- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

After the U.K., possibly even before the U.K., Australia is America’s best ally in both the Iraq and the Afghan war. Under Prime Minister John Howard’s leadership, it doubled its deployment to Iraq last year to 1,400, and recently decided to double its Afghan fighting contingent to 1,000.

That commitment is admittedly minuscule by U.S. standards, but then Australia, the sixth-largest country in the world (after Russia, Canada, China, the U.S. and Brazil), has a population of less than 20 million and an army of 25,000.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Australia’s commitment is that Mr. Howard’s decision had the full backing of Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd. Mr. Howard even publicly rebuked Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf for a “lack of resolve” in dismantling Taliban staging areas in mountainous tribal areas adjoining Afghanistan.

Wednesday was ANZAC Day, Australia’s most solemn commemoration of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps that landed at Gallipoli, Turkey, in World War I. The idea was a bold strike to knock Turkey out of the war by opening the way to the Black Sea for Allied navies and capturing Istanbul. It was an unmitigated disaster. More than 8,700 Australians and 2,700 New Zealanders were killed, or a quarter of the Allied 44,000 dead and almost 100,000 wounded.

ANZAC Day is remembrance for the 60,000 Aussies killed in World War I. It begins with “gunfire breakfast” (coffee laced with rum) at dawn, which marks the most spiritual and solemn day of the year, superseding the official “Australia Day.” Thousands of Australians also journey to Gallipoli’s North Beach to pay homage to the country’s fallen heroes of 92 years ago.

But there is a growing awareness these days that Australia, as the Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul Sheehan wrote this week, “is now embroiled in an arc of increasing anti-Western fundamentalism, stretching unbroken through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon — 300 million Muslims, the same population as the United States and almost the same as Western Europe’s.”

Australian forces are going back into a country that has endured 20 separate wars, invasions, coups and various and sundry national crises over the last two centuries, “with no end in sight,” said Mr. Sheehan. The quick overview of instability since Afghanistan became a nation: Afghan-Persian War (1816); Afghan-Sikh war (1836); second Afghan-Persian War (1836-38); first Anglo-Afghan war (1839-42); first Afghan civil war (1850-55); Persian invasion (1856-57); second Afghan civil war (1863-79); second Anglo-Afghan war (1878-80); Russian-Afghan war (1885); third Anglo-Afghan war (1919); third Afghan civil war (1928-29); first Pashtun crisis (1955-57); second Pashtun crisis (1961-63); Republican coup (1973); Marxist coup (1978); Amin communist coup (1979); Soviet invasion and occupation (1979-1989); fourth Afghan civil war (1989-92); fifth Afghan civil war with Taliban victory (1993-96); U.S.-led invasion (2001); Taliban guerrilla campaign (2004-?).

Twenty eruptions, 60 years of turmoil and bloodshed produced the defeat of two major imperial powers — the U.K. and the Soviet Union — and most observers see the U.S. and its allies fighting Taliban guerrillas for several more years.

Moscow lost some 15,000 soldiers killed, 50,000 wounded and some 400,000 felled by sickness over 10 years. Afghanistan was also the Soviet empire’s undoing. The last Soviet soldier left Afghanistan Feb. 15, 1989; the Berlin Wall fell six months later, Nov. 9, 1989; the Soviet Union collapsed and the meltdown of the Communist Party took place over the next 18 months.

Into the geopolitical vacuum stepped Iran’s Islamic Revolution that overthrew the last shah of Iran — Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi — and spread its theocratic wings over Lebanon and Syria. More recently, Iran edged out U.S. influence and became the principal foreign power in Iraq, according to last November’s Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. Al Qaeda-type cells have proliferated from Southeast Asia to South Asia (Pakistan and Bangladesh, both now run by the military), to the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Sahara Muslim states, and Western Europe. Modernity has been losing and nuclear proliferation gaining from Iran to the Gulf states to Pakistan.

It becomes more obvious every day that Afghanistan will require a minimum of another five to 10 years of Western and Australian commitments in blood and treasure to give democratic change solid foundations. Australia knows the score across its political spectrum. After the U.S. has found a way out of the costly Iraqi morass will the next administration understand that Afghanistan may require an additional decadelong commitment?

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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