19 October 2004

Cutting; running

by Matt Rubinstein at 12:04 am

So Australia has just rejected a UN request for more troops in Iraq:

The Government says it has been informally approached to help with security for the UN assistance mission in Iraq.

But a spokesman for Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says the Australian Government has already made a substantial commitment to Iraq and it will not be sending more troops.

Instead, we will be training Fijian troops to protect the UN mission, whose chief function is to oversee the elections scheduled for January 2005.

Something about that really gets my goat, but I’m not exactly sure what. Maybe it’s the mileage the Government got out of Latham’s promise to withdraw our troops by Christmas, the moral high ground they claimed. Is cutting and running so much worse—so much less Australian—than not pitching in a bit extra where it’s needed? I’m not that sure it is.

Perhaps it’s this sneaking suspicion that Downer’s spokesman might have said something different if the request had come from the US instead of the UN. And it makes me mad to think that we’d support the lawless crusade of an arrogant imperialist, and ignore multilateral attempts to facilitate democracy—and then complain that the UN is useless and irrelevant.

But maybe it’s just this: it seems to me that you’re either in a war or you’re not. I don’t think the war should have happened the way it did; and I don’t think we should have lent it our support. But now that we have, I think we’ve got some responsibility for cleaning up afterwards. And even if that’s not right, even if we should bring the troops home now—since we’re not going to, since we are staying in it, we should do it properly.

We have about 900 non-combat personnel in and around the Gulf, and by all accounts they’re doing a bang-up job. But the ADF has about 50,000 troops on active duty, and although they’re busy all over the place, perhaps we could in fact spare a few more—if they’re really needed, and it sounds like they are. Someone’s got to give the UN some support as it tries to get Iraq towards the point at which it can run itself, and if we’re so committed to this whole operation then we should do what we can to make sure that happens. Shouldn’t we?

Otherwise it just sounds like we’re having too many bobs too many ways. Of course I don’t want to put our troops in harm’s way—but sending Fijians instead? That doesn’t sound very Australian.

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