Truth was always going to be the first casualty of office for the Abbott government. During the election campaign voters were showered with lies, hollow promises, empty slogans and just plain hokum. Lies about no surprises. Lies about balancing the budget without cutting spending. Lies about a fair budget. Lies about education funding. Lies and secrecy about asylum seekers. About superannuation.
The government’s lies reflect an apparent arrogance and superiority which is costing it dearly. At worst it suggests contempt for the intelligence of the average voter. At best voters feel they are taken for fools. Taken for a ride. Embedded with its advisors in a culture of spin, where a convenient version of events is concocted hourly for public consumption, the government has apparently overlooked a prime prerequisite for democracy: trust. Without trust there can be no true partnership, no social or political compact.
Or else, seduced by a rampant aggressive narcissism, as practised by its top dogs, such as Scott Morrison, it cynically believes it can bulldoze its way through the trust barrier, too.
Sally McManus itemises the coalition’s 282 broken promises. It may be a record for a government in its first year of office. Little wonder then, that opinion polls show a record low in popularity for Abbott’s adults in charge for their first year. And a mounting anger and frustration with a government that appears to have no clear agenda beyond the maintenance of power.
That low opinion is likely to decline even further given the betrayal of trust involved in Abbott and Bishop’s pronouncements about Iraq. Ironically, the short military adventure which may, to his advisors, have seemed guaranteed to boost Abbott’s flagging personal popularity could ultimately cost him and his government dearly. Sadly, it will also put at risk the lives of innocent men and women.
Yet Iraq also presents Abbott with an opportunity to stop the rot. Tell it like it is. Build on the bit of himself that has attracted positive attention. Forthright is how they see him overseas, according to some elements of the press. Outspoken. Direct. Not a truth twisting weasel who is economical with the truth and who backs away from commitments. Not an arch manipulator with a pathological desire to tell you what you want to hear. Or what the focus groups have scripted. Abandon pretext and pretence just this once. Step up to the plate. Behave like an adult in charge.
Iraq offers the Prime Minister a chance to begin to rebuild his popularity. It will be a long journey. But it begins with a simple step. All he has to do here is step up and tell the truth. Can the humanitarian mission crap. Crap is a word he’s already broken in with regard to climate change. It’s catchy. But it’s applicable this time.
Do your duty, Mr Abbott. Make the captain’s choice. Tell Team Australia it’s all about oil. IS controls most of Syria’s oil and gas production. Next step will see it in control of Iraq’s. It already controls half the country. Tell voters you have decided we need to follow our leader, the United States. Follow the Great Satan as its many enemies in the region call it, into a complex and dangerous theatre of war. Tell them we are joining a Kurdish counter revolution, a conflict where we don’t belong to interfere in the lives of people who mostly don’t want us there. And who will kill to make the point. Locals will resent our alien presence and will already suspect our pretence of liberation as a cover for our commitment to defending the interests of western capitalism.
Or you can call the whole thing off. Or hold your high horse, Napoleon Cockatoo. Reflect awhile. Consult. You pay for good advice. Man up and listen to it. It will not be flattering. But it will be real. And you need to get real. You are making a big mistake. You don’t need another doomed, inglorious and dangerous intervention in the shifting sands of unwinnable wars abroad at a time when domestic affairs warrant your full and undivided attention. You need to pull things together. Call your ministers into line. Let’s be frank. You don’t even have a coherent budget strategy. And your treasurer is not one you can safely leave alone to get the job done.
Come clean about Iraq, Mr Abbott. Its government has persecuted Sunnis for the past eleven years. It has shown proficiency only in two areas: venality and alienating and radicalising the Sunni majority in the region. It has provided fertile ground for IS recruiting. And another western intervention will be just the drawcard needed to persuade the waverers into joining up. Why give IS what they want?
Stop the spin about saving Iraq. There’s not much to save. The Iraqi government is in a state of delusion or denial. They have just lost half their country to IS. Yet they go about their daily political affairs as if none of this was happening. They are crippled by incompetence and beset by corruption. Their army is nimble in retreat.
Iraq’s defence capability is symbolised by the single helicopter that buzzed ineffectually over its troops as they briefly engaged IS troops in Tikrit on 15 July. There were supposed to be many, many more.
“I wonder what on earth happened to the 140 helicopters the government has bought over the last few years,” asked a former Iraqi minister. It’s highly likely that it was stolen by one of the most corrupt states in the world where the motivation for public office is to secure as many kickbacks as possible. Iraqi soldiers who headed to the Tikrit front rushed home after they discovered that the rations were pitiful, they had to supply their own weapons and buy their ammunition.
Iraqi security forces are an oxymoron, a disturbing contradiction in terms. Beyond help. We are rushing to the aid of a hopelessly corrupt state’s hopelessly dysfunctional armed forces, forces which have not won a single counter attack against IS. Not only is Iraqi security it a liability in combat, it is a gift to its enemy. It’s real function is to supply munitions and materiel to the other side. It acts as a virtual armoury, a cornucopia of easily captured modern weapons for IS to further strengthen its military capacity.
Now there has been talk of supplying the Kurds with a weapons drop. You tell us that our intervention is to save the Kurds and support the Iraqi government. The two aims are contradictory. Have you overlooked the bitter enmity between Iraq and Kurds? Have you not listened to your advisors who would have told you that the Kurds have been the scapegoat for the failure of Iraqi security forces?
Isis is not a bunch of Bedouin bovver boys who have galloped out of a David Lean desert set to raid and return to base leaving life to go on much as it did. Nor are they about to be frightened off by the sight of uniformed westerners in uniform. Or by modern weaponry. Quite the reverse. Ruthlessly efficient, ISIS has modern weapons already and it knows how to use them. It is an organised and capably administered military organisation. It controls an area larger than Great Britain containing around 6 million people. It is the superior force in the Syrian opposition. And it appears to be consolidating power over an expanding area. There is little sign of successful local checks on its rise. Syrian and Iraqi opposition is in disarray. And it would relish the chance to have infidel western adversaries to add legitimacy to its regime of brutal terror.
Trivialising ISIS is no solution. It is no lightweight fly by night insurgency as it is typically constructed in the shortened attention span of our media. It is financed by its control of oil wells and by its control of key roads. It has powerful outside regional backers keen to foster any anti-Shia forces. It has local roots and it has had Saudi and Qatari outside financial backing. Monstrous, yes but a monster others have helped to create. Saudis have helped many Sunni movements in Iraq and this support has been crucial in boosting ISIS recruiting of Iraqis.
TV grabs of public executions are sickening and are guaranteed to get any viewer to want their government to do everything it can to stop them. But it has to be the right thing. Not some half-baked military intervention masked in moral posturing in a desperate attempt to secure oil supplies. If we simply supply arms in a divided front there is every chance that those arms will be captured and used by ISIS. Or other local terrorists such as PKK. Time for mature and deep consideration, not a knee jerk reaction. Less demonising and more dispassionate, rational analysis. More thinking and less emotive hyperbole.
The place to start is to tell it like it is. The way to be a statesman begins with acknowledging reality. Iraq’s Shia leaders were boosted by US intervention against Saddam Hussein. Their day is over. Their power has been squandered in corruption and ineptitude and by the events of 2011 in Syria when Sunnis gained the ascendancy and upset the sectarian balance of power in Iraq.
The war on terror failed. The result of western intervention in 2003 and its policy towards Syria has been to pave the way for a Jihadist movement vastly more powerful than Al Qaida which spans Syria and Northern Iraq. In Patrick Cockburn’s words, a new and terrifying state has been born.