It is a symbol of how self-centred we are that our repetitive COVID news still dominates attention while crimes we have been complicit in conspire to sentence some 30 million people to the Dark Ages.
And as a footnote to that, it is symbolic that the Morrison government is late, too late, to shoulder basic responsibilities for our Afghan allies as the benighted country falls to the Taliban.
Dissemble and delay, pray the crisis goes away.
Like bushfire preparedness, like pandemic shortcomings, like climate change policy, the Prime Minister was told we had people who needed to be rescued long before yesterday.
Maybe it was just the usual gross incompetence – or maybe the government didn’t really want to import any more Afghans than it absolutely had to.
When the former ADF chief, Admiral Chris Barrie, tells you you’ve blown it, the uniforms and flags you surround yourself with count for nought.
Right now, the Morrison government might be grateful for the COVID distraction.
Yet for all the moral obligation we should feel for Afghans who were prepared to work with our military only to be abandoned to likely death, that is not our biggest crime.
Neither is the pain even closer to home and therefore sharper – the Australians sent by politicians of both stripe into a futile conflict to be killed and maimed, to kill and maim.
A single Tweet by a British soldier summarised that trauma.
However close that pain, it is a conceit to prioritise the thousands of Western dead in Afghanistan over perhaps as many as two million Afghans killed and about to be killed in 42 years of meddling, never mind millions more made refugees.
As accomplices before, during and after the fact, Australian politicians are guilty of crimes with greater impact in Afghanistan than those alleged against individual Australian soldiers there.
A glance over American media, mirrored here, gleans the repeated falsehood that the US and its allies have just lost their longest war – two decades of fighting since the 2001 invasion.
The US and the UK have been conducting war in Afghanistan since 1979, initially to curry favour with Pakistan, then to damage the Soviet Union.
Covert or overt doesn’t matter. You pour billions of dollars worth of arms and training into a conflict, you’re conducting war. You load the missile, you point the missile, you’re as good as firing the missile.
That you are using other people as proxies doesn’t lessen the responsibility for the mess created beneath the lie of being interested in Afghans’ “freedom”.
Operation Cyclone, started by President Carter in 1979 before the Soviet invasion and subsequently ramped up, assisted by Margaret Thatcher’s Britain along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, sowed the seeds that flowered into the Taliban and exported Islamic terrorism.
The US was still funding the Mujahideen three years after the Soviet Union withdrew.
Talleyrand’s observation of the Bourbons, “they have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing”, applies.
Those who never learn from history are doomed to repeat it – Saigon 1975, Kabul 2021.
And thus the Taliban and Al Qaeda will celebrate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 back in Kabul’s presidential palace.
Cynically playing “the great game” then abandoning Afghanistan to the mayhem and destruction created cannot be absolved.
And that is what Australia has willingly played along with as an American client state, leaping at the opportunity to go to war with the USA in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some will claim the dead and damaged Australians are the premium we pay for our American military insurance policy.
Alternatively, it is the price and stain of not having the courage to have an independent foreign policy.
The lesson of history is that acting without principles ends up coming back to bite you.
Bite us, but gobble up the Afghan people whole, swallow them into a medieval existence, reduce women to chattels, deny girls education, destroy freedom, behead, amputate, dictate.
The Taliban’s extreme perversion of Islam finds support in Saudi Arabia – our good friends and allies, the feudal regime we are delighted to sell arms to, doing our little bit for the Iran/Saudi, Shia/Sunni proxy war in Yemen.
We pretend Washington’s Great Power excesses don’t exist, excuse and ignore its crimes this century, abandon Julian Assange for helping expose some of them, we act without integrity.
We’re accessories to the Afghanistan disaster, our governments betraying our troops in the process, betraying us all.