Australia’s decision to have 190 special Forces task group join another 110 groups and two Chinook helicopters in Afghanistan has met little criticism, mainly because most of us can see the sense of it. Our efforts are in direct defensive and domestic security interests. Assisting the new democratically elected government to fight the Taliban resonates with the moral convictions of most Australians.
The deployment has had bipartisan political support. Indeed, the Labour Party is still reaping some strategic credibility from its earlier criticism of the government for not offering consistent assistance to Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban. That we lacked sufficient forces to do so is quietly understood on both sides, including the lack of military commitment. There has to be a larger involvement of the special forces and the air service, although not much, since our capacities are limited and we cannot send all our troops.
The bipartisan support is much less important regarding our commitment with Iraq, even if the areas of agreement between the Government and the Opposition are far more than what they appear to be. While Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Opposition Leader Kim Beazley snipe at each other, the Coalition and the Labour Party essentially agree on Australia’s strategy to withdraw from Iraq.
Australia’s exit strategy (similar to that of its allies) depends on building up sufficient and effective Iraqi security forces before handing over to them the control of the country. Everyone agrees that the presence of foreign forces is due to the prevailing insurgency.
But this exit strategy bestrides the fine line of withdrawing too early or too late. If too early, Iraq could experience a civil war unconstrained by the international community. If too late, the presence of troops would paralyze political strategies and compromises required to establish a democracy in Iraq. Actually, the term “exit strategy” is used by people who are unable to recognize the solution, even if they fell over it. It is the similar degree of ignorance shown by those who cry for a strict exit deadline.

The Australian (Australia)

Neil James: Iraq not ripe for a deadline″, by Neil James, The Australian, January 12, 2006