by Covid.

The last American Presidential election was in part defined by Trumps refusal to acknowledge the fatal consequences of Covid which played out against him at the ballot box. The same could happen in Brazil and the UK.

Recent unauthorised demonstrations in Australian cities ostensibly against masks, lockdowns and vaccinations, indicating deeper social unrest, are likely to be played out further as the Federal and NSW governments deliver mixed and a times contradictory messages which is creating division, anxiety and anger. The effects of climate change will feed into fear and uncertainty. Social volatility is likely to be a feature of our newly emerging world.

China seems aware of this. The CPC is shoring up its control while ensuring that domestic expectations are met, the last thing it seeks is war. On the other hand, internal division, social upheaval and violence is growing in the US, providing impetus to create a unifying external enemy.

These changes are beyond Morrison to comprehend let alone manage. Would Albanese do any better? He certainly couldn’t do any worse. The challenge is beyond what Australia has faced in recorded white history. It is time we took our indigenous brothers and sisters on board to help us all find a way forward.

Bruce Haigh

Political commentator and former Diplomat.

The attached article appeared in Pearls and Irritations on 26 July, 2021.

Senior public servants are only as good as the leadership provided by politicians working in the national interest.

With appropriate checks, balances and protections in place, senior public servants should be able to give the frank and fearless advice required of their position and as set out in law.

In the absence of good leadership, or worse in the face of corrupt leadership, public servants will not be able to perform their duties as required. Faced with such a situation they may acquiesce and become a part of corrupt practices or they may turn a blind eye. On the other hand, they may seek a transfer, they may resign or retire. In a career ending decision they may decide to become a whistle blower and expose the corruption.

From the time he became Prime Minister in 1996, Howard ran with a very strong ideological agenda which he required public servants to adhere to. Within a fairly short time of him becoming Prime Minister, Immigration officials were expected to break international and domestic law in their handling and processing of asylum seekers. The Navy was directed to break international law by turning back boats on the high seas with asylum seekers on board. He used the SAS to stop an asylum rescue vessel, MV Tampa, letting them ashore in an Australian port which international law required him to do.

Through his Minister of Immigration, he bullied independent decision makers on the Refugee Review Tribunal to change their findings. And eventually he abolished the Tribunal. Determinations relating to establishing refugee status moved further and further from the law. Some decision makers went along with this, others didn’t and left the service of government. Many public servants were rewarded and promoted for their loyalty in implementing policy inimical to climate change, the rights of workers, Indigenous Australians, women and the unemployed. Public servants oversaw policies transferring wealth from the Treasury to government supporters. This has become a marked feature of the Morrison government. In fact Morrison recently bullied public servants with the  Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi) an independent government funded body overseeing the efficacy of vaccinations.

This abuse of the Australian Public Service (APS) has also occurred under Prime Ministers, Rudd, Gillard, Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison. Rudd and Gillard did not transfer wealth to supporters of the LNP, but they did abuse asylum seekers. They tried but did not break the mould of the Howard administration.

Ambitious public servants soon enough realised that the political ideology established by Howard was not likely to change, particularly as it had more or less remained in place through the Rudd/Gillard governments. Developing and advocating policy outside of this ideological framework was not a career enhancing move.

The APS had become politicised. It strengthened over time to the point that appointments as Secretaries of Departments were only given to those who demonstrated a commitment to not only working within the LNP ideological framework but supporting it. LNP governments worked with Murdoch and Murdoch worked with them. There was a brief Murdoch flirtation with Rudd but it didn’t last. The strength of the Murdoch connection with government influenced other media outlets and the ABC, to the point that many in the media became as embedded with LNP governments as the APS.

Howard wrapped himself in the flag. He was happy to deploy to East Timor and go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq as it allowed him to bring the military into the mainstream of the political life he was creating. He saw the ADF as a useful prop. As a small and limited character, he was impressed and enamoured with a uniform. Abbott took this to ridiculous lengths and Morrison has followed. The dangerous thing has been that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has allowed itself to be used in this way. Many in the ADF are not hostile to the ideology of the LNP and in fact support it. It has made their transition into political life while serving in the ADF easier.

It can be argued that the APS has been politicised since Menzies was Prime Minister however the process was more subtle and the like-minded permanent heads, he gathered around himself were not averse to giving him and his government frank and fearless advice and they could afford to do so because they had permanency. They could not be dismissed by government.

On becoming Prime Minister, Whitlam, had a need to introduce the policies of social reform he had promised the people. Standing in his way were some very crusty and rusted on Menzies supporting permanent heads. They were persuaded to move aside, going onto the boards of government owned organisations or postings overseas and were replaced by Whitlam with some of the brightest people ever to enter the senior ranks of the APS. They constructively and creatively altered Australia for the better for the next twenty years – until Howard came to power and actively, perversely and wilfully set about to undo those reforms. His agenda was against the long term national good. Permanent heads who sought to deflect or slow his destructive agenda were moved aside and replaced with more compliant public servants. It was Keating who allowed Howard to act. He had replaced permanency with contracts bringing with it increased salary packages but much increased leverage for the government over the APS. This was the beginning of the rot.

The APS was increasingly charged with developing and implementing policies inimical to the interests of the poor and disposed and favourable to what Howard regarded as his natural constituency – the middle class. Grants to private schools quickly exceeded reasonable needs. This went against the instinct of most in the APS, which was for equity and fairness in the allocation of revenue.

We can only ask who are the poor middle ranking pubic servants who have been made to oversee and administer the malfeasance of the present government with respect to sports rorts, car parks, the barrier reef and so on?

Overseeing such terrible undertakings such as the long-term detention of children, required as administrators’, senior public servants sympathetic to that particular political agenda. Few persons not sympathetic would have the stomach for that particular undertaking. Who would oversee the planned collapse of the relationship with China? And planned it was in the form of provocative statements from Morrison, Payne and Birmingham. Who would oversee the Robodebt scandal and resulting suicides?

We see Frances Adamson going from the head of DFAT to the Governorship of south Australia after failing to address the collapse of the China relationship, possibly the biggest Australian foreign policy disaster in seventy years, to be replaced by Katherine Campbell, who was Secretary of the Department of Social Security when the Robodebt scandal unfolded. She goes to head up DFAT with no foreign policy experience which would appear to offer ASPI the opportunity it has been seeking to develop Australian foreign policy.

The movement of the ADF to the centre of the political stage, first undertaken by Howard through his politicisation of Australian military undertakings overseas, was picked up by Gillard as Prime Minister when she appointed Air Vice Marshall (retired) Houston to the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers in 2012. He had no particular expertise in matters relating to refugees and refugee law.

In more recent times Morrison has pushed the civilian/military option much further. Like Abbott he appears to be in awe of a uniform bedecked with medals and believes in the innate superiority of the military to perform difficult tasks. As part of this somewhat romantic notion, he holds the belief that the ADF posses enhanced organisational skills. That is no doubt due to the fact the he has not served in the military. I have, and as a result do not suffer any illusions in that regard. I also come from a military family, grandfather, father and uncles and as a result I am not intimidated by a uniform with medals because all of them had many.

Morrison has appointed Vice Admiral (retired) Griggs to head Social Security, a department with which he would appear to have little expertise. It is a puzzle, in light of this, why he would agree to the appointment.

Morrison stung by criticism that Hawaii was no place from which to oversee major bushfires in Australia, called out the military with much macho chest thumping. Faced with his complete stuff-up of the vaccine roll out he first appointed Commodore Young to solve his problem. He had a few TV appearances before being gazumped by Lieutenant General Frewen, who has managed quite a few TV appearances but not much in the way of a superior delivery of vaccines and how can he when Morrison failed to buy them.

Pushing the military into civilian roles is the worst form of window dressing. It is an attempt to cash in on the fraying Anzac myth, so beloved by the right. The ADF should refuse to allow their officers, both serving and retired, to be used in this way. These appointments mostly end in tears and detract from the independence and proud tradition of the ADF.

Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat and political commentator.

The following article appeared in Pearls and Irritations on 7 July 2021.

An understanding of history might have seen Australia refuse the opportunity to get involved in Afghanistan, but an understanding of history has never amounted to much in Australia, unless it has been to embellish white supremacist myths, like Bean around Anzac.

Afghanistan has been the death bed of modern invading armies, first Britain, then Russia and now America. The reasons are topography and use of it by the Pathans, the ruthless and dominant tribe.

I have some experience with Afghanistan. My grandfather skirmished against the Pathans, with the British Army, on the border between India and Afghanistan in the North West Frontier Province in 1904/5. He was based in Quetta, Peshawar and Rawalpindi. He was with the Yorkshire Light Infantry but on secondment to 44th Punjab Regiment. He later became an instructor at Duntroon. I was posted twice to Pakistan, 1972/73 and 1986/88. The Embassy had reporting responsibilities for Afghanistan and by the time of my second posting it had leased a house in Kabul.

My bearer on my first posting, Doust, was a Pathan. His married son lived in a village outside Peshawar on the road to Kabul. His son had accused his wife of having an affair and smashed his baby’s brains out against the wall of his house. Doust was concerned about this and sought my time and the use of an embassy car to drive up and see his son. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. The son was a most handsome man, tall with black beard and hair, penetrating green eyes and a complete lack of humour. Doust told the village I had been in the army, so an ancient Belgian FN was produced and the honour of Australia was tested against bottles placed on the compound wall which I was instructed to shoot down. Honour was preserved. On the way home Doust told me he had given his son money to give to is wife’s family. He said his son regretted his action.

From 1986/88 I visited Kabul regularly; it was a war zone. From time to time, it was under attack from the Mujahideen using rockets, mortars and machine guns as well as acts of sabotage. In view of my military experience JIO gave me a compact camera and kept me supplied with film. I took pictures of Russian AFV’s, planes, helicopters, installations, radio communications and soldiers as well as damage to villages and crops. This was a risky business.

I have written a lot on Afghanistan, since Howard first committed Australian troops in October 2001. He did this without seeking the approval of Parliament.  In October 2009 (see my web site and ABC Unleashed) I wrote in ‘What are we doing in Afghanistan?’ that, ‘The United States Administration is said to be giving close consideration to its role in Afghanistan. The US military commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal is calling for an extra 40,000 troops…Presumably if the United States decides to pull out, all the allies will pull out and if the United States decides to increase troop numbers and stay the allies will stay.

The lack of input and involvement with the weighty policy issues the US is grappling with throws into stark relief the role of the allies…Naturally the US military will argue for increased troop numbers in order to tame the Taliban, they are not the most imaginative…their solution was the same in Vietnam…’

And then I observed, ‘Nothing can be resolved in Afghanistan without changing the nature and role of the Pakistan Army and the intelligence services (ISI). In other words, Afghanistan extends deep inside Pakistan and the United States and its allies have to date demonstrated few strategies to deal with this…

Policy makers in Australia need to ask, what is it that they hope to achieve from the Australian military presence in Afghanistan? Is it just support for the US/Australia alliance or is Australia seriously engaged in a fight against international terrorism? If it is the latter then it needs to be explained how this commitment is achieving that and in what way does it impact positively in the long and short term the lives of Australians?

Are US objectives realistic? Can they be achieved? At what cost and over what period of time? Is the Australian commitment making a positive contribution? Are we getting value for money? Is there a down side and if so, what is it?’

Those were questions I asked in 2009, they were never answered, the mindless uneducated hawkes won out and we were left to crawl away defeated with our tale between our legs.

In December 2010 we learnt from Wikileaks that there was some pessimism on the part of the Australian government about the likely outcome of the war. A lack of confidence was expressed in the ability of the Afghan police to be trained, the capability of the Afghan government and the strategies deployed to win the war. These concerns were not expressed publicly.

Major-General Jim Molan was a vigorous and vocal defender of our involvement in Afghanistan as was Neil James, the executive director of the Australian Defence Association. In an article I wrote in The Canberra Times, 15 December, 2010, ‘The Agony of Afghanistan’, I quote his comments on Wikileaks made in Crikey, on 29 July, 2010, ‘Put bluntly, Wikileaks is not authorised in international or Australian law, nor equipped morally or operationally to judge whether open publication of such material risks the safety, security, morale and legitimate objectives of Australian and allied troops fighting in a UN-endorsed military operation. Nor should and can groups such as WikiLeaks be so authorised or equipped respectively, especially when they are unaccountable to any responsible authority or international humanitarian law (IHL) in a legal or moral sense.’ Such was the intellectual calibre of the supporters of our involvement in Afghanistan.

The lack of knowledge of Afghanistan, its politics and people saw the Australian task force in Uruzgan Province work closely with corrupt war lord Matiullah Khan. It was a poor decision. He was believed to be involved in the production and sale of opium which financed the Taliban, just as it had the Mujahideen. It was also alleged that he ran protection rackets. Did any of his corruption rub off on the ADF?

Writing in the SMH on 26 August, 2011, Rafael Epstein said, ‘Until last year, the Australian government paid Matiullah Khan for his armed men to work with Australian special forces.’ Epstein said he controlled the police unit which partnered with the Australian commandos, Dutch troops refused to work with him and the US Ambassador did not want him holding any formal Afghan government position. It seems to have been an act of pragmatic poor judgement to have aligned with Khan.

In his investigations into the war crimes of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan did Major General Brereton look into ADF involvement in the drug trade? Did he look into the use of and trading in drugs by the Special Forces in Afghanistan? And if not, why not? As in Viet Nam drugs were easily available. It would be surprising if some soldiers did not succumb, with adverse consequences on their performance in the field.

The Brereton Report covered the period from 2005 to 2016. The unlawful killings discussed in the report began in 2009, with most occurring in 2012 and 2013. It claims that 39 civilians and prisoners were murdered. A 2012 incident was described in the Report as ‘possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australian military history’ and noted that ‘the commanders at troop, squadron and task group level bear moral command responsibility’ for these events.

Dutton and Morrison have shown little interest in pressing the investigation. Dutton overturned a recommendation in the Brereton Report, implemented by the CDF, to deprive 3000 Afghan veterans of a unit citation. Both have been supportive of Ben Roberts-Smith VC, accused of war crimes in Afghanistan. There seems little compulsion or motivation on the part of the LNP government to pursue the issue of Australian war crimes in Afghanistan.

The war crimes were committed around the time there was a realisation at both the military and political level that there was nothing winnable about the undertaking in Afghanistan. Morale and leadership appear to have collapsed at about the same time. It might be said that the Viet Nam syndrome took over. That is why an investigation into the use of drugs is so important. Hastie no doubt can provide some answers.

Many members of the Taliban were members of the Mujahideen. Their existence is a direct result of the occupation of Afghanistan by a foreign power, firstly Russia then America. The Taliban has links to ISIS whose existence can be sheeted home to the American destruction and occupation of Iraq.

The American withdrawal from Afghanistan will follow the blue print of the Russian withdrawal. Retribution and a crackdown on all Western manifestations of influence will result, including female education and role in a Taliban dominated society. It is a condemnation of the false hope generated by a major power which had no game plan and no intention of staying the distance. Viet Nam, Iraq and now Afghanistan demonstrate that our ally, the US, is flaky. Driven by the arms industry it has no interest in long term outcomes, short term profit is the objective. That is why the US project against China is such a worry. China is Iraq and Afghanistan revisited. America is not a good country; it acts only in its own interests. Profit. They don’t give a fig about Australia.

The following article appeared in Pearls and Irritations on 5 July, 2021.

This is a tale of greed, denial, delusion, racism, power, loyalty, ethics and courage. Dressed in black are Howard and Downer, in white K and Collaery. The tale takes place in the subterranean world of spies, spooks, spivs, shankers, summer kings and secret trials.

The very bad people bring the very good people before the courts in a land where persecuted people from other lands are, on arrival, further persecuted. In this Topsy Turvey land where good is bad and bad is good, power, greed and money are king, but only for as long as the sun shines. When the going gets tough, when winter descends the king disappears.

According to the State that Persecutes the Innocent, the crime that needed to be addressed was that an Australian security officer working for ASIS, Witness K, was mightily disturbed that as an honest employee, of some achievement and standing, he was tasked with carrying out an illegal act by Prime Minister, Howard, and Foreign Minister, Downer, against a small, needy and vulnerable target, Timor-Leste.

The State that Persecutes had a significant advantage in power and technology and used this advantage to bug a cabinet room where discussions took place by representatives of Timor-Leste on how to secure the best deal they could, in negotiations with The State, over disputed oil and gas reserves under the ocean bed between the two countries. Putting aside the illegality of the undertaking there was also a complete lack of ethics. It was grubby.

Witness K took his concerns to the management of ASIS, which authorised him to discuss his concerns that a crime had been committed, which of course should have been seen as our concern, with the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, a mysterious job because no one is allowed to scrutinise the Inspector-General. It’s all about all of us taking a deep breath and trusting. Anyway, the Inspector-General did the right thing and authorised Witness K to consult a lawyer which he did in the form of a prominent Canberra lawyer, Bernard Collaery. But then it went pear shaped for K when the mysterious IGIS was replaced with an opaque IGIS who withdrew the earlier approval to consult a lawyer, putting both K and Collaery in an invidious position. K for having divulged the nature of his concerns, which were governed by the official secrets act, and for Collaery for having heard them and for beginning to act upon them. The State that Persecutes had a Problem. The Oxford loving Attorney-General at the time, Brandis, sat on his little hands waiting for his posting to London as High Commissioner to solve his dilemma, which it did. His egregious smile floats on.

He was replaced by anything but Christian, Porter, best known for some recent excellent dramatic performances on Australian television, which some say may have opened doors for him doing Shakespeare in London; apparently Brandis has offered accommodation while he finds his feet. In any case as the new fearless AG, he took the bit between his teeth and in order to protect the impeccable reputations of Little-Iraq-Overboard, Johnny Howard and call me darling, Downer, he bravely undertook to prosecute K and Collaery.

But a Magistrate in the ACT, who had heard the case in secret, decided that basically K did not have a case to answer and gave him a three month suspended sentence. That was a blow for the forces of darkness, particularly Porter, who despite his rising thespian career, had had to vacate his position as AG in the face of serious allegations of a possible criminal nature. He has been appointed Minister of Silly Walks, a kind of sinecure, until he has to face the Mad Hatter.

The redoubtable Bernard Keane of Crikey, a publication that aspires to turn The State of Persecution into Wonderland, said, ‘The wrong person was in the dock being sentenced last week in the ACT Magistrates Court…It is Alexander Downer who should have faced court.’ He notes that the beneficiary of knowledge gained from the bugging was the major polluter Woodside. Incredibly Downer went on to receive grace and favour employment with Woodside.

However, in my opinion, the racism and elitism of Downer and Howard underpinned their greed and facilitated their quite extraordinary undertaking. Just as an aside Howard never once expressed opposition to Apartheid on the floor of the House, despite having many opportunities and Downer demonstrated marked discomfort in the presence of Indigenous people as leader of the Opposition. This is relevant in view of their subsequent treatment of the East Timorese.

In my book, ‘The Great Australian Blight, Losing the plot in Australian foreign policy’, published in 2001 by Otford Press, p71, I said, ‘Howard remained opposed to an independent East Timor until early 1999. Downer attempted to finesse Howard’s recognition of the strength of Australian public opinion in favour of independence as a “shift in government policy”…nonetheless the Government continued to acknowledge and affirm Indonesia’s right to occupy East Timor.’

Downer denied the involvement and arming of the East Timorese Militia by the Indonesian Army (TNI) until not long before the intervention of the Australian led, international peace keeping force (INTERFET) in East Timor. The shadow foreign affairs spokesman, Laurie Brereton accused him in 1999 of lying. Greg Sheridan of The Australian backed Downer’s anti-East Timor, pro-Indonesia line.

Later, p122, I noted, Downer was reported in the SMH, on 8 December 2000, as saying Australia and Indonesia needed better defence ties. ‘Bereft of ideas, morality and shame the government blundered about looking for its old comfort zone, unwilling or unable to acknowledge that following the ballot in east Timor the dynamics of the archipelago had irrevocably changed.’

On p123, I said, ‘Nevertheless, Australia and East Timor did find Major-General Peter Cosgrove just in the nick of time. Cosgrove and his troops performed the task of securing peace and stability in East Timor in the manner in which every Australian hoped they would. Cosgrove provided leadership of a quality which had been sorely lacking in Australia. John Howard, John Moore (Minister for Defence), and Alexander Downer latched onto his coat tails hoping to gain some of the reflected glory and increase their diminished stature.’

Howard and Downer were humiliated by the way events unfolded in East Timor. They gave every indication they felt belittled and they had reason to. They had behaved in petty and mean spirited fashion further demonstrating these characteristics with the authorisation of the bugging of the cabinet room in Dili. They have unleashed the most bizarre and cruel chain of events which will not end well for them.

Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat and political commentator.

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