The core functions of modern government include maintaining the currency, ensuring but not necessarily providing a basic infrastructure –dams, roads, schools etc, and providing a safety net for those genuinely in need. Law and order must come high on the list, but defending the nation surely is central.

One of the most disturbing pieces I have read for some time argues that since the Vietnam War our  politicians have more often than not failed the nation.

In “Anzac spirit but not battle ready,” (The Australian, 14 August, 2008) Greg Sheridan writes that there is a disturbing hollowness to much of our force.

 “This reflects badly on all governments since the Vietnam War,” he says “but particularly (on) the Hawke and Keating governments, which left our defence forces bedraggled and grossly under-equipped, underfunded and undermanned, while proclaiming, wholly fatuously, that they had produced the defence of Australia.

“Only with the wake-up call of East Timor in 1999, a small, non-combat deployment for which we were profoundly unprepared, did we begin the long journey of repair.”

Greg Sheridan’s piece centres on a speech by recently retired Major General Jim Molan, who he says has  written one of the most important books published about Australia's defence,  “Running the War in Iraq,” published by  Harpercollins Publishers (australia) Pty Ltd.

….national unpreparedness overcome by the spirit of the Anzac…

 

Major General Molan’s book is about his experience in 2004 as chief of operations in the US-led coalition in Iraq where he oversaw a force of 300,000 troops, including 155,000 Americans.

Greg Sheridan points out that it is extremely rare for an Australian general to write a memoir concerning operational matters in depth.

He says the most important part is the critique he mounts of defence policy during the past 40years.

 

"If we think that what characterises the Australian defence experience over the last 100 years is the spirit of the Anzacs, we are wrong,” the General declared  in a recent speech.

“What characterises Australia's defence experience is national unpreparedness overcome by the spirit of the Anzacs.

 

"Our military competence was far worse than even we thought before East Timor, and people may not realise that the military performance bar has been raised by the nature of current conflict, as illustrated in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

"There is a dangerous tendency to overstate our current capability and our current deployments, and to hide our deficiencies.

 

"Anyone who thinks that the policy embodied in previous white papers produced an ability to defend ourselves with our own resources should remember a few things.

“Years after that great self-reliant policy, we could not offer to government forces that could fight in 1991 in the Gulf War.

“We could probably have guarded the prisoners with army units, but not much else.

“We needed outside help for an operation that deployed one-tenth of our manpower to East Timor in 1999.

“ In 2003 we were still incapable of producing fighters that could enter the Missile Exclusion Zone around Baghdad, and bombers that could even participate in conventional war as bombers or reconnaissance aircraft.

“We needed to quickly rebuild our armoured vehicles before we sent them to the south of Iraq in 2005, into the safest province in all of Iraq.

 

…getting the priorities right….

 

"We certainly have a policy for defence of Australia but at no stage of my military career has the policy ever produced a force that could defend Australia and its approaches from any credible threat, as the policy required.

 

"Meanwhile, a real threat to the long-term existence of our nation, our culture, our economy, our beliefs and every civilised achievement since the Enlightenment has appeared and we still do not have a defence force that can offer to government options to make a meaningful or effective contribution at reasonable cost, except for a few hundred members of our special forces."

Its about time our politicians got their priorities right. The 2020 Summit was the sort of indulgence we don’t need.


And if there is a problem about the constitution it’s not grafting some elusive republic onto the system, just as it is not defacing the flag by removing any vestive of our past.


As a nation we should be grateful to General Molan –and Greg Sheridan – for what is a call to arms.

Will it be heard by our politicians, charmed as they are by celebrity,  travel,  the world of the politically correct, and of course, the elusive republic and a republican flag?