On September 16, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in a video call with a US President who clearly forgot his name and a UK Prime Minister desperate for trade deals, announced a new security agreement, to be called AUKUS, and the development of a nuclear submarine fleet. This was followed by Minister of Defence Peter Dutton announcing an increase in the number of US troops stationed in Australia—currently over 2,500—and the acquisition of long-range Tomahawk missiles.
Without China having to be named, it was clear who all this was aimed at—quite literally. Beijing promptly responded by condemning the announcement, in what looks like the prelude of another Cold War.
Australian politicians have been signalling this war footing for months. Leading the charge is Dutton, who habitually talks up the threat from China, sometimes supported by his old enforcer at the Department of Home Affairs, Mike Pezzullo, with his now-infamous ‘drums of war’ comment.
Only a few weeks ago Dutton pulled Godwin’s Law from internet comment sections and applied it to a speech at the American Chamber of Commerce, saying:
The times in which we live have echoes of the 1930s, but they also present their own unique contemporary challenges. We can see this in the rhetoric of CCP spokespersons—which has become increasingly bellicose over recent years.
This ratcheting up of tensions is not just rhetorical, however, as the military hardware and resources in the Middle East are not being liquidated but merely shifted towards the Pacific. The following statement from the 2021-2022 Federal Budget summarises it perfectly:
[The government will] finalise the drawdown of Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel in Afghanistan by September 2021 in line with the United States and our other partners, to focus on the Indo-Pacific region.
This pivot from the Middle East to China is extremely worrying, and the generation-defining failure of the War on Terror can prepare us for what’s to come.
Just like with Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003 respectively, people calling for peace will inevitably be labelled as unwitting (or even witting) supporters of the Chinese government. This has always been a strange accusation, as if the tens of thousands of people who protested the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 might actually be Pashtun nationalists in disguise. However, this criticism is even more of a misfire now, as Afghanistan showed clearly: war very rarely punishes the guilty or benefits the innocent.
In fact, the Taliban have emerged from the twenty-year-long war stronger than ever. The destruction of state apparatuses, rampant corruption, denial of justice, mass killing of civilians, war crimes and instability all but rolled out a red carpet for the Taliban’s resurgence.
Activists at the time were of course saying this exact thing would happen. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), a Kabul-based organisation promoting women’s rights and secular democracy, perhaps best encapsulated this, writing in October 2001:
The continuation of US attacks and the increase in the number of innocent civilian victims not only gives an excuse to the Taliban but also will cause the empowering of the fundamentalist forces in the region and even in the world.
RAWA was right, as were the thousands of peace activists who supported this statement.
As the War on Terror spread from Afghanistan across the Middle East and Africa, trillions of dollars were poured into the pockets of arm-dealers and warlords who killed millions of innocents as extremist groups like al-Qaeda thrived in the chaos and morphed into even more extreme versions such as ISIS.
Twenty years on, pundits such as The Australian’s Greg Sheridan now bemoan that ‘this Afghanistan adventure was, strategically, a complete and absolute disaster.’
However, back when RAWA where predicting the outcome of the war, Sheridan was writing statements like ‘Finish Afghanistan first, then destroy Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad,’ calling the Afghanistan war a ‘successful model’ and claiming that those who are critical of America suffer from ‘a serious psychological condition.’
Of course, Sheridan still has his job, despite promoting a series of wars that cost well over $8 trillion, killed more than 900,000 people and, by his own admission, were a complete disaster.
If you picked up The Australian last week you could read Sheridan on how criticism of AUKUS is ‘pro-Beijing’; and that calling for Australia to seek security in Asia, as opposed to from it, is ‘pro-China nihilism and sour national defeatism’.
Nor is Sheridan alone, there will be an all too familiar rogues’ gallery of think tank experts, former politicians and columnists who will trot out their ‘Mad Libs for war’ replacing ‘Terrorism’ with ‘China’. In doing so, they will appeal to a sort of bipartisan realpolitik rationality which paints all those against war as naive—while they, doughy chickenhawks so removed from the effects of war that they feel comfortable forcing their violent fantasies onto the rest of us, are paragons of clear thinking.
Anyone who challenges these preparations will be accused of being Chinese Communist Party stooges. Equally, pushing for Australia to develop an independent military not wholly reliant on the US to operate, will be construed as unpatriotic.
Conflict with China would be cataclysmic, only deepening China’s militarism and terrible human rights record, which the US and Australia are nominally so concerned about.
The only thing that can stop the next conflict is if the Australian public refuse to listen to its promoters. At the very least, it might get warmongers to take a breath between declaring the end of a war and the start of another.