Tag: australia should not be involved in Iraq

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.

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.