Author: urbanwronski

Urban Wronski is an Australian free-lance writer whose work appears regularly in The Independent Australia, The Tasmanian Times and also in The Australian Independent Media Network. He has also been published in Guardian Australia. An acute observer and analyst Urban continues to advocate for a just, tolerant and compassionate society.

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.

Spinning out of control, Johnston’s case for war is no case at all.

davidjohnston

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.

topless girl hookah party

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.

Burqa Berserker unveiled in Canberra

Berserkers (or berserks) were Norse warriors who are primarily reported in the Old Norse literature to have fought in a nearly uncontrollable, trance-like fury, a characteristic which later gave rise to the English word berserk.
‎Berserker (disambiguation) – ‎Harii – ‎Trance – ‎Old Norse literature

Wikipedia

The fury of the berserkers would start with chills and teeth chattering and give way to a purpling of the face, as they literally became ‘hot-headed’, and culminating in a great, uncontrollable rage accompanied by grunts and howls. They would bite into their shields and gnaw at their skin before launching into battle, indiscriminately injuring, maiming and killing anything in their path. Dating back as far as the ninth century, the berserker Norse Warriors were said to be able to do things that normal humans could not. According to ancient legend, the berserkers were indestructible, and no weapon could break them from their trance. They were described as being immune to fire and to the strike of a sword, continuing on their rampage despite injury. – http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/viking-berserkers-fierce-warriors-or-drug-fuelled-madmen-001472#sthash.OjUlp4Ue.dpuf

ned kelly

Sunday, October 05, 2014
3:56 PM

In a rare moment of capital Canberra madness this week, Australian Prime Minister Tony Berserker Abbott once again unleashed a perfect desert storm of unbridled ridicule and derision when he publicly exposed his position by professing to his finding the burqa ‘ personally confronting’. Abbott may as well have tipped his kitchen slop bucket, or his bedside commode over his own head or defended kick-back king Arthur Sinodinis before an ICAC hearing such was the ensuing great stench, a stench which threatened to put the PM even further on the nose, even, as he himself contended yesterday threatening to create such a distraction that it would upset important business such as his spin on Australia’s illegal invasion of Iraq.
What the PM really wanted to share with the nation was that the very good news, the very good news, his very, very good news, that when the Iraqi-US puppet government came back to work from its holiday (if it ever came back) and if it by then still had anything left of Iraq to administer, and further, should it ever have a defence minister, to even at this late stage, have a foolhardy person sign his own death warrant or strap himself into the virtual suicide bomber’s belt of the portfolio of Iraqi defence minister, why, at that point in time, the minister would sign the utterly worthless piece of paper which gives Australia permission to invade the country, kill other Iraqis and generally look after the interests of multinational oil producers and the strategic requirements and expectations of the United States. Up until now, the complete absence of any candidate was merely a testament to the ways Iraqis have so fully embraced the democratic process. This includes pocketing billions of dollars transferred from would-be supporters donated to build up their defence stocks of helicopters and armaments. Above all it includes engaging in the ruthlessly systematic, joyous wholescale persecution of infidels adhering to minority religions such as Sunnis which at last reckoning made up a fair swag of their nation’s population.
The push of thinly veiled scallywags, disguised as journalists, in the Canberra press gallery countered that Abbott should pull his head in, arguing reasonably that most Australians found the sight of a PM out in public in red underpants or speedos truly confronting. Some ventured that Bronwyn’s bouffant beehive hairdo was not only a cruelly confronting and tasteless parody of iconic children’s role-model, Marg Simpson, but that because of its inherent capacity for concealment was a security risk. Others, including the worthy but truly sidelined voice of mature reason, common sense and justice Christine Milne faced off against Abbott, making appeals to tolerance and acceptance even despite, or perhaps because of, their true feelings that a woman in a burqa is a symbol of oppression unless she is an Afghan cameleer in disguise fleeing exploitation in historic outback Australia.
On-the-record-Burqa opponent, Peta Credlin unveiled the complexion of her thinking eagerly compromising her boss with either an ill-considered piece of tactical advice or a shrewd dog whistle to those Coalition rednecks who wanted to put their heads up above the parapet to oppose the burqa to do so for security reasons. All this did, predictably, perhaps was set the hares after the Afghan hounds.
As if his unguarded comment was not enough of an ‘own goal’, Abbott was then ambushed by the right wing of his party which boasts such stalwarts as Cory Bernardi, Bill Heffernan, Bronwyn Bishop and sundry other rednecks, racists, chauvinists, boors, philistines, undiagnosed dementia patients and rabid haters of the ABC, tolerance, science and reason. The events proved especially embarrassing to Abbott who showed once again that he was out of touch both with contemporary mores and out of touch with the rabid beast that is his own party. Many took his gaffe and subsequent fall out as yet more evidence that he could not control his own rump, although one backbencher did pull his head in when Peta Credlin threatened to smite his neck in a thinly veiled allusion to the Koran and its sanction of decapitation as the just desert of all infidels, a fact which up until now the PMC and its spin unit have been keen to publicly deny.
Whilst some expert Tony-watchers claim that his moves were just the latest in a series of craftily veiled dog whistles, many others conclude that he spoke the truth. As Annabel Crabb has so capably put it, the truth parrot on his shoulder spoke out, as it has to his cost so many times in the past, to put the kybosh on Abbott’s thin and flaking veneer of moderation and his confected illusion of control.

Wimpy Bill goes to war.

In the latest of a series of disturbing and disappointing career moves including winning Labor Party leadership, second musketeer Bill, ’war for one and war for all’, Shorten has further diminished Labor’s electoral standing and dashed the hopes of decent working men and women throughout Australia. Yet, surely, it is at times such as these ordinary Australians need a voice and deserve a representative who will stand up for them. Instead Australians have been betrayed by lickspittle Bill eagerly stepping up for his own turn on the war drum, acting as Tony’s roadshow toady. It’s an alarming and dangerous turn of events: another out of step drummer is frankly not in the national interest. An effective Labor Leader of the Opposition is.

For those who must serve in uniform, short-shrift Shorten has helped to cruel their futures, cancelling some of them and aborting yet others. Rather than protect his followers, he has helped make things dangerous at home and deadly abroad. Shorten has aided and abetted PM Tony Abbott’s fetish for militarism by backing him in sending us to an undeclared war, a war which Abbott’s spin doctors insult the nation’s intelligence in calling a mission. Accidentally, the word ‘mission’ may be heading in the right direction if only because our over-eager acquiescence in the US military adventure is not unlike assuming the missionary position.

Whatever form of words you choose, however, this latest military adventure is a dangerous war game. We have no strategy, no end game and there is no prospect of anything but a long, protracted engagement in an alien environment against forces which are difficult to identify. Many will suffer. Death, serious injury or a lifetime of traumatic psychological disorder await the unwary, to say nothing of the suffering such military service will bring to the combatants’ families and the nation. Mission improbable will morph into a mission impossible which will rapidly outwear our current hysteria, our quickly whipped up appetite for vengeance against the evil anti-western death cult desert dwelling barbarians, a hate-inspiring phantasm, the constructed enemy of the moment, created by tabloid media assisted by the PM’s strategic communications media. the outcome of such an engagement is impossible to predict. The only certainty is that it will be protracted, expensive and ordinary people will suffer. Those who survive ISIS can look forward to a civilian life of alcoholism, ostracism, family breakdown, a rat shit pension and PTSD. Ordinary men and women are the ones who get sent to their deaths in war, Bill, not the scions of the elite. Surely you would have learned that at University.

Why is Labor’s leader tamely agreeing with Abbott on the need to go to war? Abbott’s not making sense. Never has. No compelling case for war has been articulated by our gung ho,trigger happy leader. And we know that the little Aussie scrapper has a history of anger management issues, an unhealthy interest in fights and physicality matched only by his unbecoming attraction to grandstanding, his predilection for posturing and his ruthless expediency, his capacity to do anything else that he thinks will win votes. Why indulge him? It’s irresponsible. It’s like shouting another drink to an alcoholic who has fallen off the wagon. Perhaps Wimpy Bill has caught something. Perhaps he’s been careless with his prophylactics again. Is obsequious fawning an infectious disease? There’s been a fair bit of it about lately. Clearly the man’s not acting right. What compels him to join Labor to this latest conga line of suck-holes? What makes him think it is OK to go along with Tony’s going along with the USA and commit Australian troops to Iraq and Syria? We all know Abbott may be lacking in many things but the last thing the PM needs is help boosting his war lust or wimpy Bill cheering him on. Shorten has morphed into an embarrassing fan who claps the beat, whistles and throws his underwear on stage – or the moral equivalent of his underwear . Indecent is his haste: the curtain is barely up on the First Act.

Why is he doing it? If he knows he is not telling and his silence fuels unhealthy speculation that he is in it for self-interest, in the hope that the gravitas conferred by joining cause with the war effort will boost his credibility as a leader. Wet lettuce Willie Shorten has passed up on the need to offer any explanation or clearly articulated alternative position, preferring instead to whimper that Labor is bipartisan when Australia’s security is at stake. Bipartisan may be OK in key areas of public policy but here it is an unconvincing cop out. Our national security is not at stake, Mr Shorten, despite the government’s hysterical war propaganda, but it soon will be if you continue to support ‘Wall-Banger’ Abbott in committing troops to a cause rather than a conflicted military zone, a cause that will that will serve to put us fairly and squarely on the ISIS terror target map. As for your own or your party’s future, if you lie down with a dog of war, you wake up with fleas.

Committing our troops to serve in the Middle East will create more enemies than Rat f**k Rudd having a bad hair day. For despite Abbott’s spin, and the rhetoric of the coalition of the concerned, it is not a mission or a cause. It is not our freedoms that ISIS hates, Bill, it is US air strikes. ISIS does have a problem with being bombed and shot at or having a missile shower skewer their fundamentalism. It’s not an unreasonable reaction. Public decapitation in the name of Islam, however, is a means to an end for ISIS, a guaranteed way to get our attention which must be seen in historical context. Whilst Mr Abbott seizes on this with his pure evil death cult slogan and confects a cause from moral outrage it is vital to not confuse the causes with one barbaric symptom. Let us not ignore the long history and theological underpinnings of decapitation in the name of Islam and pretend that the task is an aberrant atrocity and let us not assume that our confected moral outrage is a just cause for  war. Challenge the government’s scare tactics by asking for empirical evidence of threats to our security and for evidence of  our attempts to deal with it before new laws make this even harder.

Enough of that dangerous ‘bipartisan’ drivel, Bill. Challenge Abbott to drop the demonising rhetoric of rampant evil and instead stick to the facts. Or do your own analysis and apply your own thinking. Now, Mr Shorten, it seems as if you are not really listening or understanding, so let us put it as simply as we can. An Opposition is meant to keep the government in check not lie down and let it walk all over you. You are leader of the opposition, not Tony’s double or cheer squad. People look to you to for leadership and they expect you to be independent from the vested interests of the machinery of war. Ordinary people expect you to stand for something and they need you to represent them. They look to you to ask the hard questions and they have a right to expect you to act in their best interests; the interests of ordinary Australians. They do not expect you to throw your hat in the ring with Abbot’s: into the dirty whirlpool of the war monger who deals in death; who denies our common humanity; whose evil business may destroy us all.