It is often a difficult and fine line for the head of the defence force to justify the way the forces he commands are fighting a war yet avoid putting himself in the position of justifying the very war itself. The second should clearly be the prerogative of the civilian administration yet it is over this line and into the role of political advocacy that some might think Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston crossed this week when discussing the role of Australian troops in Afghanistan.
Although this was an important statement by Defence Chief Houston, no transcript of his remarks had been posted when I wrote this at 10am this morning but in the absence of any published correction we can presume the version of his remarks on the ABC website is an accurate enough record.
What Air Chief Marshall Houston is reported as saying is:
“So any notion of changing strategy at this point would not be sensible. It’s important that we maintain our resolve; we maintain our determination to give this strategy a chance to deliver the effects that I’m sure it will deliver over the next 12 months.”
If this was just a reference to military strategy — the way the war is being fought — then well and good. He is entitled to his opinion and well qualified to give one. But any wider meaning to “maintain our resolve” ventures into the dangerous area where Australian politics now has different views.
At least one independent and all of the Greens, the parliamentarians this Labor Government needs to govern, don’t think we should be fighting in Afghanistan at all.