Australian Defence Minister and high flyer, David Johnston posing at the controls.
Australians breathed a collective sigh of relief last week when it emerged that not only did our nation have a defence minister, our very own colossus of modesty Senator David Johnstone, but that he had been despatched to Iraq. ‘Tongue-tied Titan’ Senator David Johnston is of course not the same as Chief of Joint Operations, Vice Admiral David Johnston who is the joint chief of staff although, remarkable as it may seem, the senator may be no stranger to a joint.
The proud Australian nation enjoys a richly-deserved reputation for its eagerness to follow-the-leader to any war anywhere, anytime, as much as for its historic involvement in a series of US-led military misadventures, and the odd disaster such as Gallipoli or Crete. Yet, until recently, the Australian people had simply assumed that their Prime Minister had assumed the defence portfolio, as is his wont, without telling anyone, including the hapless, low-profile Johnstone who until now has been flying completely under our radar. This is no longer the case, indeed, it seems ‘Joint-operations’ Johnstone has recently been flying high as a kite.
‘Stone-wall’ Johnstone, who appears by all reports, including ISIS agents’ photographs, phone taps and listening devices to have greatly enjoyed Iraqi hospitality was, it seems not AWOL but simply MIA. The senator is reported to have spent some considerable time ‘inside the tent’ with key Iraqi officials and other unconvicted fraudsters, con-men and petty felons whose topless personal assistants promised him a bit of the action as they plied him with sweetmeats, soothing unguents, emollients, sweet talk and endless Narghile (waterpipes) of Baghdad Bhang.
photograph courtesy of Peshmerga candid portrait, passport and special event photography
Afghan Kush and other connoisseur’s choices were also on offer from the vast array of weed freely available throughout the city, a flourishing commercial centre, rapidly emerging as a major world cannabis supplier thanks to US aid and military investment in the region. Australian consumers can look forward to high quality imports before the end of the year as our troops keep their boots well and truly high off the ground in their high flying, morale boosting joint missions.
The hitherto camera-shy 58 year-old Senator ‘Pockets’ Johnstone, a barrister and solicitor in WA in civilian life, took the fight right up to ISIS by hunkering down well in a lavishly appointed mess tent well out of range of any real fighting while taking part in protracted and arduous smoke-filled negotiations lasting long into the Arabian nights with intervals only called for ingesting vast quantities of refreshing sweet things and finger food.
Johnstone, the defence chief whose personal mission is to put the joint into ‘joint forces’ is reported to have staggered from his tent some days later startling unwary security guards, by his state of undress and incoherent ranting. Gibbering nonsense about morale building, Australia’s mission and the sheer grace, athletic beauty and fighting spirit of the Aussie Digger and the desert camel, Johnstone was holding up his trousers with one hand whilst waving a befouled piece of paper in the other. The paper purported to be a type of agreement which has later become his script as Johnstone debriefed before the Prime Minister, Peta Credlin and the nation on national television.
‘Pockets’ Johnstone’s subsequent comments and his address to the nation have confirmed his commitment to evading the truth rather than merely ‘weeding out’ himself and his opponents. He has made a number of assertions, promises and undertakings that were it not for the weed he will help bring into the country, would have him committed instantly to a spell in psychiatric care. Amongst his claims is the statement that the Iraqi army not only exists but that it can fight. More precisely, ‘pockets’ Johnstone has repeatedly claimed that there are pockets of fighters which are highly trained and highly effective. Well done, Minister. No-one else has spotted anything like this. Nor will they, without a share of your herbal medicine. Just how pockets of fighters will be any good in a situation which needs a whole army as yet to be explained, although a few pockets of men may be nimble enough and sufficiently well-armed to make off with the drug stash before they are busted by ISIS. Pockets of men, further, is probably not the best morale-boosting form of words for a nation that is reported to have 275,000 active frontline personnel with another 500,000 in active reserve. Pockets of men can only draw attention to the vast numbers who have simply deserted or joined the other side or highlight the widespread corruption and the practice of pocketing funds sent for buying arms and other useful materiel.
Johnston, Australia’s current Defence Minister says he is optimistic about how quickly a coalition of forces will be able to undermine the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group in Iraq. He does not detail how this might be done but the script so far is that air strikes will do the trick. This does not take into account such experiences to the contrary as VietNam, where a determined Viet Cong made steady advances despite massive air strikes. Nor does Johnston admit any concern with regard to collateral damage, a term which the United States gave to the world when its air strikes in Vietnam killed thousands of innocent civilians, including women and children. Above all, he fails to explain the ways in which pilots will be able to discern targeted enemy combatants who will be hidden or embedded amongst civilians in cities.
There are many other elements of the Defence Minister’s briefing that are wacky if not outrageous but perhaps none so much as his confident prediction of victory which he cautions may be months rather than years. Even the expert spinner fellow Sand Groper West Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is more cautious about the prospects of successfully defeating ISIS through military intervention. And most expert commentators warn that the engagement could last years and faces only a slender prospect of success – not that we have managed to draw up a battle plan or decide what success would look like.
Most baffling of all his pronouncements was Johnston’s confident assertion that our Australian troops would boost the morale of Iraqi soldiers who until now have yet to win a single battle and who have distinguished themselves only by their capacity for corruption and their readiness to run away from battles. Johnston’s major blind spot here is that he is wilfully evading the truth that the Iraqi armed forces, expensively trained at great expense by the US with some assistance from the West, have no commitment to fight to the death for a government which is alien, effectively a dysfunctional, unrepresentative, US puppet government. Even if, somehow, with the ingestion of certain ‘joint force’ substances, perhaps, Iraqis could be influenced to stay and fight, the elephant in the room is the corpse of the Iraq government which itself has failed, and in the process lost control over vasts parts of its territory to ISIS.
Putting his head in the sand is unlikely to help us or David Johnston’s career. Nor is it wise for him to collude in the delusion that a military adventure will boost his party’s electoral fortunes. He needs to get real and level with the nation before someone else does it for him: Iraq War III is about protecting multinational oil companies and their interests and about maintaining strategic bases in the area for the United States. We are in it because our Prime Minister rushed to offer his country’s support without considering the matter closely or deeply or responsibly sharing the decision with the people. And if, at the onset, our Defence Minister is so far off the ball, then heaven help us when basic truths about Iraq and its lack of real fighting capacity emerge, as they must, in the heat of combat. We will have rushed to join an unwinnable, protracted war for no good reasons but to curry favour with a United States which does not have the means to pay for its own involvement let alone look after its allies or manage the vast costs of rebuilding and reconstructing Iraq. Abbott and Johnston’s flag-waving is an appeal to patriotism and national sentiment but Australia’s true colours in this field are self-deception, self-interest and irrationality, the abandonment of rational, responsible decision-making is what causes us to join in the real battle in Iraq.