John Menadue.

6th Battalion Royal_123_20Nov2010, Michael Dawes, flickr cc

The Coalition and conservative commentators have told us for years that international action by Australia in taking the lead on climate change would only be symbolic and would not really have any effect.

But the Abbott Government has stood this argument on its head by agreeing to join the war in Iraq and Syria. Our participation in this war will be militarily insignificant and symbolic – eight fighter jets, four support aircraft, and 200 Special Forces. Our involvement won’t have any strategic effect. But the government wants to be seen to be ‘doing something’ .While it may pay short-term political dividends, it will not work in the longer term.

With our symbolic act of joining in the war against IS, we are diminishing Australia’s security, despite what Tony Abbott says. It is clear from opinion polling that Australians believe our involvement in Iraq and Syria will increase our vulnerability to attacks at home. The Canadians are experiencing that right now, with social misfits and publicity-seekers trying to make heroes of themselves. We are being bated into the use of ever-increasing force against IS.

When intelligence officials and police are allowed to tell us openly what they believe, they tell us that we will be increasingly vulnerable. The Chilcott Enquiry in the UK was told by the Head of MI5 that UK participation in the Iraq War substantially increased the threat of terrorism in the UK. A former head of the AFP in Australia told us several years ago that we faced the same risk because of our involvement in Iraq.

We have been told many times that our security and economic future are in cooperation with our region. We have endorsed the US ‘pivot to Asia’, but now we are pivoting back again to the Middle East. Two of our key associates in regional cooperation and security are Indonesia and Malaysia. Neither of them – or indeed any other significant country in our region – is committing its military against IS.

Julie Bishop has now announced that we are to deploy 200 Special Forces to advise and assist the Iraqi military. She chooses to disregard the fact that the US spent billions of dollars on training the Iraqi army; however, because of the sectarianism of the Iraqi Government, the Iraqi military collapsed and ran away from ISIS, abandoning its US-supplied equipment. How absurd is it to think that our 200 Special Forces will make any difference. But some people feel good from ‘doing something’.

Operation Slipper
20100920adf8239682_079, Australian Department of Defence, flickr cc

The government is hoping, as Hugh White has said, that this will be a good, cheap and successful war against ISIS. But all the evidence is against that hope:

  • After three weeks of the air war in Afghanistan, former Secretary Rumsfeld reported the US air force had run out of targets. The RAAF may already be finding this out.
  • As Malcolm Fraser has pointed out, without a ground force and an end point, the war against IS will be a farce.
  • Allied forces in Iraq and Syria will only be there for the short term, but IS, in whatever form, will always be there.
  • In Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, together with our allies, we started the escalation with military advisers, then bombing, then limited ground forces, and then large-scale ground forces. It will be the same again as our intervention flounders.
  • Foreign involvement in civil and sectarian wars never works. In the end, ‘success’ depends on the motivation of the participants in the conflict.
  • The countries and groupings in the Middle East are a maelstrom of religion, ideology, and tribal groups. We are taking sides in a constantly changing and complex political, sectarian, and ethnic struggle. Hezbollah, the Kurds, and the Assad regime were believed to be the ‘baddies’. Now it seems they are the ‘goodies’ in opposing IS. Iran may yet turn out to be on the side of the ‘goodies’.
  • Tony Abbott has said that IS is an ‘existential threat to Australia’. Does he seriously think IS represents a threat to our survival? If such a threat exists, why don’t nearby countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, and the Emirates join in a united front to oppose IS? Yet night after night we see Turkish tanks sitting on the hill side outside Kobane and refusing to intervene against IS.
  • We are appalled when we see public executions by IS fighters, but we turn a blind eye when US drones directed from CIA headquarters in Langley launch hellfire missiles and kill scores of citizens at wedding celebrations in Yemen and Afghanistan. We ignore our own ferocious violence.

Conservative governments have led us to our three most recent debacles in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. And they keep repeating their mistakes. Will we ever learn?

Until the leaders and the people of the Middle East address their own domestic and regional problems our intervention will only make things worse.

There is a history of Western intervention in the Middle East – colonisation, supporting authoritarian rulers, military occupation, and exploitation of Middle Eastern land and resources such as oil. The CIA overthrew the democratically elected Mosaddegh government of Iran in 1953 for the benefit of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, now BP.

When will we ever learn?
From what we are feeling
Will we ever learn?
As sorrows deepen.

Courtesy John Menadue at 27 October 2014



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