My God there has been an absolute Everest of who-gives-a-stuff blather about Abbott’s visit to Afghanistan. Seriously, politicians being political? Please get me a feather with which to knock me down.
Let’s cut the crap. Abbott got in trouble because he lied about why he didn’t go to Afghanistan with Gillard. The truth was he didn’t want to go with her, and he was going to go on his own. But instead of saying that he came up with some bull about not wanting to be jetlagged for his 15 minute meeting with David Cameron (a meeting so comical that all that was missing was for Cameron to say “… I’ll have mine with two sugars... oh sorry I thought you were the waiter”).
The Libs of course needed to cover up Abbott’s idiocy, and thus they adopted their standard operating procedure – dig their way out the hole. And so we had Christopher Pyne on Monday coming out with this:
"Trying to create the impression that Tony Abbott didn't want to visit the diggers in the field was not just an act of political bastardry, but also back-alley bitchiness from the person who is portraying all the signs of someone who is not fit to be Prime Minister of Australia,"
This caused the ABC to run with this headline:
Afghan row shows Gillard 'not fit to be PM'
Oh geez, so Pyne thinks Gillard isn’t fit to be Prime Minister? Well hold the front page.
And then to make sure everyone in the country knew that he was deeply embarrassed by the foot in the mouth shuffle he did in London, Abbott went on Alan Jones to say:
“It was, I think, a carefully laid political ambush, that's essentially what it was. There is no doubt about it, when it comes to Machiavellian bastardry, the Labor Party are world champions”
You can imagine Jones telling him, “There there Tony, come here, Alan’ll make it better”.
And of course The Oz went along for the ride, slapping on the headline of:
Tony Abbott says he's a victim of a 'political ambush' over Afghanistan
Do any editors ever stop and think “well, what did you expect him to say?”.
I swear if some in the media we have now had been around Casablanca in 1942 they would have been running banner headlines announcing that Captain Renault was “Shocked to find gambling” going on in Rick's Café Américain.
But you have to credit Abbott for hide. He is suggesting that Gillard is so Machiavellian that she let it be known she had invited Abbott to go with her to Afghanistan (something not denied), but she did so knowing Abbott would then make a huge gaffe by saying he didn’t want to be jetlagged, which would mean a non-story would blow up into something big! Wow, she is good.
Seriously, Abbott is like a man who has tripped over his shoelaces and is now looking around demanding to know who pushed him.
And then you could almost hear Alan Jones say “dig up, Tony!” when Abbott began going in boots first, studs up over the three commandos who face charges over a night-time raid in Afghanistan last year in which six civilians were killed, including five children. Jones and 2GB may think it is a great cause to fight, but what the hell was Abbott thinking when he said:
“I suspect there has been a deep failure by this government to provide these soldiers with the defence that they are entitled to. We should assume that they were doing their best for our country.”
Here’s a tip Tony, how about we assume due process should be adhered to without politicians getting involved? He also said:
"Why is the Prime Minister not standing up and explaining this, defending this, justifying this or changing it? It's her job as Prime Minister to explain all of this and she's got to be made accountable for it.”
Defence Minister Stephen Smith must have wondered what he had done to deserve such a free hit, and today came out with this lovely work:
Well, I think these are unfortunate comments from Mr Abbott.
We have a system that was introduced by the Howard government with the support of the Labor Party, which ensured that, if prosecutions were brought against members of the Defence Forces, that it would be done by an independent, objective, impartial military prosecutor.
The legislation was introduced by the Howard government, of which Mr Abbott was a cabinet minister. The Military Prosecutor was appointed by the Howard government.
But the best line (sadly buried right at the end of the article) was reserved for the Executive Director of the Australia Defence Association, Neil James, who said:
"We think it's best that some things are tested in court. We're accountable and the Taliban are not."
For what it is worth, with regards to Abbott’s whole Afghanistan trip, my view is Abbott should have gone with Gillard. Going together does not imply the two are in any greater agreement on how the war should be fought than it does when they both attend the funeral of a soldier killed in action. If it is good enough for them to be bipartisan when paying respects to a dead soldier, it sure as hell should be good enough for them to do so when paying respects to the live ones.
But forget the Liberals pathetic attempts to cover up Abbott’s inability to think on his feet, for mine Abbott did himself the greatest disservice when he showed up in Afghanistan and promptly went off to shoot a few rounds with an automatic rifle.
As I often do, I rang up my Dad to talk about events. As a bloke whom a Liberal Government in 1968 decided should go off and fight in a war, I knew he’d have a few things to say about Abbott’s little army jaunt, especially as he always hates politicians playing at soldiers. I also knew he would have seen Monday’s front page of The Advertiser.
“I wanted to vomit,” was his reaction.
It wasn’t just the carefree nature of Abbott shooting a rifle as though doing so was just a bit of fun that got my Dad riled, it was also this pretty much ignored bit in the story:
Mr Abbott told the troops he would have liked to have patrolled with them over several days.
In fact we discovered this wasn’t just some throwaway line:
Mr Abbott's request to embed with the troops and go on patrol with them was overruled by Defence for security reasons.
Seriously, what kind of a fool thinks he has any right to go on patrol with the troops? Does he think the whole thing is a game? Does he not realise people are dying? Did he not grasp the seriousness of the patrols when he attended the funerals of the soldiers?
Going on patrol in Afghanistan is not like walking the Kokoda Trek, or getting in a big truck out in a mine in Kalgoorlie. People are dying. It is not a photo-op.
How dangerous are the patrols? Well let’s hear from the bloke in charge over there, Major General John Cantwell (from by the way a great piece by Paul Toohey, that deserves a much larger audience than it will get on “The Punch”):
“Frankly, the people of Australia and the government of Australia owe it to the soldiers who are stepping outside of these patrol bases, every day, risking their lives, not ever knowing if they’re going to get home from Afghanistan or even back to their patrol base that night.”
“But this is an IED [Improvised Explosives Devise] fight,” Cantwell says. The things can be found in walls, in trees, in fields, on donkeys. “Every single day there is an IED event of some sort.”
And Abbott thought he could go out on patrol?
Here’s the thing about Abbott doing this – he would have be surrounded by soldiers with machine guns, or stuck as deep as possible inside a truck or armoured personal carrier, and the soldiers would be doing all they could to go through the motions of going on a real patrol without actually doing anything that might get him killed – in other words not actually doing their jobs.
It would not be real, because the patrol would contain a man not trained to be there. A man not trained to hold a weapon, let alone fire one. A man who if things got hot would be a liability and likely increase the chances that someone would get killed.
This was what Abbott was suggesting he could do.
Geez, you have got to wonder. My Dad certainly was shaking his head – saying if Abbott wanted to go on patrol, tell him, “Ok, you take point”. And then see how excited he is about it.
Abbott’s visit to the troops in Afghanistan showed for all to see why he didn’t want to go with Gillard. The trip was not about showing support for the troops, it was about showing off action man Abbott (you know as opposed to the woman Gillard).
Now sure such trips always are photo ops – for both sides. But shooting a weapon? Asking to go on patrol (for several days no less)? There are lines you don’t cross if you want to show yourself as a leader to be taken seriously.
Someone needs to tell Abbott that his job when in Afghanistan is to chat to some soldiers, get information from the men on the ground on how things are going, tell the men he’s behind them, and then get behind them – about 10,000 km behind.