Here's Nic Stuart, writing in The ASPI Strategist, about Prime Minister Gillard's decision to cut short her attendance at the Pacific Islands Forum after the combat deaths in Afghanistan:
A casual assumption has been made that our broader strategic interests in the Pacific are less important, politically, than the PM’s presence in Canberra. It would be quite different if she could actually do something, but she can’t. Nobody can, unless it’s taking a decision to either reinforce the current deployment or, like the Dutch before us, withdraw. Instead the political class stands vacillating, unable to do either one thing or the other. The demand to show respect for the dead has paralysed the politicians.
Right on. Gillard skipped meetings with Hillary Clinton and various regional leaders so that she could come home to 'receive briefings'. But even before she got on the plane, she had closed off the possibility of a change in strategy or withdrawal deadline, so what kind of briefings could these be, requiring such urgent attention from the PM?
While we're on this broad subject, it is also worth re-acquainting yourself with a powerful piece my colleague James Brown wrote last August, on why our political leaders should stop attending military funerals. An extract:
The presence of our most senior politicians at military funerals in Australia reinforces the myth that Australian military deaths in war are extraordinary and unexpected. Australia's deployments in East Timor, Iraq, and the Solomon Islands were relatively bloodless for the ADF. Afghanistan has not been.
My colleagues in the military are the ones now asking why the politicians keep coming to military funerals. Some think it is an awkward burden to force the logistics of a political visit onto a grieving family; others think it is better that the PM be left clear-headed to formulate Afghan strategy rather than overwhelmed with the emotion of attending multiple lugubrious funerals. I agree with both views. It's time politicians leave the military and families to grieve in private.
Photo courtesy of the Defence Department.