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Can the United States bank on Australian public apathy?

By Kellie Tranter - posted Thursday, 15 April 2010

On 26 March 2010 WikiLeaks published the “CIA report into shoring up Afghan war support in Western Europe” (PDF, 135KB). It appears that the CIA Red Cell invited communication experts to look at “information approaches” to better link the Afghan war to the priorities of French, German and other Western European publics. 
One chilling aspect of the report is the heading “Why Counting on Apathy Might Not be Enough”.  After expressing concern that the fall of the Dutch Government over its troop commitment to Afghanistan shows the fragility of European support for the NATO-led ISAF mission, the report goes onto say “...The Afghanistan mission’s low public salience has allowed French and German leaders to disregard popular opposition and steadily increase their troop contributions to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)....”.
Reading that made me wonder whether there is an Australian version of the report. If not, why not? Does the CIA think they can safely count on public apathy here? 
They’d certainly be forgiven for thinking so, given that the war has attracted few large-scale peaceful protests, little sustained and vocal opposition, and above all negligible in-depth media coverage and debate, notwithstanding the release of:

  • the July 2009 United Nations report “Silence is Violence End the Abuse of Women in Afghanistan";
  • the Afghanistan Millenium Development Goals Overview;
  • the response given to a Senate Standing Committee late last year about the use of depleted uranium munitions in Afghanistan;
  • the UNICEF 2010 Humanitarian Action Report;
  • the secret cables from the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry;
  • the comments  of US military commander General Stanley McChrystal;
  • the House of Commons report "The legal basis for the invasion of Afghanistan"; or
  • assessments of the war in Afghanistan made by the respected Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, former US State Department Official Matthew Hoh, public intellectual Noam Chomsky and Phyllis Bennis, Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington.

Doesn’t this information lend the lie to Minister for Foreign Affairs Stephen Smith’s latest public assurance, made to justify blocking refugees, that in Afghanistan there was now better security as well as constitutional and legal reform? And you’ll notice that he seems to focus on changing circumstances for the Afghan Hazaras—who account for no more than 20 per cent of Afghanistan’s population—but is silent on the plight of others, like the Afghan Pashtuns, who come from the major conflict zones.  One wonders whether the move is really to block what is likely to be a mass exodus if civil war breaks out and Pashtuns become the target of the Tajik dominated Afghan National Army.
In any case, the continued apathy of a population that treats these revelations as part of the “watch and forget” 24-hour news cycle must be a pretty safe bet.
Yet I’m optimistic that public opposition to the war in Afghanistan is widespread, that it will continue to grow and that eventually it will be galvanised.  Perhaps it’s misplaced optimism, but I agree with US Senator Morse who said in 1964, in opposing the war in Vietnam, “...I have complete faith in the American people to follow the facts if you give them....”. 
Australians aren’t any different, and the “facts” – like the US propaganda aimed at faking legitimacy and engineering popular support and the gruesome realities of the war and its destructive consequences – are steadily leaking out. 
We’re insulated from the realities of war when it is fought a long way away and when what we see and hear about it is so heavily censored and sanitised, first by our governments and then by our media, but truths eventually emerge and humanity eventually will then prevail.
The Stop the War Coalition, SAWA and other groups continue to mine away, voicing their opposition in the face of what must be disheartening political and media disinterest.  This week Business & Professional Women Australia issued a press release calling on the Government to withdraw Australian troops from Afghanistan and replace military spending by accountable expenditure on local institutional and social reconstruction. 
Other organizations will no doubt follow when others realise that Afghanistan is a war without end and no benchmarks have been set for victory or defeat, and many more Australians will become active in their support in the face of incontrovertible facts like the harrowing video of US military personnel killing unarmed (Iraqi) civilians by raining down machine gun fire from a circling helicopter or the recent report of the NATO cover-up of Afghan civilian deaths.
What the final straw will be for the Australian public is anyone’s guess.  Perhaps the next, soon to be released Wikileaks video, which allegedly shows civilian killings in Afghanistan, will prove to be the catalyst.  Perhaps it will be the rising toll of young Australian soldiers being killed and wounded and otherwise traumatised.  Only time will tell.


But one thing is certain.  War in any form is an abomination.  It is not an act of kindness.  War rains death and destruction on civilian populations with devastating personal and social consequences.  It’s the duty of every citizen who opposes the war in Afghanistan to make their view known, whether in the press or at public gatherings, or by telling their elected representatives, or by discussing it with their friends and neighbours.  It’s time our politicians understood that we want our soldiers to be brought home to their families and the people of Afghanistan be allowed to rebuild their lives. 


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 This article first appeared on ABC The Drum-Unleashed on April 12, 2010.

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About the Author

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

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