Month: October 2014

Putin calls Abbott

putin-badass

PUTIN: Is that you, Anton? Listen to me, Anton Antonovich, you piss-weak coward. You cloth-eared, rat-faced little arse-wipe.
ABBOTT: I am busy, Vladimir. This is not a good time for me.
PUTIN: Busy? Don’t shit me. Don’t make me laugh. Making me laugh is bad for you, believe me. Bad for other people seeing me laughing. Hearing me laughing.
ABBOTT: Look, Putin, if you have just called me just to indulge your sick sense of humour, you can think again. The joke is on you, pal. You are out on your own like a country dunny. You are on the nose. You have no friends. No one likes you. No one respects you, pal. No-one wants to answer your calls. You are as lonely as a bastard on father’s day.
PUTIN: Projecting your own problems, Anton? You would not dare abuse Putin. Abusing Putin not smart move. Many in Russia have found this out. Found out hard way. But, then, perhaps you are not smart man. Maybe you have trouble getting all four paws on the mouse. Of course, you know all about unpopular, Mr negative approval rating. You and your government are creating an Australian record for being on the nose. You popular as polly waffle in public pool. If you become funeral director, people stop dying.
ABBOTT: Jesus wept! So you’re a smartarse, too now are you? Are you looking for a knuckle sandwich?
PUTIN: Laughing for me is when I am enjoying killing only. When I am hurting another creature only. Always laughing when killing rats on Stalingrad apartment landing as young boy. Killing rats with bare hands. I crush skulls. Love to see them twitch and scream. And the blood. Makes me feel good to feel my own power over life and death. No-one pushes me around, knuckle-head.
ABBOTT: You sick bastard. It’s true what they say about you. You are a psychopath. You need psychiatric care. Committal to a psychiatric ward. For ever. No discharge. Throw away the key. Can you ring me back later. Like never again? Or when you want to tell me who downed MH17? Or is that why you have rung me?
PUTIN: No. Putin never rings back. You can’t put me off, Antonovich. MH17 is Ukraine business. Red herring. Not even side issue. As we say in Russian: elder-berry is in the kitchen-garden, and the uncle is in Kiev.
But nobody pushes Putin aside. Pushes Putin around. Many have tried. Sadly they are no longer with us, Anton. If they are not dead, they are in exile. Fearing death.
ABBOTT: You eliminate your rivals. Your opponents are either killed, disappear or emigrate in a hurry. You then get your hands on their property. You have risen to power by every foul means in the book. You are a real piece of work.
PUTIN: Thank, you. Anton. Takes one to know one. Let me tell you Russian proverb: man who steals 3 kopecks is hung as thief, but man who steals 50 kopecks is hero. Disappearing? Of course, every barber knows in politics there is danger. In life there is death.

ABBOTT: Look, Putin. No time for folklore, right now.
PUTIN: You make time for Putin. For Putin, always make time. Especially if planning to have next birthday. Planning future. Staying well. Insurance policy. No nasty accidents. No bad happenings to your family. Of course. I have advice. Advice I make free for you, now, Anton. Road test bicycle before every polly pedal. Before setting out on weekly ride. Lycra caucus, I am reading, it is called. Nothing is certain, my friend. Fate is written with pitchfork on flowing water.
ABBOTT: You threatening me, Putin?
PUTIN: No. Not threat. Not threatening. Warning. Due notice. Caution words. For years Russia makes for KGB special instructions. Special brief to exterminate enemies. Eliminate individuals who make enemies of Russian state. Russia creates special terrorist units for these special operations. Best in world. Ask your ASIO. They should know. Even your ASIO Keystone Cops. Clowns. Everybody knows Sheraton hotel bungle. Makes me laugh. Stupid stuffing up. Now I am reading yesterday ASIO is bugging itself. Makes me laugh. Whole world laughing.
ABBOTT: Your visa will be cancelled if you have terrorist connections. My government has just improved security.
PUTIN: You full of piss and wind, Abbott. All froth and no beer. All mouth and no trousers. Political-girly man who sits down to wee. You love to make the threats, yourself. Can only make threats. You making me laugh more. Is like hunting. Hunting makes me laugh, also. Also hunting and killing. Always. Makes much laughing matters for me. Bringing tears to my eyes, I laugh so much.
Maybe bear. Maybe smaller prey. Maybe wretched little rodent like you, Mr Rabbit. With bare hands I break neck of rabbit by twisting. Also pain making. Suffering. When I make enemy to be in pain. I laugh also. Much laughing. When hearing enemy scream for mercy.
ABBOTT: You watch your language. We have secret agents with vastly increased powers. Our own secret agents. I have seen to this personally. Everything you say is recorded and reviewed by our anti-terror people.
PUTIN: Please not interrupt, Anton, I make serious point. Death or pain making very funny to me always. And now you and your pain. Own political suicide. At you, I am now laughing, Mr Rabbit. Very much enjoying laughing. Whole world is laughing at you now. Very funny when you make yourself total joke, Anton. Complete cock-head. Laughing stock of diplomatic world. Kill all hope of your own re-election with one stupid comment. Destroy your own political career. About me is stupid comment. Very expensive stupid comment. Your minders stupid? Stupid? Doing nothing? Ah … but, then is Russian saying you get the minders you deserve in politics, Anton.
ABBOTT: Look, Putin, I am busy. Too busy to waste time talking to you …you never listen to a word I say. Anyone says. You listen only to your ego. Your own evil monster ego. Your twisted sadistic heart of mindless cruelty. Your heart of pure evil. Look, tell you what. Hang up and find me the criminals responsible for MH17.
PUTIN: Ego? Evil? Thank you. With fear comes respect, Anton. Only with fear. I am telling you this and only this Abbott: no-one pushes Putin around. No. Not expecting you talk… just shut up and listen. Listen! If you have courage. Guts to stand up and blow off is easy; real guts is what it takes to sit down and listen. I have things you need to hear, gutless wonder. Need to hear. Believe me. Hear from me. Trust me. Before you hear them from someone who really doesn’t like you. Or your family hears from someone unfriendly as me. Or maybe just drop out of sky one day. Or when drinking cup of tea, just drop dead. Pfft! Gone.
ABBOTT: Like Alexander Litvinenko? Litvinenko wrote two books, Blowing up Russia: Terror from within and Lubyanka Criminal Group, where he accused your Russian secret services of staging Russian apartment bombingsand other terrorism acts to bring you to power. I know. Peta read them both. Briefed me.
PUTIN: Litvinenko was deluded. Paranoid. I fired Litvinenko. Personally. Disbanded whole unit …FSB officers holding press conferences? Not on my watch! Not job for FSB. Not to air dirty laundry, either. Not make internal scandals public. Litvinenko was deluded. Paranoid. Thought himself safe in London. No-one safe from Russian agents of justice, Anton. No-one!
ABBOTT: You trying to tell me something?
PUTIN: Listen to me, Anton. Easy for you make threats when you so far away. Shirtfront me. Whatever that is meaning. Illegal in your football, I understand. Easy for you accuse me of murder. Trot out US lies about Ukraine, you craven bootlicking lickspittle of American capitalists. You have no self-respect. No independence. Disgusting little sock puppet. Abbott.
Listen to me now you slavering suck-hole. Just for one time make effort. Everyone is entitled to be stupid but you abuse the privilege.
ABBOTT: Spare the insults, Putin. Read those in Pravda. Cut to the chase. Your point is?
PUTIN: Anton, none of these things would you say to my face. You little wiener, you little prick, you vainglorious cockalorum. You need to remember no-one pushes Putin around. No one.
I am Putin. Putin. Most powerful man in world. Russia number five economy in whole world. After Ukraine maybe number four. Australia may be thirteenth if lucky.
ABBOTT: You are an amoral, unprincipled, opportunist, lying, thieving, murdering bastard.
PUTIN: You are losing plot, Anton. Foaming from mouth. My record is spotless. I am Putin. Strong man. Russian bear. Man of principle. Russia has strong principles.
ABBOTT: Principles? You mean you tap power of ignorance, prejudice and superstition.
PUTIN: Greed and bullying makes world go round. In Russia just like in Australia.
ABBOTT: My government?
PUTIN: In your dreams! You are merely caretaker. Current incumbent puppet of capitalist interests. You can do as you like as long as you let them pull your strings. Walk all over you. PFFT! Throw out when they are through with you.
ABBOTT: Through with me?
PUTIN: When you are bad for business. When you get in the way of greatest profit for your oligarchy. When you make country into international laughter stock!
ABBOTT: Hypocrite! You are an oligarch, yourself.
PUTIN: Thank you for compliment. Is international best practice in capitalist business management. Putin richest man in Russia as result of clever oil investment.
ABBOTT: You mean you put your biggest oil oligarch in jail and then stole his billions. Putin, I need to go. I have a G20 briefing.
PUTIN: Of course you do.
ABBOTT: What do you mean by that?
PUTIN: You have to check all strings for puppet masters.
ABBOTT: You are still attending?
PUTIN: Of course. You have no power to stop me. G20 is run by consensus. A clown like you is just there to make sure the catering is up to scratch and to twitch when the US pulls your strings. Brown-nose. Lick arse.
ABBOTT: You need a security detail…
PUTIN: Of course. But I will bring my own. Not meaning to offend but your keystone cops don’t cut it. Except maybe as human shields. Crash test dummies. Speed humps. I will see you in Brisbane next month.
ABBOTT: Assuming you are still President.
PUTIN: Assuming your good health continues. And no nasty accidents or bad luck. Assuming you are still Australian Prime Minister, Anton. I am Russian President for life.

Enlightened and humane, Italian solution to asylum seekers puts Australia’s to shame.

“When my friends and family ask me, Why are these people coming to Italy? I respond, our ancestors also escaped when there was war. There went looking for their fortunes in America, Australia, Switzerland and other places. Where there is no war it gives you hope of a better future.” – SERGEANT MAJOR FRANCESCO CUONZO, Italian Marines

The Italian Solution, screened on ABC’s Four Corners last night, documented Italy’s humane, compassionate and enlightened approach to migranti, those men, women and children, who desperately set out to sea from Lybia in dangerously overcrowded and flimsy vessels, including rafts, to seek refuge from conflict and misfortune, including war, persecution and economic adversity. They travel to the island of Lampedusa, approximately half-way to Italy and make contact with the Italian marines by satellite phone from the tiny island. It is a risky business. Three thousand migranti have drowned in the attempt this year alone. Few can swim and there is always the danger that panic will cause disaster in overcrowded, unseaworthy craft.
The documentary starred Italian naval personnel so clearly enjoying their mission: rising to the challenge of difficult rescues each evidently, effortlessly heeding the voice of the heart, the voice of compassion and faith, that tells each one of us that it is right to reach out to strangers in need; that we have a duty and a human need to reach out to others in distress.
The Italian Solution told more than the story of saving lives at sea, it dramatically and powerfully reaffirmed our duty to each and every other human being in need. At the same time it illustrated what can and what should be done by any self-respecting, nation when challenged to provide a solution to the rapidly growing numbers of people who are forced to risk everything in fleeing for their lives and those who are prepared to risk everything to make new lives in another country. At no time at all did we encounter anyone attempting to blame the victim or to make invidious distinctions between types of migranti. Nowhere was heard the despicable term illegal or economic migrants, Australia’s favourite pejorative term for asylum seekers. Nor do Italians use the terms ‘asylum seekers’, ‘refugees’ either, they simply call them the migranti.
Nowhere was there an air of secrecy or that tight-lipped determination to conceal the facts which characterises Scott Morrison, Australia’s minister and his department. Those involved were open and keen to show and share every detail of their controversial strategy.
We have the duty in these cases when we are at sea to intervene to save human life. If we are not at sea then we can’t see what happens, we can close our eyes, turn off the lights and in that way, there’s no need to “turn back” the boats because they will die. We need to remember that International Rights exist. There are international laws that our countries have ratified. – VICE ADMIRAL FILIPPO FOFFI, Commander in Chief Italian navy.
The documentary made you want to migrate to Italy yourself, so refreshing is the contrast with Australia’s punitive attitudes and strategies to those forced to seek asylum and so eloquent was the humanity expressed in Mare Nostrum the Italian government’s search and rescue strategy, underpinned as it is even in its title, (our sea) by a sense of obligation and responsibility to all humanity. Italy, despite being a nation in recession itself, can, nevertheless, respond to the plight of the dispossessed first and foremost and sideline any carping in domestic politics or critics in other countries. It shows courage and it shows leadership. The Italian government is prepared to make waves by actively, strenuously, pursuing a generous, non-judgemental strategy of acceptance and support and deal later with any criticism from other European neighbours. Non Importe. (It doesn’t matter.) It is to be applauded for daring to make a principled stand; admired for setting a shining example to other nations.
By contrast, the elephant in the room, Australia’s own benighted asylum seeker policy, appears more than shabby and morally threadbare. Both Australia’s “Sovereign Borders” modus operandi and the fundamental nature of its policy are the antithesis of the Italian. Instead of welcoming and accommodating, we invest huge sums in repelling, returning or detaining those who have a right to expect our help if not our sympathy and understanding. Indeed, viewed against Mare Nostrum Australia’s “turn back the boats” seems primitively mean-spirited, divisive and shamefully indifferent to suffering as it denies its duty to humanity and its own natural compassion in policy and practices crafted by politicians seeking votes by pandering to the lowest common denominator, of widespread popular domestic prejudices fanned by shock-jocks and others with a vested interest in fear-mongering and scapegoating. By contrast The Italian Solution indicts Australia for its cruelty, its inhumanity, studied indifference and the grotesquely elaborate self-delusion of our official justification. Scott Morrison should take a close look at this programme. Then take a close look at himself.

Of course, the Italian solution is controversial. It is expensive, costing $13 million per month. But more expensive, in the long run is the cost of apathy, indifference or hostility. Of course it makes Italy vulnerable to accusations that it is swelling migration numbers irresponsibly adding to those who move from Italy into Germany and other more prosperous countries. There are critics who claim that the policy encourages people to migrate illegally but to this the government points out that the situation in Syria and in other Middle Eastern states has become increasingly more dangerous or hostile and that Italy would prefer to respond to suffering than count numbers. More than admirable is the courage, the initiative and enterprise embodied in the Italian solution as a vision which seeks first to do good. It is inspiring in an age of increasingly narrowing self-regard to see a nation which is prepared to reach out to help others in distress and not to count the cost. That account can be properly wait for later if the moral balance is right.

Abbott’s shirt front stunt affronts on all fronts.

 “I’m going to shirt-front Mr Putin,” “You bet you are, you bet I am.

“I am going to be saying to Mr Putin Australians were murdered.”

Tony Abbott at press conference in North Queensland

The Australian Prime Minister raised eyebrows yesterday when he vowed to ‘shirt-front’ Russian President Vladimir Putin when he attends the G20 conference to be held in Brisbane. Abbott’s promise to deal tough with Putin comes in the context of criticism of his decision not to disinvite Putin in the wake of the downing of MH17 by pro-Russian troops equipped with Russian arms and Putin’s subsequent lack of co-operation in Australia and Holland’s attempts to retrieve bodies from the wreckage of the downed airliner. Abbott’s macho tough-talking was matched by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s public questioning of Putin who was even less diplomatic in suggesting that Putin ought to be too ashamed to attend.

Some of the eyebrows raised belonged to Aussie journalists who later reported that they did not understand the phrase at first and had to look it up. The media consensus is that the phrase is an Australian football term for a type of full-frontal body tackle, a head-on charge aimed at bumping an opponent to the ground although it may be contended that the term has wider currency denoting a ‘please explain’ confrontation amongst other English-speaking peoples. What is certain, however, is that the words would have raised eyebrows in the Kremlin where translators would have wasted only a few nanoseconds in confirming with the Russian President that he had been insulted by his prospective G20 host who was vowing to hold him to account over the downing of MH17.

The Russians did not waste time in getting into the bear-pit with Abbott, responding via the state-owned Pravda, that their leader wash his hands. In an opinion piece Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey writes

I would advise Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to wash his hands carefully and sterilize them after shaking the paw offered to him by Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the forthcoming G20 Summit in Brisbane. It is not about Ebola Virus Disease, it is about the disease called insolence and Australia’s colonial chip on its shoulder.

Thank God no Australian can be Head of State, that privilege belongs to Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, because judging by the arrogance displayed recently by its Prime Minister Tony Abbott, it appears the political class doesn’t have what it takes. … Tony Abbott displays a degree of insolence, arrogance and incompetence which mirrors the intrusiveness, belligerence and chauvinism inherent in other members of the Anglo Saxon alliance in NATO. You know, that global terrorist organization whose budget is a staggering one point two trillion USD a year, each and every year.

When Australia isn’t busy crawling around the legs of its colonial master, England or trying to crawl up the anatomy of London’s master, Washington, participating in their wars to pick up a few crumbs thrown Canberra’s way, its politicians are busy kowtowing to Europe and the USA making stupid and unfounded remarks about Russia.

Was it a stupid and unfounded remark? Unless his minders have gone on holiday it is not impossible that Abbott has been given a licence to offend Putin on behalf of Australia’s more powerful friends, a role Abbott would happily perform and capably morphing into mighty mouse, an eagerly athletic antipodean mouse that stands up on its hind legs and roars. Whilst the role of the political sock-puppet is not unknown in history, it is more likely, however, that Abbott simply improvised. Given his earlier tough talk towards Russia over the downing of MH17 ten weeks ago, it would seem, on the face of it, that Abbott was reassuring Australian voters that he was not weakening Australia’s position by now agreeing to Russia’s participation in the G20 and that he would in fact be demanding answers. Whatever the true motivation, the gaffe was not helpful either to Australia’s diplomatic responsibility in hosting the G20 or in terms of Abbott’s increasingly compromised capacity to successfully discharge his elected responsibility as Prime Minister of Australia.

The macho challenge is unlikely to help Abbott’s proposed dialogue with Putin. Cynics or perhaps realists would say this does not matter because there was never the faintest prospect of any genuine dialogue with Putin let alone any acceptance of responsibility for the downing MH17 or the annexation of Ukraine. In this sense Abbott had nothing to lose by inflaming relations with intemperate language.

Yet Abbott has everything to lose in terms of his perceived capacity to observe diplomatic protocols and in the example he sets on the world stage. Naturally, there are many tempting diversions and distractions in his path to success in international affairs. It may be that his ego has been over-nourished by his close relationship with Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph and his regular on-air massages with Alan Jones on 2GB, both of whom have invested some time in promoting the Australian leader as a blunt-spoken antipodean hero who in his rough-hewn Australian way can cut through red tape dispense with indirection and other formalities and call a spade a spade. If this is the case, Abbott’s minders need to wean him off such boosters before he has done too much damage to his own and Australia’s cause. As it stands, Russia has been quick to quash any prospect of a bilateral meeting with Australia in Brisbane. Abbott’s much-vaunted opportunity for dialogue, the rationale for inviting Putin in the first place, has evaporated along with his own credibility.

Abbott’s language is a big step down at a time when what is needed is just the opposite. His shirt front challenge evokes the primitive physicality of the Australian true-blue bloke, squaring off against his adversary and settling a difference of opinion with his fists. Apart from the ludicrous image it conjures of a mismatch between the keen amateur and the hardened professional slugger, Abbott’s promise to square off against Putin is an empty gesture. It is a faint reassurance to the nation. His comical but wrong-headed vow to put pressure on the Russian President, to confront him as the only way of holding him to account is a patently silly and potentially risky gambit against a ruthlessly powerful adversary with nothing to lose in continuing on his chosen path of denial and disavowal when all the evidence points to an increasingly compelling case for indictment. In terms of his electoral appeal, it may be that Abbott’s instincts sense a primitive point of resonance with the average voter over his Paul Hogan type heroics but wiser heads would question whether he really needs another caricature at this moment in his career. Nor does it help the cause of international relations when any leader descends to this type of behaviour. The shirt front stunt is an affront on all fronts.

To invite Putin to Brisbane is to invite disaster for all.

The Australian government has recently defended its controversial decision to allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend the G20 leaders’ meeting to be held in Brisbane. The Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s main defence that inviting Putin would subject him to a ‘full and frank discussion’ is both highly implausible and in clear contradiction to Australia’s previously adversarial stance towards the Russian Prime Minister. As Opposition leader Bill Shorten put it the government had “gone from talking tough to trying to pretend Putin coming here isn’t an issue Australians are concerned about”.

There was nothing accommodating about the Australian Prime Minister’s treatment of Putin over the MH17 disaster on 7 August this year. Mr Abbott, accused Russia of preparing to invade Ukraine. Telling him he “has been a bully”, Abbott called on Putin to hold back his forces from crossing the border into Ukraine or risk becoming an international outcast.

“Right at this moment, Russian forces are massing on the border with Ukraine,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney, “If there is any movement by his forces across the border, it won’t be a humanitarian mission, it will be an invasion. It will be an invasion.”

Ten weeks ago, clearly, Abbott was disputing Putin’s intentions in Ukraine and threatening to review Russia’s invitation to the G20. Now comes a complete back-down. Instead of using its status as host and its seat on the UN Security Council to prevail upon other G20 members to back Australia in declaring Putin unwelcome, the Abbott government appears to have become weak-kneed. Yet there is ample precedent. Australia could have followed the G7 example from June when the planned G8 Sochi meeting, to be hosted by Russia, was cancelled with G7 leaders holding their own meeting without Putin. They underscored the point by symbolically choosing to meet in Brussels, the headquarters of NATO and the EU instead.

Why the change of heart? So far the explanations are neither convincing nor adequate. The Australian public and the international community have been fobbed off with lame excuses about consensus, the need for open discussion and the MH17 red-herring. Joe Hockey, yesterday pleaded that Australia was powerless to disinvite:

“The G20 is an international gathering that operates by consensus – it’s not Australia’s right to say yes or no to individual members of the G20. I think it will be pretty crystal clear that we think that Russia needs to fully cooperate in the investigation into the MH17 atrocity.
I think it’s the world’s expectation on Russia that there will be full cooperation with the investigation and there will be a willingness to hand over to police for trial anyone who Russia might have access to who turns out to have played a part in the downing of that aircraft.”

The downing of MH17 and its implications must not be overplayed as dominant and problematic as it may be. Whilst Russia’s involvement in this outrage alone should merit it exclusion from the meeting, that exclusion must rest also on the many other ways in which Putin has demonstrated that his conduct violates all reasonable expectations of human behaviour let alone the actions of a reputable statesman let alone any type of international citizen. Putin’s Russia is a country where political rivals and vocal critics are often killed, and at least sometimes the order comes directly from the president’s office.
Gessen, Masha (2012-03-01). The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladmir Putin (p. 226). Granta Books. Kindle Edition.

Nor should ‘our right to say no’ to the G20 be underplayed. It may not be Australia’s right to hijack G20 consensus protocols but it is most definitely Australia’s responsibility to take a stand and to take the initiative in lobbying to change that consensus. Otherwise, especially in the light of Abbott’s earlier condemnation of Putin, Australia loses credibility and sacrifices its capacity to be a useful world citizen as far as it is able. Doubtless that capacity has already been significantly compromised by the Abbott government’s stance on a range of critical issues including global warming, climate change, the sale of brown coal, carbon trading, renewable energy, asylum seeker detention and its unquestioned allegiance to US foreign policy in Iraq. An Australian stand against Putin, might begin to stem if it cannot staunch international critics of our credentials as global citizens with a commitment to a sustainable future.

Ironically, in inviting Putin, Abbott risks undermining his own stance on terror. Refusing the Russian leader is clearly mandated by our newly revamped, stronger anti-terror stance. Whilst some may quibble at the label terrorist, Putin is no stranger to rule by terror, it is intrinsic to his absolutism and his determination to eliminate of all forms of domestic opposition from liquidating opponents to control over media. It is also plays an integral part in his aggressive foreign policy of annexing neighbouring states. It is seen in his support of the genocidal strategies of Syria’s Assad.

Clearly Putin’s behaviour at home and abroad, disbars him from Brisbane’s G20 event. It is, therefore, vital that Australia summons the resolve required to put pressure on other members of the G20 to exclude the Russian leader or hold the meeting somewhere else. The consequences of making him welcome threaten the very foundations of the G20 itself if not the spirit of international cooperation whilst signalling that we may be afraid of him or just don’t know what to do with him.

Inviting Putin to Brisbane helps give the Russian President the legitimacy he covets, the legitimacy that helps him cloak Russia’s war of terror in a veneer of acceptance. That rule of terror includes the annexation of Crimea, ethnic cleansing, abduction, torture and murder, the downing of flight MH17 plane; violating international law yet claiming that Russia is not “involved.” Do we really need to help him legitimise his “humanitarian” convoys and referendums in Ukraine, his assistance to Syria? Are we to condone his economic sabotage, Russia’s recent history of quietly undermining US and world economies? In 1998, for example, Russia defaulted on $40 billion of domestic debt, forcing the Federal Reserve to engineer a bailout of hedge fund Long Term Capital Management.

More recently Russia’s ‘aid’ to Ukraine represents a unique form of political control if not loan sharking. Instead of handing aid money directly to Ukraine, Russia had the Ukrainian government float $3 billion in bonds denominated in Euros. Russia then bought the bonds. A cunning provision written into the bond is that if the Ukraine’s debt-to-GDP level reached 60%, Russia could call the bonds for immediate payment. The highly unusual qualification brings Ukraine further under Russian control. Today, Ukraine has Eurobonds outstanding to several countries, so it has no option of defaulting on Russia alone because it would hurt the price of all their debt. Putin’s foresight thus also ensures that US aid money will find its way to Moscow.

Groucho Marx’s wish not to belong to any club that would accept him as a member applies to Putin. His involvement demeans the status of the G20, itself a creature which has yet to acquire international credibility in achieving long-term strategic coordination between all members on some of major global issues or in failing to reinvigorate global trade or complete the WTO Doha development round. To its critics, including Australia’s Chris Berg of IPA it seems more a meeting to exchange platitudes about free trade and to endorse neo-con economic positions about small government than pursue significant international reforms such as the green agenda proposed by Korea or Bill Gates’ recommendations for alternative methods of financing development tabled in 2011. In brief, Putin needs the G20 more than it needs him. The Abbott government, on the other hand, urgently needs to summon the courage to say ‘Nyet’ to Putin before it further loses its will and with it the capacity and the credibility to achieve any significant initiative as an international citizen. To say nothing of the continuing cost to its electoral support and credibility at home.

The war will cause death of an Abbott government unprepared to share the true realities of situation in Iraq.

Eager to send Australian troops to war in Iraq, doubtless for perceived benefits to himself and his government’s electoral standing, Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott appears to have less appetite for due diligence. Or is it a matter of political will and instinct?. Whatever his motives, he is failing the nation in his responsibility as PM and courting electoral disaster for his party in his haste to commit us to Iraq.

Abbott’s attraction to Iraq is, no doubt, complex and ultimately unfathomable, even to himself but the following elements appear clear. He appears energised somehow as if he believes that combat itself enhances his leadership stature.  War engages his political and personal instincts, including his impatience with detail and depth. It also resonates with his moral view of the universe as a struggle between good and evil. At the very least it can be presented in this attractively over-simplified yet electorally appealing manner. The ‘pure evil’ of the ‘death cult of ISIS’ then leaves him with no alternative but to intervene on the side of the forces of good.

Yet it is far more than this. And yet so often, it will appear rather less: Abbott the political animal loves appearing at the centre of the action. Photo-opportunities beckon with men in uniform, men with arms. Soon images of Abbott in a flak jacket, Abbott sighting a rifle, Abbott inspecting troops will displace the current costume of hard hat and hi-vis vest. Yet there is more to it than appearances. War appeals also, no doubt, to Abbott’s macho man of action’s sense of himself. In some matinee theatre complex of his mind he is a type of antipodean Spider-Man, ever-vigilant over the rise of evil, ever-ready to stamp out wickedness and moral depravity.

Yet surrender to any of the charms of war could be the undoing of Tony Abbott and his party. The stakes are high – higher than he appears to recognise, at least publicly. Regardless of its innate appeal to the ‘fight before flight’ psychology of the former Oxford boxing Blue and irrespective of his shrewd political intuition that a war leader can be a popular leader, a commitment to war is not to be rushed into.  Even putting to one side for a moment his almost indecent eagerness to follow the US leader like a pack rat, boosting US-Australia relations, as he may see it, or ingratiating himself as might appear to others, being over eager to play the war card is a risky strategy. Make war in haste. Repent at leisure.

The Australian people deserve better leadership from their Prime Minister than hasty and ill-conceived military misadventures. What we need in a time of international crisis is a responsible leader whom we can depend upon to exercise due diligence before acting. Before entertaining any notion of military intervention in another country’s bloody civil war, Abbott must reveal a rational strategic plan which is based on more than impulse and intuition. And he must be prepared to publicly unpack his thinking. It is his responsibility. It is expected of him, not unreasonably, by the population at large and especially by those whom he is committing to war on their country’s behalf. Neglect of this step in maintaining trust, in vouchsafing his compact can only hasten his decline, and could easily be his government’s death warrant.

Due diligence would involve Abbott knowing what he was getting us into, and openly sharing what he knows. It would also involve a clear plan for aims and objectives as well as the nature and extent of combat.  So far what we have been fobbed off with is neither open nor realistic. Abbott’s explanation that we have kept our troops back until we have got the Iraqi government to sign an indemnity for Australian forces to operate as ‘trainers’ in Iraq ignores the political reality that such a signature would not be worth the paper it is written on. Iraqi politicians are drawn from those who were victims or who are relatives of Saddam Hussein’s Baathists. At best they represent a quarter of the population. Eighty per cent of government jobs, moreover are filled with members of this group who are often ill-equipped and unqualified for the positions and responsibilities they are expected to discharge. Most Iraqis are not happy to have foreign troops on their soil, despite what the political classes might claim. The signing of an indemnity by a yet to be appointed Defence Minister has been compared to signing his own death warrant.

Last Tuesday Iraq’s political leadership, including Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki; President Jalal Talabani; Mr. Maliki’s chief rival, Ayad Allawi; and several other high-ranking officials evaded the ‘deal-breaker’. Government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh’s statement, said the leaders had agreed that there was “no need to grant immunity to trainers,” instead of the clear commitment which Abbott and the US were insisting was essential to deployment. We have yet to hear Abbott’s comment or indeed yet to have the PM share his setback with the nation. There has been no announcement that Australian troops are coming home.

‘Degrade and destroy’ is a slogan not a plan. Getting the Iraqi forces trained up to fight on their own is beyond any external agency. The US could not do it. Hundreds of billions of US dollars have already been wasted in pursuit of this chimera. And as for ‘helping the Iraqi government’, little research is required to reveal that this is a fool’s errand. The Iraqi government is severely compromised in its lack of political and military authority, its appearance as a puppet of the US, its dependence on embedded jihadi terrorists as capable of atrocities as ISIS and its record of Sunni persecution. Above all in a theatre of war riven with factions, shifting alliances, multiple flashpoints and against a determined, skilled, well-financed and well-equipped adversary with a commitment to fighting not matched by any outsiders, it is likely to be protracted difficult and long. For our troops’ sake for our country’s sake, Australia’s Iraq war III plans must contain an exit strategy, some idea of how and when we might get out. For, as modern history should show us, as in Viet Nam, or Afghanistan or Iraq 1 and 2, it is easier to get into an international fight than to get out of it. Above all, whatever their initial popularity, protracted engagements are likely to prove ruinous to any government in the end.

When news of the prospect of Australian military intervention in Iraq first broke, Prime Minister Tony Abbott appeared to jump to attention and salute the opportunities this might provide to boost his standing with an indifferent or alienated electorate. He’d already had a bit of win on the world stage although to some he seemed to be over keen on chasing ambulances, air disasters and other media opportunities to promote and stage-manage his statesmanship. Some of these wins proved illusory as in the free trade agreement with China which that country has not broken. Similarly unfulfilled were his promises regarding recovery of bodies of victims of the MH17 disaster and his advice regarding MH 370’s imminent discovery. Yet it was not for lack of trying: Abbott almost upstaged himself, such was the energy and lack of reserve with which he threw himself into the new role. Many spectators were unnerved rather than reassured by the newly minted desperately international statesman Abbott crashing about on the world stage.

At home it was toned down Tony who played to captive domestic audiences. Soberly, steadily, slowly enunciating the compass of our likely involvement, his new performance values allowed him full rein to practise in public the advice of his vocal coaches whilst inwardly basking in the warm after-glow of the self-invited, over-sharing partner to the righteous in an international crisis rich with opportunities to moralise. Dickens would have loved him.

Public office demands high performance and high performance standards. In leading our intervention in Iraq Abbott has been working himself into the role. As ever, his instinct is to play to the gallery. Or else he patronises audiences, talking down to the little people who on other occasions he claims gave his party a mandate. Little matter that even to close friends he has all the credibility of a dodgy funeral director. Or that he risks appearing self-indulgent, inconsistent, or inauthentic. Or all three. At his worst, Abbott resembles a method actor in continual rehearsal for a work in progress.  The act threatens to undo him, unravel the very fabric of his presentation of self, the fibre of his political being.

Events will quickly conspire to unseat Abbott’s lazy complacency and lack of due diligence. The myth of one united Iraqi people allied with us against evil will quickly be shattered by the reality of battle. It will become apparent that the Iraqis we say we are defending have a tenuous grip on power and are a diverse group, many of whom resent our presence. Many Iraqis are conflicted with intersecting allegiances to competing religious, tribal and political identities. Much of the government, and its administration has to be negotiated with factions . The negotiations are not going well.  Many political commentators believe that the government has lost legitimacy and any real authority. The Iraqi government is now resorting to trying to persuade Sunni armed factions and tribes to help it fight ISIL but Sunni leaders want greater rights and representation in government. In brief, we are backing up the US in its ‘pick a winner’ strategy but invest it as we may with moral justification as Abbott has our fight against pure evil is much closer in reality to fighting alongside troops who comprise a range of groups and affiliations many of whom are as evil or slightly less evil than ISIS itself. The propaganda war has to be laid to one side. Abbott has to share fully the complexity of the theatre of war before Australia is bogged down in a costly, protracted war of attrition between forces who may change sides at a moment’s notice.

Success would bring only another power vacuum. So embedded is ISIS and those factions who have allied with ISIS for the meantime to hitch a ride into a more promising political future that victory against ISIS would not usher in any period of peace and stability but rather just mark the next stage of an increasingly desperate and bloody civil war.

Abbott’s gambit of risking his fortunes and the fortunes of his party on an overseas adventure in Iraq will quickly prove costly. The ‘humanitarian mission’ will fail as it becomes wrecked on the rocks of political realities which it will become all too readily apparent, realities which could and ought to have been foreseen at the outset. There will be a huge cost to the nation in terms of all of the resources of war, as military strategists like to see them men, materiel and money. But greater than these losses will be the rapid disintegration of the theatre of integrity with which the Abbott government has sought to bolster its legitimacy. Australia is not an international moral policemen scrambling to mobilise against evil but an over-eager US catspaw rushing headlong into a doomed battle without a real plan. An already alienated or at best disaffected and doubting electorate will find even greater reason to mistrust the Abbott government and to resent being taken for a ride; resent its sordid descent into political expediency at the price of integrity and democratic responsibility and accountability.

Australia needs to be told the true cost of war in Iraq.

How much will it cost the Abbott government to be at war in Iraq? Estimates vary. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott claims that his country’s intervention in Iraq will cost half a billion dollars per year. On ABC television 9 October, the PM volunteered the figure in the context of growing internal debate about where the funds are going to come from. Defence Minister David Johnstone more candidly and credibly has said the government has no idea. Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen has cautioned the government that the Opposition will not provide a blank cheque and pointed to savings in scrapping the PPL scheme. Hockey, unsurprisingly cheaply politicised the issue by proposing that Labor, indeed issue a blank cheque to underwrite the war effort as the price of its bipartisan commitment.  Finance Minister Matthias Cormann has not ruled out a war tax. We’ll be told in December or perhaps May.

“We’ll address that going forward without speculation in MYEFO [the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook] in December and then in the budget in May. We don’t need to get ahead of ourselves on this.”

What does Cormann mean?  Could it be that by December we will be treated to emotional blackmail? Shown graphic images of military personnel valiantly suffering the deprivations that only war can confer whilst we are told that we need funds to support their efforts on the nation’s behalf? Told: ‘We must let them finish the job they were sent there to do.’ Except no-one can tell us what that job is. Instead the PM serves us the warmed-up US military briefing leftover: the alliterative ‘degrade and destroy’ slogan. We have yet to learn precisely what this means. Perhaps by December, someone clever will have worked out a plan. Or is it that once we go to war, the whole budget morphs into a magic pudding?

Are we likely to be told the true cost? Don’t hold your breath. Today, Abbott appeared evasively up-beat and keen to brush aside the issue of the likely cost as he dampens any speculation that the cost of fighting in Iraq will be a drain on a budget which he has already described as ‘in crisis’ and worse. Surely it would be irresponsibly extravagant to commit further funds when we can’t afford to meet our current expenses. Indeed, in his party’s determined but unconvincing spin on the state of the nation’s finances, he or any other LNP spokesman will fondly trot out the tired old chestnut that the nation faces imminent financial ruin because of ‘the debt and deficit disaster that Labor left us in.’ If there is no money in the kitty what are we doing? Spending what we don’t have? Pledging more than we can honour? Following the US example into financing our efforts by increasing debt until it becomes so massive that it bleeds us dry?

Yet the debt and deficit rhetoric is a handicap on the cost of war issue. It begs the question of the wisdom of incurring further debt when as he would have us believe we are already up to our necks in hock. Consequently most would expect Abbott to play down the true cost of the war or it will look as if he has signed the nation up for another costly item it cannot afford, as, indeed, it seemed with his now shelved PPL scheme. In addition to appearing reckless with spending, it will add to the gathering impression that in an Abbott government the urge to be glad-handed with the nation’s resources comes ahead of any sober reckoning of either support or true cost. Finally, Abbott’s pro-US stance appears to override caution or common-sense. It stretches our credulity and damages his credibility. We are getting into something unforseen, something ill-defined with no precisely specified outcome yet he would have us believe that it is likely to come within budget? Or is that we must jump at the first opportunity or even before to honour our curiously one-sided alliance with our ‘great and powerful friend; to give and not to count the cost.’ Perhaps it is high time we had a serious look at the ANZUS Treaty. Should we be under attack at home the US pledges only to consult us in the matter.

Abbott’s estimate cannot go unchallenged. First it appears to be yet another attempt to fob off a reasonable line of enquiry on behalf of those who have a right to know, the Australian people. Why should we believe Abbott? What makes this any more credible than any other Abbottism? After, all we don’t have it in writing. Yet he should know. It is his responsibility to know. His duty to share. Surely his advisors would have already provided him with an estimate.

Although Abbott is on record for acknowledging that he can seem to be fast and loose with the truth when it suits him; or unreliable with oral or off the cuff commitments, he should be briefed on the real cost and on the likely cost of our foreign adventure. He should also be briefed on his need to level with the nation. Instead, it seems as if we are being told, once again to ‘run along, sonny’. Or, as in the curiously gradual nature of his disclosure of our military involvement in Iraq, we are treated to a dance of the seven veils, a type of strip-tease of a series of partial revelations.. The strategy further erodes our trust and Abbott’s paper-thin credibility.

A straight answer would be welcome. Time and again we see Abbott quickly prevaricate or be dismissive when challenged. ‘Tell them anything to shut them and we will sort it out later’ up appears to be his typical strategy. Yet the remark is not acceptable. It is not a credible estimate. He should not be allowed to get away with it.

First, his comment does not acknowledge any likely expansion of Australia’s military involvement. Expansion is more than likely, however, given expert advice that to defeat ISIS will require BOG (or boots on the ground.) US Defence Chief Martin Dempsey has already warned of a likely need for a deeper involvement including combat troops on the ground. The odds are Australian will be expected to step up its commitment to a war which will become protracted, difficult and debilitating.

Second, the cost of involvement is also the cost of rehabilitation and reconstruction both in Iraq, whatever is left of it and at home for those who have served, whatever is left of them. If the war effort continues even for even five years and it could well go for much longer, its cost in terms of repair and restitution will be high. Just how high is impossible to estimate but the Viet Nam legacy provides some valuable clues for comparison.

The cost of war in Iraq is not something Tony Abbott should treat lightly. He should stop his dance of the seven veils approach to difficult subjects. Withholding information or the staged gradual revelation will never establish the genuine partnership, the equal relationship needed if Australia is to be put on a war footing.

The nation demands more from its PM than a figure plucked out of the air. If you don’t know, Mr Abbott, it is your job to find out. Similarly, Australia also deserves a PM responsible enough to share this information and all other key concerns and considerations openly from the outset. It is alarming to see a shifty evasiveness masquerading as consultation in our nation’s leader when what is required is candour. Not only is the nation entitled to honest communication and open accountability, it is the only way to secure the support required to sustain a war effort, especially Iraq War III, an intervention in a foreign war of attrition between rival local factions whose real interest to the West amounts to their capacity to obstruct the flow of oil from the Middle East and threaten US strategic bases.

Obama’s Promise and the reality.

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Barack Obama inspired us from the first as he inspired countless others who yearned for a leader who was a reformer, someone who could make things better all around the world. A real leader and a man of promise in so many ways had appeared among us, it seemed when we heard him, when we saw him in those early days of his presidential campaign.
Obama vowed to bring change to Washington and the world. A conviction politician, he held a special appeal for us. We were sold on the promise of integrity. Overnight, he became a big hit in our household and in many others all around the world for who he was and what he seemed to represent.
Engaging also was his personal style, the easy, yet practised ways he could articulate his powerful personality and his potential. Obama seemed refreshingly original and different yet there was some resonant quality about him. Something there was that reached out to us and held our attention, captured our belief. He seemed to reach out to everyone.
Part of it was his gifted speech. His sonorous tone and the steady, measured cadences of his speaking voice recharged and nourished our own modest hopes and dreams of a better future, a fairer society a flowering of the human spirit.
Part of it was the timing. Unlike, any candidate we had ever seen before, Obama uniqueness as a man and as a politician came at a time when there were seemed so many prior disappointments to counteract. His vital presence, his direct yet respectful manner and his upright bearing conveyed dignity. His words were a words to listen to; his delivery combined a natural eloquence with a passionate commitment to reason and justice tempered with the hard-won wisdom of experience. We wanted to believe in him. We believed in him. And there was a lot to believe in.
As a presidential candidate, we rated him highly. We thought he would be a natural. Wanted to believe he was a natural, so well did he present himself. Indeed, his gifts seemed to make him more than just an outstanding contender, we thought he had a unique and intrinsic merit. Obama seemed the president his nation and the world deserved.
From afar we saw him as a candidate whose commanding credentials and abundant natural talents were so clearly apparent that it was as if his merit spoke for itself; as if his campaign should succeed as a matter of natural justice.
Clearly intelligent, articulate, eloquent, educated and progressive, Obama’s appeal was also visceral. He could move his audience and move it to believe he felt for them, that he was moved by their suffering and shared their dreams. Obama seemed passionate about the great cause of the people, all of the people, a politician of deep conviction and abiding faith in the cause of humanity. Not only was he young and photogenic he seemed, vital, energetic, charged with the passion of men with vision. He seemed fired up to fight for freedom, equality, justice and all the other ideas, issues and causes that matter to an open society.
Barrack Obama was a beacon of hope to us. A black man in The White House, his origins also added to his charisma and his promise. Yes. We. Can. With this simple yet profoundly empowering slogan, he rekindled belief in the power of faith and hope and optimism. We expected him to build a better world by the exercise of his many gifts and by providing real leadership; a capacity to attract and to inspire the best to devote their talents to the challenges of harmony and peaceful co-existence.

Eight years later the enchantment of the Obama phenomenon has faded into history. Long gone is the enchanted spell of his campaign and inauguration, our hopes of an extraordinary new man and a new beginning. Obama’s charisma has all but vanished, dispelled by a record of achievement which has failed to match the promise of his lofty rhetoric. And Obama the man has revealed more mortal fallibility and frailty than his initial, brilliant presentation of himself ever suggested. More than we vested in him by the sheer power of our belief and hope. Obama the politician, moreover, has failed to live up to the high expectations, he set for himself and his followers from his inauguration.
One of the highest hopes was that Obama would be a healer of a divided nation. Somehow in the achievement he personified, the confidence he exuded, we believed we saw a special gift if not a personal mandate to unite black and white, rich and poor in the common interest of a humane and open democratic society. In the event he has achieved little. Indeed, his critics would argue that he has instead been uninterested in promoting unity or he has been ham-fisted in his actions, risking inflaming division, by dealing in what opponents saw as a partisan manner with such issues as they arose in the Ferguson riots:

There’s no excuse for excessive force by police or any action that denies people the right to protest peacefully. Ours is a nation of laws: of citizens who live under them and for the citizens who enforce them. So, to a community in Ferguson that is rightly hurting and looking for answers, let me call once again for us to seek some understanding rather than simply holler at each other. Let’s seek to heal rather than to wound each other.

A second, critical test of Obama’s presidency was his management of the GFC. From afar, his actions appeared admirable. His first significant act was to endorse a package of billion-dollar stimulus spending programmes, financed with debt, aimed at ‘jump-starting’ the economy. Yet the stimulus was all in the rhetoric. Whilst Congress voted for these ‘shovel-ready’ projects, it soon became clear to Obama and others, that the projects were fictions. The projects attracted funds which then disappeared. In the end, Obama has presided over a period in which the poor have got poorer, labour force participation has declined during the slowest recovery since the Great Depression. Nor does there appear to have been any really effective recession proofing. Whilst the Dodd-Frank reforms looked good in principle, the old system in which the big banks and other institutions were too big to fail has been preserved.
Other internal reforms including Obamacare which has benefited ten to fifteen per cent of those it promised to help and immigration reform which has largely been ignored in favour of an abandoned amnesty programme resting on an executive authority which the President does not have. The result is said to have alienated all groups in the immigration debate. ‘Nobody is happy and nothing has been accomplished.’
It is in foreign policy, however that Obama has been caught out most severely. His exit strategy for Iraq was not a success. It may be as some suggest that he was in too much of a hurry not to be George W Bush but in the rush to withdraw he seems to have neglected to see that Iraq was in danger of being destroyed from within and without. Unkind commentators have suggested that Obama was unwilling to interrupt his golf schedule but his administration seems to have been caught napping by the rapid deterioration in Iraq’s stability and integrity as a nation state and the rapid growth of ISIS. Much as we may admire his candour in admitting to not knowing now how to deal with ISIS, the rest of the world is less than impressed with the US’s belated attempt to quickly force an unlikely coalition to deal with a complex and intractable set of problems in the region.
The Arab Spring represented missed opportunities for Obama to develop its power and influence across the Middle East while he is criticised for being so slow in responding to events in Egypt that he is regarded by most Egyptian liberals as a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood. The outcome has been to see Egypt revert to the autocracy of its previous regime whilst its government views the US as an ineffectual ally.
Similarly critics of Obama’s isolationist administration take issue with its lack of initiative in exploiting opportunities to In Libya and in Syria to have taken advantage of the Arab Spring to help topple two brutal dictatorships. Many see US failure to intervene in Syria, as three years of dithering which permitted ISIS to rise and then establish itself as a real threat in Iraq. Finally, some see a missed opportunity in the US failing to back popular uprisings in Iran.
In Europe, also the Obama administration has been slow to respond to Putin and the apparent growth of Russian hegemony. Indeed, during a debate with Romney in 2012, Obama was dismissive of the potential risk of a renewed Russian autocracy:
“The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”

Critics have unkindly but not unreasonably responded that it now seems as if the 1970s are calling, as Russia invades neighbours, making US European allies feel vulnerable and unsure of real support from the US and NATO. Obama has responded to Russian aggression by imposing further sanctions and spoken out once against it in Estonia but appears to have no other plans.
Finally there are many observers world-wide who were dismayed that despite hope and promise, Obama kept Guantanamo operating, allowed the NSA to continue spying, and continued the use of drones.
Obama campaigned on the promise that America would be more respected in the world after the Bush years but in the event has achieved little to earn that respect. Rather the Obama administration has seen America treated less with respect than derision and contempt by its adversaries. The US is now viewed by its supporters as an unreliable ally and an ineffectual opponent by its foes. Rather than respect, opponents such as ISIS are treating it with contempt as they goad it into a confrontation which they are sure they can win.
In the beginning, Obama appeared everything we could hope for. And more. We constructed an image of an ideal type which rested on our hopes for change and his brilliant presentation not the least of which was the sonorous charm of his well-crafted rhetoric. In the end it looks as if we wanted to believe in a president who was different, enlightened, empowered to carry out our hopes for change without checking first more carefully the substance beneath the spin. History will not be kind to this President for seeming asleep at the wheel, his good intentions, his promises and his starry-eyed supporters all left in the dust by the wayside as events took their course.