Theatres of War

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TONY Abbott has committed RAAF combat aircraft and army special forces advisers to join the fight in Iraq against the Islamic State terrorist group, in an operation that could last for “many months”.

Eleven years after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Prime Minister announced today that within days, the RAAF would send to the United Arab Emirates up to eight Royal Australian Air Force F/A18 Super Hornet or “classic” Hornet combat aircraft, an E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft; and a KC-30A multi-role tanker and transport aircraft.

With them will go about 600 Australian Defence Force personnel — 400 from the RAAF and 200 from the Army. The Australian

Flanked by a human shield of top to bottom military brass including yet another war dork, Prime Minister Anthony Battlelines Abbott confirmed yesterday that he would be sending Australian troops to Iraq – if the country still exists by next Monday. And if anyone can discover a safe air route over a battle zone.   His uniformed ‘rent a regular’ nodded for the camera. The PM nodded back, training his eyes on his guest, a frisson of wild excitement barely concealed beneath his funereal suit and manner.

Details of the ‘mission’ were as we have come to expect in border protection classified unavailable and none of your business as befits ‘up in the air matters’. Mr Abbott, however, made it clear several times that no Australian would be doing any fighting. No-one. No combat. Their role, it seems, would be confined to the odd bit of air-striking, military advising, looting and trading recreational marijuana.

Wagering a crafty each-way bet that no-one in his audience was smart enough or old enough to see through his tired euphemisms and unsubtle double talk, fawning lickspittle and capitalist-imperialist lackey and running dog Abbott’s use of the phrases air strikes and military advisors was typically fearless . It pumped him up. It pumped his audience to see him pumped. And fearless with other peoples’ lives and futures.

What war-monger Abbott really meant was immediately clear to all viewers over ten years old. Australian forces would be fighting on the ground in Iraq or Syria or wherever for as long as it took. Or as long as the US required. For oil and multinational capitalism, amen. All Australians were committed without consultation. Dissenters would be thrown into prison under the newly formulated anti-terror laws that Attorney General Mr ‘Magoo’ George Brandis would rush through parliament immediately. Detention centres with surplus capacity had been placed on standby. Prison is too good for those who by their actions show they are not part of Team Australia, Mr Abbott said slowly. There need be no further discussion. The nation would be on standby for conscription when it became necessary.

Our commitment has been scaled back a bit. Abbott originally volunteered Australia’s entire armed forces, the reserves, school cadets and anyone on Centrelink benefits under 65. Lame Duck Obama, however kindly hosed the PM down in private, after a long jacuzzi and personal rubdown by young Maria one of the White House’s multinational personal staff, the President thanking him kindly but adding that this would not be necessary. Yet.

Digger Abbott’s bombshell was of course in some ways a fizzer. An anti-climax. After all, Mr Abbott had long treated the Australian people playfully to a cheeky sort of strip tease routine in which he gradually bared his intentions. All 37 members of the Turd Polishing communications unit had been working overtime for three months to put together this strategic product delivery. At last it all made sense. All we had witnessed prior from the PM were not so much premature ejaculations but a carefully planned softening up process in an orchestrated campaign of lies and tergiversation.

Naturally, to add to the arresting sense of deja vu, Mr Abbott was upstaged by the presence of yet another unknown War Dork an Air-vice Marshall  Bin liner, according to programme notes.

Despite looking like your local taxi-driver, Air-Vice Marshall Bearskin held the attention of the entire gathering effortlessly. Armed forces do that to an audience. Especially to the PM. Say what you will about natural leadership and authority you can’t beat a soft-spoken chap in khaki with a pistol in his pocket. Or eight Hornets in his carport. You could tell Bats-wing was used to captive audiences. You could tell he would take no prisoners. And he had to be more interesting than Abbott himself. And so it proved.

Telegenic Air Vice Marshall Blinky Bill was intelligible, coherent, measured, credible. And lethal. By the end of his softly spoken chat to the nation, ten chaps had perished in the UAE as they encountered friendly fire from Kurds, Sunni tribesmen, Peshmerga and other colourful local groups united by the presence of further western blood sport. They had spared a few other Australians to be passed over to ISIS for decapitation on social media. At the same time all terrorists in the Middle East had added Australia and Australians to their list of future targets.

It was a polished performance. Top marks must go to the Turd Polishers and to PMC on this pilot programme for what will inevitably be a very long running and highly successful reality TV series scheduled to run on all channels. The pilot show proved compelling viewing and, as befits reality TV, was in its own way both nauseating and grotesquely fascinating at the same time. At no time did it underestimate the intelligence of its spectators. Expect a lot more where this came from.

Sporting his latest ‘Gravitas’ aftershave, another Macy’s product from an admirer in the White House, and borrowing for the occasion Joe Hockey’s industrial strength deodorant, his Teflon coated comb-over dusted down for the lights, the Prime Minister affected a sombre bearing as befits one who must pretend to reluctantly bring such solemn news to a nation so far completely unused to seeing him do anything remotely decisive or wise or in the national interest. In anyone else’s interest.

Abbott’s awkward bearing resembled that of a school prefect, voted in because he was popular for being one of the lads who having just received his prefect’s badge, now for the first time in his life was expected to make a speech showing his leadership.  The effort was grotesquely fascinating, compelling and disturbing at the same time. The effect was unsettling. Even Abbott’s close friend Greg Craven has described the new pose as resembling a funeral director at a chancy funeral.

Yet birth rather than death and romance were the dominant subtexts of Abbott’s performance. Craven no doubt has yet to be informed of the budding bromance between Abbott and Obama. As revealed recently in The Herald Sun, the PM has disclosed a long-standing secret and unlikely admiration for the world’s most powerful leader, describing Barack Obama as an “extraordinarily gifted man” and a potential friend to rival past ­presidents. The spin unit, Mr Abbott’s strategic communications unit were still working on a catchy slogan. All the way with LBJ worked for the Vietnam War. Gung ho with B.O., on the other hand, was proving a little trickier to work with.

Viewers are settling in for a feast of quality viewing as more televised beheadings are scheduled in future episodes of the new big budget reality TV show which is provisionally entitled, Fools Rush in.

Communication Breakdown

The Abbott government has created a hub of 37 communication and social media specialists to monitor social media and offer strategic communications advice costing taxpayers almost $4.3 million a year.

Details released in Senate documents show the ‘‘Strategic Communications Branch’’ was implemented late last year, where the 37 staff are expected to oversee media within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, including Indigenous Affairs and the Office for Women. According to the documents, staff are expected to monitor social media, offer strategic communications advice and create internal newsletters graphic design support, among other duties.

A spokesman for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten slammed the number of communications staff  engaged to spin Tony Abbott’s messages.

Soon after assuming office, Prime Minister Tony Abbott is reported to have created a strategic communications unit comprising 37 staffers. Their exact role is unclear. So, too are many other details, a responsible government would normally be expected to divulge. What is clear, however, is that most of us have been mystified to learn of the unit’s existence. Or evidence that it has been anything but a dead loss. Perhaps its clearest function is what it communicates to the Australian people about Tony’s tin ear and the remoteness of his government. Not only have previous governments done well without such a unit but by definition if you need a tin ear symphony to be in touch with your electorate, you lack the essential communication skills and sense to govern.

Mr Abbott has been less than, well, communicative about his communication unit as befits his chosen style. But no doubt he believes it was a prudent investment made as it was in the midst of his chicken little alarm calls about the economy. Not that he believed he had any real alternative. After all, even Abbott knows it’s an imperative: now that he’s won the election by pretending to have alternative policies and pretending that Labor was incompetent, raddled with leadership challengers and too inclusive of women, he has to pretend that he’s now capable of being Prime Minister. And he had to do something about
his recurring nightmare that one day, after years of fun and games with Alan Jones, Rupert and his other mates who flocked to him in rubbishing the country’s Prime Minister and everything she stood for, he woke up and he was expected to perform as a Prime Minister.

Typically, our little Aussie Bolter, Abbott has thrown caution to the winds. No consultation. He’s been quick with another captain’s call. You can’t waste time listening to others if you want to set up a communications unit. Besides, since when has Abbott given a rat’s bum for anyone else’s views?

Some would see Rat’s Arse Abbott’s Strategic Communications Unit as a bold initiative. It’s certainly one with ample historical precedent. Joseph Goebbels exploited a similarly strategic approach to government to some effect. Goebbel’s Proganda Principle 16 is being followed as we write:

Propaganda to the home front must create an optimum anxiety level.

The rest of Australia may well see it as foolhardy, self-defeating or premature.  Apposite, timely communication, it must be acknowledged, is almost impossible in the absence of any coherent plan, let alone any vision.

Granted its creation was poorly timed. The announcement of the unit was made amidst shock revelations that there was nothing in the budget but a wad of well-thumbed IOUs, Peter Slipper’s Cabcharge dockets and few unused meal vouchers bearing the name M Coulson. Worse than nothing. Those Labor bastards were profligate. Spent money like water. But they didn’t have a strategic communications unit.

Fecklessly staring down those who might accuse him of hypocrisy or inconsistency, Mr Abbott spent up big. He appears gifted at finding funds a plenty when it comes to making him sound good. He found buckets of money to splurge on fabricating an ersatz authenticity, gravity, competence and legitimacy. The unit gives him a chance of looking as if he’s across the detail of issues and events. The unit gives him a faux empathy, a diminished level of ignorance and a coherence he would be hard pressed to muster on his own.

Some would argue the Unit faces a big job. It could take any number of hacks to make Abbott sound half-way credible. Others would say that it’s an impossible task. You can’t polish a turd. Even the attempt will cost you dearly. The PM’s unit is expensive turd polish.

Let’s say, conservatively, each staffer in the TPU (Turd Polishing Unit) is on subsistence wages of $100,000 per annum or more. There would have to be dirt money and danger money in the staffer’s EBA. Factor in legal insurance against malpractice, fraudulence, defamation, perjury and other litigation costs insurance fees. A cheer squad is never cheap to feed.

We can only speculate. In the absence of any clear communication, it may be assumed that conservatively, his ghost-writers cost the nation $4.3 million. That’s the official figure. Do your own add ins. That’s a heck of an investment especially when you add in Joe Hockey’s spin unit. Then, of course, we need to add Scott Morrison’s departments which employ more than 95 communications staff and spin doctors, costing at least $8million a year.

Now we are up to a very conservative $12 million per year. Let’s say the government invested that amount each year for 15 years. Put it by for some frippery such as health or education. Assume an interest rate of 5%. Total funds available would be $283,889,901. Imagine if these funds were directed to help the needy and the underprivileged.

Then of course there is the incredible Credlin, Abbott’s minder, body servant and groom of the King’s close stool who must draw a performance bonus for the extra quota of turd-words as may be necessitated to meet daily contingencies such as our suddenly being at war in Iraq as stipulated in her EBA. Say what you like about Peta. She won’t come cheap.

The spending does not stop there. Other experts include a vocal coach to get Abbott to speak more slowly. Repeat key phrases. Key phrases. Even a spectacle coach, it would seem, has been engaged to get him to wear his glasses on camera to add gravitas. Or do a pale imitation of a policy wonk. On the other hand, perhaps it’s to tone down the anticipated hostility, Abbott’s public appearance unfailingly generates.  You don’t punch the kid wearing glasses.

Whatever the motive, Abbott’s unit are guaranteed to be a pack of very busy minders. And there efforts to date have been entirely unsuccessful. We point to the “slow down, Tony” strategy as one that is clearly working. It’s painful to witness but we must console ourselves that its logical extension must surely be that Tony speaks so slowly he says nothing at all. That is no bridge too far. Doubtless, the revised performance plan for the Chief Turd Polisher would be a bonus for getting Abbott to shut up completely. Government by wooden faced narcoleptic stupor has, after all worked well for such elder statesmen as Ronald Reagan, Vladimir Putin and Warren Truss.

Communication is a two way process. It requires a capacity for listening, a gift for tuning in, for sharing another’s point of view, an ability to feel for others, a non-judgemental approach which enables you try to see the others’ points of view. Above all it requires respect for and acceptance of others regardless of their age, station, beliefs or abilities. By definition, genuine communication does not include government by opinion poll, focus groups or the many other expensive artificial ways of measuring the bath water before you turn on the tap.  The opinion poll led government tends to move in ever decreasing circles until it disappears up its own rat’s rectum.

We have been saddled with an incompetent, remote and completely out of touch government which came to power by destroying the credibility of its opponents. The Prime Minister’s Strategic Communication Unit exists at our expense to remind us of the cost of a party that wins government by default. In due course it will be telling us that we have never had it so good. Or anything else really that its diligent researchers tell it is required to keep it in power. What we should know. And what we should think.

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Joseph Goebbels – Propaganda Principles

GOEBBELS’ PRINCIPLES OF PROPAGANDA

Based upon Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda by Leonard W. Doob, published in Public Opinion and Propaganda; A Book of Readings edited for The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.

1. Propagandist must have access to intelligence concerning events and public opinion.

 2. Propaganda must be planned and executed by only one authority.

a. It must issue all the propaganda directives.

b. It must explain propaganda directives to important officials and maintain their morale.

c. It must oversee other agencies’ activities which have propaganda consequences

3. The propaganda consequences of an action must be considered in planning that action. 

4. Propaganda must affect the enemy’s policy and action.

a. By suppressing propagandistically desirable material which can provide the enemy with useful intelligence

b. By openly disseminating propaganda whose content or tone causes the enemy to draw the desired conclusions

c. By goading the enemy into revealing vital information about himself

d. By making no reference to a desired enemy activity when any reference would discredit that activity

5. Declassified, operational information must be available to implement a propaganda campaign

6. To be perceived, propaganda must evoke the interest of an audience and must be transmitted through an attention-getting communications medium.

7. Credibility alone must determine whether propaganda output should be true or false.

8. The purpose, content and effectiveness of enemy propaganda; the strength and effects of an expose; and the nature of current propaganda campaigns determine whether enemy propaganda should be ignored or refuted.

9. Credibility, intelligence, and the possible effects of communicating determine whether propaganda materials should be censored.

10. Material from enemy propaganda may be utilized in operations when it helps diminish that enemy’s prestige or lends support to the propagandist’s own objective.

11. Black rather than white propaganda may be employed when the latter is less credible or produces undesirable effects.

12. Propaganda may be facilitated by leaders with prestige.

13. Propaganda must be carefully timed.

a. The communication must reach the audience ahead of competing propaganda.

b. A propaganda campaign must begin at the optimum moment

c. A propaganda theme must be repeated, but not beyond some point of diminishing effectiveness

14. Propaganda must label events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans.

a. They must evoke desired responses which the audience previously possesses

b. They must be capable of being easily learned

c. They must be utilized again and again, but only in appropriate situations

d. They must be boomerang-proof

15. Propaganda to the home front must prevent the raising of false hopes which can be blasted by future events.

16. Propaganda to the home front must create an optimum anxiety level.

a. Propaganda must reinforce anxiety concerning the consequences of defeat

b. Propaganda must diminish anxiety (other than concerning the consequences of defeat) which is too high and which cannot be reduced by people themselves

17. Propaganda to the home front must diminish the impact of frustration.

a. Inevitable frustrations must be anticipated

b. Inevitable frustrations must be placed in perspective

18. Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.

19. Propaganda cannot immediately affect strong counter-tendencies; instead it must offer some form of action or diversion, or both.

Air Strikes terror into hearts of students of history of US military intervention

Barrack Obama has unveiled his plan for US military intervention in the Middle East. No. nothing unilateral. The US will lead a coalition. And there’s more. No boots on the ground. Humanitarian motives. Air strikes, armaments and advisers only will be supplied. Or so we are told. No mention of the W word. It’s the war you have when you are not having a war. If Obama’s plan sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. The plan will not deliver the intended objective. ISIS will not be significantly diminished by a policy of erosion, however systematic. Increasingly abortive air strikes will lead inevitably to mission creep. Mission creep raises its ugly head today amidst a thicket of euphemisms, jargon and military double-speak which US involvement richly and effortlessly generates. It is not what it might seem. No. Mission creep is not the detested commander in chief who never knows what’s going on – on the ground and who never gives the troops enough to do a proper job. No. He is not the guy on your mission who takes selfies with corpses, loots from combat zones or who takes advantage of the thousand and one opportunities war provides to the morally challenged. On this occasion mission creep is a cute way of saying boots in air will be followed by boots on the ground. The mission Obama has so carefully and confusingly outlined will morph into full military involvement. Boots and all. It’s inconceivable that he’s unaware of this but it may be postponed until his term of office concludes. Indeed, boots on the ground could be a catchy and attractive slogan for the next Republican candidate to aim for the Oval Office. Boots on the ground is another US militarism but unlike mission creep, one which dates from the earliest encounters. The literal meaning is easy to grasp. But it symbolises an approach to battle that has characterised part of US military thinking for at least eighty years. It is an approach, however, despite its pedigree which brings with it intrinsic difficulties. In the Second World War, it was a cornerstone of US strategy. History is not kind in its verdict. The United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) pursued a doctrine of strategic bombing as its main mission. The doctrine was founded in the belief that unescorted bombers could win the war all by themselves. No ground troops would be required. It was a fundamentally flawed doctrine. Yet it prevailed throughout the entire course of the war. Belief in the doctrine did not waver amongst USAAF command. Consequently the USAAF operated independently of the rest of the Army. Strategic bombing is neither new to US military thinking nor without its detractors. It appeals of course to presidents such as Obama whose advisors would gauge this type of military intervention as the easiest to sell to a population increasingly wary of engaging in foreign wars. Yet in an era of alternative sources of information from Al Jazeera to social media and images taken on cell phones, it is increasingly difficult if not impossible to maintain that it is a workable policy. For it flies in the face of all evidence. At its core is the delusion of a safer type of warfare. The face of US policy, however, is one thing. Its exercise is another. Again, the key is in the language. Students of US military-speak around the world and especially in South East Asia and the Middle East would understand that the phrase military advisor can cover a multitude of modes of deployment including active combat. Historically, the role of the US military advisor is well-defined. It is the soldier you send to fight when you are not sending soldiers to fight. The Vietnam War demonstrated that for the US there is no such thing as a military “advisor” in a war zone.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the U.S. sent thousands of military “advisors” to South Vietnam to allegedly train the South Vietnamese army against “Communist” invaders. This was, of course, another civil war that the U.S. should have had no role in and that only created an even worse debacle in that country. But the fact of the matter was that these so-called “advisers” were, in fact, combat troops or special forces units that didn’t just advise; they engaged in combat. That’s why they were there in the first place. Americans don’t like taking a secondary role to anyone, and certainly this is true of the U.S. military. No military “adviser” is going to just take a secondary role with the Iraqi military. Mario T Garcia National Catholic Reporter
We need to be cautious about what the President has set in place. We need to be sure we understand the nature of the beast that has been unleashed. We need to be hard-nosed. Military intervention admits of no other kind of approach. One way to start would be for politicians who have written a blank cheque of support for Obama’s intervention to cancel it. Instead they should ask the hard questions. These include: What is the US planning exactly? Why? What will it most likely lead to? This particularly applies to Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott. Stop slavering at the prospect of a war. It’s embarrassing. You don’t need to act like a total sycophant of the US to help your much beloved ally. In fact you would be more respected and you would be of more use to ‘our great and powerful friend’ if you asked what exactly the US plan really was and what precisely we are committing ourselves to supporting. And then you need to share this immediately with the Australian people. It will be a difficult new step for you. it will involve the extension of trust. It will involve the practice of honest communication and democratic sharing. You may have to take fresh advice. But it won’t hurt your image at all. And it may save the lives of the very people it is your responsibility to protect.

Gun running 101: Australia disposes of obsolete weapons in crafty move.

Australia, along with France, Germany, Italy, Britain is sending arms to brave Kurds to help them fight ISIS. The accompanying rhetoric uttered by Abbott and other vacuous blowhards and petty nonentities who love to get their heads on camera in even a phony war uses the high-sounding noble cause of humanitarianism rather than the more accurate self interest in securing Western oil supplies. Abbott embarrassingly always adds the completely unnecessary rider that we don’t know what America wants from us but when it does decide, whatever it wants it can have. We are making ourselves useful. Not just standing there scratching our heads because no one has really given us a job to do. Because no-one really knows what to do. OK we’ll be gunrunners in the meantime. Great photo opportunities of Kurdish women in camouflage gear opening parcels of weapons from Australia, the ones that didn’t fall in the next village. Now let’s round up some guns we are not really using.

Given the nature of the weapons we are supplying, Australia’s humanitarian spin is even more difficult to accept. The weapons we are sending according to Australian media reports are AK 47s. Now the AK 47 is still a useful weapon – if you have no weapon at all. Or if you are a museum. But against the sophisticated weapons that ISIS possesses make you wonder whose side Australia is on.

The AK 47 is over 60 years old. In contrast to the M16 – and other weapons used nowadays it is inferior in range, precision, firing speed and it is a good kilogram heavier than modern equivalents. Given that forces constitute both female and male soldiers, the weight is an issue. So, too is the range. An ISIS soldier with even an M16 will have over a hundred metres better range. The AK 47 is slower to load and has the capacity to catch fire if used on protracted automatic fire setting.

In brief, a few plane loads of AK 47s are a curious sort of gift from the Australian government to those whom it clearly expects to take the fight up to well-equipped ISIS forces. Of course, it may be clever thinking by some Australian military types to donate weapons that are unlikely to be of use if captured. Weapons that would have a very low resale value on the black market. But providing inferior outmoded weapons, makes our humanitarian gesture seem less noble and more like a type of sabotage. It’s a bit like giving a Christmas present out of obligation to a distant relative you can’t abide. It is as if some official determined on a bit of tidy-up opened an armoury in some obscure barracks in a remote part of Australia found a cache of AK 47s from 1948 he or she wanted to dispose of. You can’t take them to the tip. Destruction costs money. Brainwave! We’ll airmail them to the Peshmerga and other Kurds.

And it is a gift that will go on giving. Having done so much already to make himself and his nation figures of fun, our self-parodying PM has unerringly acted once again in a manner which is guaranteed to have other nations laughing. Or snorting with derision.

Now the forces we are dumping our junk on are currently opening a lot of gun gift parcels. Other countries are donating more modern weapons. Weapons that don’t give you enemy an instant advantage. Weapons that are not an inherent liability.

Perhaps the thinking is that Australia’s effort will stand out. In a stroke of genius, a bureaucrat has arranged a gift that is so unlike any other relief parcel that the recipients won’t feel spoiled. They will see the museum piece for what it is and feel a warm glow of gratitude knowing that the Aussies did not want to spoil them. No. Australians want to build their moral fibre. As former Prime Minister Malcom Fraser would have said killing your enemy is not to be easily accomplished, something you take for granted. Look at Gallipoli. Death wasn’t meant to be easy.

Terror Alert

Australia’s least popular and most incompetent Prime Minister of all time, ‘Mad Monk’ Tony Abbott has once again alarmed the entire nation today with a bizarre outburst of rabid ranting and incoherent, irrational paranoid drivel. Indeed, so lacking in reason, decorum and any other apparent foundation, was his behaviour that many took his appearance to be an early Liberal Party sponsored election advertisement. Others believed they detected the effects of too much time in the company of attack dog Morrison given the Minister’s propensity for speaking in tongues and his notorious random outbursts of mindless fury. Fox and other purveyors of overpriced cable and satellite TV were swamped with calls from new subscribers determined to switch off their free to air TV for good. I don’t care if it’s the Discovery Channel 24/7 one woman explained, as long as I never have to look at that lunatic again.

Interrupting daytime television news broadcasts, Abbott’s grotesquely distorted face and hysterical gibbering terrified women and children forced to stay at home alone clustered together for protection in front of their plasma or LCD TV whilst their menfolk suddenly headed for local parks to commence Tai Chi, origami, Feng Shui and other martial arts training.

The Prime Minister’s broadcast is reported to have also caused dole bludgers in Balmain and other home grown radical Islamists to rush chemists, supermarkets and convenience stores to buy heavy duty shaving gear and exfoliation equipment and to burn their brothers’ passports lest they be apprehended trying to leave the country.

Looking grave with a capital G and no Abu, Abbott babbled insanely and volubly warning as behoves his new role as Napoleon Cockatoo. We must share with everyone of you today, the high, huge, and extreme risk facing every Australian citizen from evil, sinful Jihadist terrorists abroad whose wanton depravity knows no boundaries. They hate our way of life he added, twitching. Our values. They love falafel.

Looking ever more like Dicky Knee, Dick the dentist’s son, Tony was supported on camera by retiring ASIO Chief, David Irvine who looked to be playing Daryl Somers judging by the hand up Abbott’s back. Irvine, aka Colonel Codswallop, who was played by Barry Humphries with a bad hangover slowly mumbled the same paranoid fantasies that got him the ASIO job in the first place and waved an elderly service revolver off camera for rhetorical emphasis. Codswallop who looks as if he could smother a tactical nuclear device simply by covering it with his vast, rumpled doughy face was holding Abbott’s hand and other parts of his anatomy as they came into his camera shot.

Regrettably the broadcast was abruptly terminated when an explosion off screen appeared to deprive the studio of electricity. A clearly terrified Abbott was witnessed leaping across the studio into Irvine’s arms and calling for his mother. Both men appeared to be in a state of mutual terror or on the verge of a complete breakdown.

Slippery Slope

Christopher Pyne is not one of Australia’s most popular politicians. Opinion polls show he hovers either just above Joe Hockey or just under him at the bottom of the nation’s esteem. Say what you like, it can’t be easy being Christopher. Some of, the Member for Sturt brings on himself with displays of spectacular ineptitude as Education Minister, (he makes State Education Ministers look good) or in his behaviour in the house. Calling Shorten a c**t in parliament and then lamely denying it does not endear you to the electorate. His personal manner and bearing do not help his cause. He’s been called prissy and precious and precocious and other ‘p’ words. And it is true that his style does not help his own cause. His parliamentary and press performances are almost a form of self-parodying performance art, a campy caricature of the consummate politician, now complete with new, enhanced technology: Pyne on line. Or an overcharged Energiser Bunny. It would be amusing if he did not demean himself, his audience and all other interested parties. For even as Pyne performance art, audience members are being short-changed.

Yet we must not be dazzled by the spectacle that is Christopher Pyne. We must look past the performance art. Indeed, his own razzle-dazzle can function as a strategic distraction, just as Liberace’s costume hid more than the occasional bum note. Let’s not be fooled by Abbott’s Fool. Let us put public spectacle to one side. The critical issue is what Christopher achieved when he set out to sink Peter Slipper. For whatever his motives, he has succeeded in diminishing all of us. He may also have further undermined, mired and befouled his own government.

What was he thinking at the time? Doubtless, his stiff the Slipper strategy appealed on many levels. In a sort of Black Ops way, attack dog Pyne could fetch his master’s Slipper, bring down the Gillard government, advance his own career and extend a bit of camaraderie, counselling and beer support to an attractive young staffer who was clearly in need of a mentor. And at first blush, it seemed to go off so very well. Judging by Pyne’s own après schmooze text message to James Ashby, he very much enjoyed their meeting. And Ashby appears to have been gladdened by the prospect of a political job after Slipper’s office and the knowledge his legal fees would be taken care of.

Today, however, Christopher’s plan has unravelled. And as it unravels it threatens to take its conspirators with it. First, the full bench of the Federal Court in February of this year found that in essence Ashby’s case was politically motivated, vexatious, and an abuse of process. It was effectively an attempt to bring down the speaker and damage his reputation. Then Pyne, of course, never kept his promises to James Ashby. There has been no job in politics and no payment of the staffer’s legal fees. Ashby will no longer have the costs of his sexual harassment suit against Peter Slipper paid for by the former speaker because his decision to drop the case robbed Mr Slipper of the opportunity to contest the allegations. In the Federal Court on Thursday, Justice Geoffrey Flick vacated a costs order made in August 2012 that would have required Mr Slipper to pay Mr Ashby’s considerable lawyers’ fees on an indemnity basis. Ashby has had to resort to Sixty Minutes to recoup some of the costs. And to get his revenge.

The circumstantial evidence is damning. Pyne conspires with Ashby to end former Speaker of the House of Representatives Peter Slipper’s political career. He induces the young staffer in Slipper’s office, to bring a sexual harassment case against his boss. Slipper resigns after indelicate misogynistic text messages to Ashby are made public. Pyne disavows any wrong-doing. And of course he claims to be unaware of any involvement by Tony Abbott and Mal Brough who both had their own good reasons to sink the boot into Slipper. And, of course, neither Abbott nor Brough know anything although Mal Brough does concede publicly that if the public thinks that he got rid of Slipper because he was after Slipper’s seat then that must be what happened.

After 60 Minutes goes to air. Pyne goes into damage control. For Pyne this is an especially risky manoeuvre. The more he protests, the more he indicts himself. His denials are evasive, wordy and completely unconvincing. Even for Christopher Pyne. He is in it over his head.

With barefaced audacity, he fronts cameras in a Colourbond fenced suburban backyard somewhere, Chateau Pyne sur Sturt, perhaps, and makes an embarrassingly lame attempt to divert the heat on to the previous Labor government. It is farcical, consummate Pyne performance art. Then he sings the set piece from the libretto to his comic opera. It is typically, tortuous, wordy, hair-splitting and evasive:

‘I had a brief meeting, we discussed the fact the Queensland state election was coming very soon, he indicated he was uncomfortable in Mr Slipper’s office and I indicated to him that if we won the Queensland state election that would be a chance potentially for him to get out of Mr Slipper’s office but the fact is there was no job ever provided for Mr Ashby,’ Mr Pyne said.

‘My intention was never to lead him to believe that a job would be provided to him but obviously if we won the Queensland state election and then subsequently the federal election, when you are in government there are a lot more jobs available than when you are in opposition and that if he felt uncomfortable in Mr Slipper’s office, that would be an opportunity for him to get out of the office.’

Get him out of the office is a key phrase. Freudian, perhaps. Pyne did not counsel the troubled staffer to follow normal procedures in such cases. Canberra public service protocols provide a framework and an expectation that such matters are resolved by other means and that legal action be considered only as a last resort. The “Genuine Steps Rule”, a procedure introduced in 2011 requires parties to try and resolve their disputes before taking court action. In Ashby’s case, the Judge questioned why a relatively minor matter like sexual harassment claims could not have been settled another way. Clearly by his own admission, here, Pyne has at best been a false friend. He has counselled courtroom conflagration and led the young staffer on to play with fire.

It matters not that Ashby did not proceed to take up a position in politics or government. What matters a great deal is that all evidence points to Pyne’s complicity in a plot to remove a member of parliament, a plot that surely Abbott and others in the then opposition knew about. Furthermore, Pyne seems to have been rewarded with a cabinet position. For fifteen long years no Liberal leader would even give him the time of day, let alone a portfolio.

Yet Abbott maintains he was unaware of the machinations surrounding Ashby’s complaint against the speaker, or the support of the Daily Telegraph. Astonishingly, Abbott’s press release calling for Slipper’s resignation was ready to print the moment the Telegraph went to press with the story. It may even have been prepared before the Slipper story broke.

Pyne encouraged Ashby to lay charges against Peter Slipper with two inducements.  He offered to pay Ashby’s legal fees. He promised him a job afterwards. Ashby agreed to help Pyne ‘get’ Slipper. He was to lay a claim of sexual harassment against former Speaker of the House. Pyne says he knew that Ashby had been ‘uncomfortable’ with Slipper’s behaviour. He took the opportunity to exploit the situation.

Peter, “Salty cunts in brine” Slipper is himself an odd fish. And certainly, James Ashby also appears to be an unusual sort of chap. You wonder what was in it for him. What sort of job was he likely to get when it transpired that he had acted illegally? What was it that caused him to overlook his responsibility towards the ‘Genuine Steps’ process of conflict resolution in favour of a high stakes gamble with Pyne as banker? Why has he changed his testimony now? In court documents filed in 2012, Mr Ashby said he was not offered or did not receive any inducements or rewards for making the high-profile sexual harassment claims against Mr Slipper. Or could he simply have given up on his erstwhile Liberal mentor and supporters and elected to tell the truth. Is it coincidental that he was recently accused of having sexual relations with underage boys?

Above all, why, on 17 June did Ashby drop the case against Peter Slipper?

He gave these reasons:

Mr Ashby said he was aware of reports Mr Slipper was mentally unwell and he did not want to continue lengthy proceedings that could cause further harm.

“After deep reflection and consultation with those close to me, I now have decided to seek leave to discontinue my Federal Court action against Peter Slipper,” he said in a statement. “This has been an intense and emotionally draining time for me and my family, taking its toll on us all.”

Or perhaps, the more plausible explanation is that he was paid to shut up. The LNP fearing scandal paid him to drop the case.

Delegated or self-appointed agent provocateur, Pyne, would no doubt have leapt eagerly at the chance to help his master and his own career advancement.  Doubtless there was more than a nod and a wink from his boss. Abbott’s ambition to win power at any price combined with his desire to wreak revenge on Peter Slipper for leaving the party and becoming speaker, allowing Labor government to remain in power.

Others on Team Abbott did their bit. Mal Brough, who would step into Slipper’s electorate at the following election, appears to have leapt at the chance to ask Ashby to download Slipper’s diary, a diary which was later leaked to News Corp. David Marr writes:

“Tony Abbott also has a stake in the appeal. He has stood by Brough despite his friend being caught trying to hide his role in the campaign to destroy Slipper. Abbott has never criticised his part in the operation. Despite Brough’s lies, he praises his candour: “I want to make it clear that Mal has been very upfront about his involvement in this”.

Since the 60 Minutes programme was broadcast there has been an unnatural silence.

Christopher Pyne prides himself on the correspondence he has with his constituents in the Blue Ribbon seat of Sturt. He sends constituents birthday cards on their 21st and significant birthdays. They love him, he says. He tells them he signs every card. By hand. They feel relaxed and comfortable with him. He believes.

Real power in Sturt even more than anywhere else in the country has little to do with politics. You would think you could win this wealthy, leafy Liberal seat just by putting on a blue tie. Over the years, however, Pyne has seen his majority decline to the point where Sturt is regarded as the most marginal seat in the country. Now that’s quite an achievement. No doubt changing demographics, as they say, have contributed to marginalising Sturt. Pyne cannot take all the blame. Ultimately, perhaps, as in parliament, to be an effective MP, you really do have to more than act like a politician. Pyne needs to heed the message his electorate is sending him. He needs to get relevant. Get real. Given the length of his career, however, he is either a slow learner or he just doesn’t have it in him. What is likely to happen is events will conspire to take the decision away from him. In a process of natural selection, he stands to lose his own seat at the next election.

In the meantime, Pyne needs to remember his place and station. He is pre-eminently Sturt’s Louis Vuitton manbag. He is Abbott’s fool in the House. He needs to give up the hanky panky and the covert ops. In his misguided zeal he stepped out of role as agent provocateur for Abbott and other like-minded Liberals and LNP members. Now lap-dog Pyne has ensured that his master, Tony Abbott has further tricky questions to answer. Questions that may well prove to be his undoing. Be that as it may, Abbott can now be assured of a place in history for his agency in the Peter Slipper scandal — a covert political conspiracy by the Coalition to bring down the Parliamentary Speaker, Peter Slipper, and through him the Federal Government of Australia.

Operation Groundhog Day

Prime Minister, you say you are ‘disgusted’ by the beheadings of journalists recently carried out by IS. If only we could take that for granted. If only you did not feel that you had to tell us. Preferred that it were a safe assumption. Preferred that we were given credit for our intelligence. Treated like adults.

Public decapitations filmed for propaganda purposes are disturbing, shocking reminders of the darkest parts of the human condition, the barbarism and atrocity of war. The taunting and gloating of the young men carrying out the executions confront and disgust us. But let’s not let moral indignation supplant our reasoned understanding of this latest hideous brutality. 

Yes, Mr Abbott, most of us are disgusted. Just as we are disgusted and ashamed to be denying basic human rights in our lethal detention centres and fetid camps where we pen up asylum seekers for indefinite periods before they are processed. Whatever processed means. It seems to include untimely and preventable death through neglect.

But thank you for sharing. We see it now. You do seem to have a blind spot. A disturbing moral blindness in many areas. Perhaps you are wise when you feel you do need to tell us. Duly noted. Just don’t expect us to take it as gospel.

Allow your electorate some intelligence. Credit us with some faculty of reason.

Prime Minister, you appear highly selective in your outrage. Where, for example, is your moral outrage over Saudi beheadings of women? Six women have been decapitated by sword this year. The public floggings of women? Or could it be that you voice moral indignation whenever it’s political expedient? When it helps your cause?

Over the last year, Saudis have executed eighty people. Twelve were women. Most were decapitated in public. Last August a mother and daughter were beheaded before an audience of men in a Dharan market. It was alleged the mother had colluded with her daughter to kill her husband. Saudi beheadings are typically not publicised for fear of Western censure. 

Mr Abbott, tell us straight. You don’t have to soften us up for the coalition of the wilting’s latest military misadventure. We know you. We know you can’t resist. You believe it will boost your popularity. In the short term this may be true. In the long term, however, it is bad for all of us. Groundhog day is upon us. Eleven years on we are going down the same track. What’s that? Another war on terror? Again we have a rallying cry. And an emblem, the grotesque atrocity of public execution of the innocent. One again it is a humanitarian cause. It is moral. It is the right thing to do. Righteous. Let us not be deceived, however, it is another war in Iraq. A war that threatens to repeat all of our earlier disasters.  It will be long and bloody. It will create further chaos and suffering.

The rise of Jihadist terrorism in Iraq cannot be seen in isolation. Nor is it useful to assume the moral high ground, (assuming there is any space left on that overcrowded premium real estate). We need to take a broader and deeper view. A Prime Minister’s expression of disgust is his prerogative as a private citizen. And one which will be widely shared. Keep it private. In public it is a risky gambit because it manufactures a spurious legitimacy and identity of purpose. We are drawn irresistibly to don the mantle of the righteous in pursuit of the damned.

The PM’s expression of disgust privileges a reductive perspective. Demonising the barbaric executioners helps mobilise us against them but it is not conducive to understanding them or to any enduring solution to the problem they represent.  It begs prejudging and trivialising of the horrific acts we are being made to witness. We may even feel comforted in our moral outrage, supported as we are by our nation’s leader. Before too long we are complicit in a lynch mob or posse.

The reality is confronting and disquieting. First, we must identify and accept our own responsibility, repugnant as this may be.  For we helped to create this Jihadist monster. Whilst it may make some of us feel good, at the moment, to point the finger, we must accept some blame. Just as we must be part of the solution.

In joining the United States in the ‘war on terror’, we helped create the painful chaos that made the rise of ISIS and similar groups possible. Western intervention caused massive dislocation, instability and resentment: a perfect breeding ground for unrest. Fanatical jihadist groups thrived.

It is true we deposed a tyrant in Saddam Hussein. But other monsters were fostered by his overthrow and by the collapse of his modern state. Demonising helped distort our perspective. We were unwilling to face even the most fundamental of realities such as the huge death toll occasioned by our intervention.

At an early part in the war with Iraq, an estimated 400,000 to 900,000 civilian deaths occurred. Yet Bush dismissed the figures, claiming it was based on flawed techniques, even though it used estimation techniques his own government agencies taught others to use. Instead we were positioned to expect Iraqis to rush to democracy and nation-building. Our willful self-deception appeared limitless. 

Violent sectarian conflict ensued. It continues today. The Iraqi state is unlikely to survive. Together we have helped destroy it. We supported PM Nouri al-Maliki in his self-destruction, his corrupt, incompetent government and his campaign of Sunni persecution. Little wonder, ISIS found eager recruits among the Iraqi Sunni population.

The Coalition of the Willing was our last outside invasion’s grand title. It was predicated on a lie, the convenient fiction that the Iraqi leader had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Other mythologies included the fiction that Osama Bin Laden was the master mind behind the September 11 attack. In the end the ‘war on terror’ cost the US three to four trillion dollars, helping to send it broke in fiscal terms and also in terms of reputation. If Bin Laden had hoped to bring about the end of the American Century, he succeeded. Gone was the mythic invincibility of US foreign power. In its place was the spectacle of small bands of rag-tag guerrilla soldiers defying or frustrating the greatest power in world history.

Yet we are tooling up to do it all again. By now we would hope we have learned from our earlier lack of regard for the consequences of our immediate actions. We do not need to join any coalition of the willy-nilly however well our impulsivity matches our leader’s personality, or however much our great and powerful friend the United States may expect it of us. 

Let us not again jump on our moral high horses and rush into a complex and lethal struggle we don’t understand to follow a noble cause instead of a battle plan.  Let us do some hard thinking about what it is we want to achieve lest we be fooled once again into indulging in the luxury of moral outrage at the cost of due diligence. We need to be clear-sighted about what we want to achieve and how we should best go about it. Disgust may be a starting point but it must be followed by informed and dispassionate analysis. Otherwise like a latter day Don Quixote we are in danger of being seduced by the ideals of chivalry and ignoring the voice of reason. Not chivalry but practicality should be our watchword. Romantic ideals of vengeance will ultimately destroy us unless they are tempered with the wisdom of strategic thinking based on the best possible evidence and advice.