Tag: Iraq

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.

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.

Tell it like it IS in Iraq, Mr Abbott.

Truth was always going to be the first casualty of office for the Abbott government. During the election campaign voters were showered with lies, hollow promises, empty slogans and just plain hokum. Lies about no surprises. Lies about balancing the budget without cutting spending. Lies about a fair budget. Lies about education funding. Lies and secrecy about asylum seekers. About superannuation.

The government’s lies reflect an apparent arrogance and superiority which is costing it dearly.  At worst it suggests contempt for the intelligence of the average voter. At best voters feel they are taken for fools. Taken for a ride. Embedded with its advisors in a culture of spin, where a convenient version of events is concocted hourly for public consumption, the government has apparently overlooked a prime prerequisite for democracy: trust. Without trust there can be no true partnership, no social or political compact.

Or else, seduced by a rampant aggressive narcissism, as practised by its top dogs, such as Scott Morrison, it cynically believes it can bulldoze its way through the trust barrier, too.

 Sally McManus itemises the coalition’s 282 broken promises. It may be a record for a government in its first year of office. Little wonder then, that opinion polls show a record low in popularity for Abbott’s adults in charge for their first year. And a mounting anger and frustration with a government that appears to have no clear agenda beyond the maintenance of power.

That low opinion is likely to decline even further given the betrayal of trust involved in Abbott and Bishop’s pronouncements about Iraq. Ironically, the short military adventure which may, to his advisors, have seemed guaranteed to boost Abbott’s flagging personal popularity could ultimately cost him and his government dearly. Sadly, it will also put at risk the lives of innocent men and women. 

Yet Iraq also presents Abbott with an opportunity to stop the rot. Tell it like it is. Build on the bit of himself that has attracted positive attention. Forthright is how they see him overseas, according to some elements of the press. Outspoken. Direct. Not a truth twisting weasel who is economical with the truth and who backs away from commitments. Not an arch manipulator with a pathological desire to tell you what you want to hear. Or what the focus groups have scripted. Abandon pretext and pretence just this once. Step up to the plate. Behave like an adult in charge.

Iraq offers the Prime Minister a chance to begin to rebuild his popularity. It will be a long journey. But it begins with a simple step. All he has to do here is step up and tell the truth. Can the humanitarian mission crap. Crap is a word he’s already broken in with regard to climate change. It’s catchy. But it’s applicable this time.

Do your duty, Mr Abbott. Make the captain’s choice. Tell Team Australia it’s all about oil. IS controls most of Syria’s oil and gas production. Next step will see it in control of Iraq’s. It already controls half the country. Tell voters you have decided we need to follow our leader, the United States. Follow the Great Satan as its many enemies in the region call it, into a complex and dangerous theatre of war. Tell them we are joining a Kurdish counter revolution, a conflict where we don’t belong to interfere in the lives of people who mostly don’t want us there. And who will kill to make the point. Locals will resent our alien presence and will already suspect our pretence of liberation as a cover for our commitment to defending the interests of western capitalism.

Or you can call the whole thing off. Or hold your high horse, Napoleon Cockatoo. Reflect awhile. Consult. You pay for good advice. Man up and listen to it. It will not be flattering. But it will be real. And you need to get real. You are making a big mistake. You don’t need another doomed, inglorious and dangerous intervention in the shifting sands of unwinnable wars abroad at a time when domestic affairs warrant your full and undivided attention. You need to pull things together. Call your ministers into line. Let’s be frank. You don’t even have a coherent budget strategy. And your treasurer is not one you can safely leave alone to get the job done.

Come clean about Iraq, Mr Abbott. Its government has persecuted Sunnis for the past eleven years. It has shown proficiency only in two areas: venality and alienating and radicalising the Sunni majority in the region. It has provided fertile ground for IS recruiting. And another western intervention will be just the drawcard needed to persuade the waverers into joining up. Why give IS what they want?

Stop the spin about saving Iraq. There’s not much to save. The Iraqi government is in a state of delusion or denial. They have just lost half their country to IS. Yet they go about their daily political affairs as if none of this was happening. They are crippled by incompetence and beset by corruption. Their army is nimble in retreat.

Iraq’s defence capability is symbolised by the single helicopter that buzzed ineffectually over its troops as they briefly engaged IS troops in Tikrit on 15 July. There were supposed to be many, many more.

“I wonder what on earth happened to the 140 helicopters the government has bought over the last few years,” asked a former Iraqi minister. It’s highly likely that it was stolen by one of the most corrupt states in the world where the motivation for public office is to secure as many kickbacks as possible. Iraqi soldiers who headed to the Tikrit front rushed home after they discovered that the rations were pitiful, they had to supply their own weapons and buy their ammunition.

Iraqi security forces are an oxymoron, a disturbing contradiction in terms. Beyond help. We are rushing to the aid of a hopelessly corrupt state’s hopelessly dysfunctional armed forces, forces which have not won a single counter attack against IS. Not only is Iraqi security it a liability in combat, it is a gift to its enemy. It’s real function is to supply munitions and materiel to the other side. It acts as a virtual armoury, a cornucopia of easily captured modern weapons for IS to further strengthen its military capacity.  

Now there has been talk of supplying the Kurds with a weapons drop. You tell us that our intervention is to save the Kurds and support the Iraqi government. The two aims are contradictory. Have you overlooked the bitter enmity between Iraq and Kurds? Have you not listened to your advisors who would have told you that the Kurds have been the scapegoat for the failure of Iraqi security forces? 

Isis is not a bunch of Bedouin bovver boys who have galloped out of a David Lean desert set to raid and return to base leaving life to go on much as it did. Nor are they about to be frightened off by the sight of uniformed westerners in uniform. Or by modern weaponry. Quite the reverse. Ruthlessly efficient, ISIS has modern weapons already and it knows how to use them.  It is an organised and capably administered military organisation. It controls an area larger than Great Britain containing around 6 million people. It is the superior force in the Syrian opposition. And it appears to be consolidating power over an expanding area. There is little sign of successful local checks on its rise. Syrian and Iraqi opposition is in disarray. And it would relish the chance to have infidel western adversaries to add legitimacy to its regime of brutal terror.

Trivialising ISIS is no solution. It is no lightweight fly by night insurgency as it is typically constructed in the shortened attention span of our media. It is financed by its control of oil wells and by its control of key roads. It has powerful outside regional backers keen to foster any anti-Shia forces. It has local roots and it has had Saudi and Qatari outside financial backing. Monstrous, yes but a monster others have helped to create.  Saudis have helped many Sunni movements in Iraq and this support has been crucial in boosting ISIS recruiting of Iraqis.

TV grabs of public executions are sickening and are guaranteed to get any viewer to want their government to do everything it can to stop them. But it has to be the right thing. Not some half-baked military intervention masked in moral posturing in a desperate attempt to secure oil supplies. If we simply supply arms in a divided front there is every chance that those arms will be captured and used by ISIS. Or other local terrorists such as PKK. Time for mature and deep consideration, not a knee jerk reaction. Less demonising and more dispassionate, rational analysis.  More thinking and less emotive hyperbole.

The place to start is to tell it like it is. The way to be a statesman begins with acknowledging reality. Iraq’s Shia leaders were boosted by US intervention against Saddam Hussein. Their day is over. Their power has been squandered in corruption and ineptitude and by the events of 2011 in Syria when Sunnis gained the ascendancy and upset the sectarian balance of power in Iraq.

The war on terror failed. The result of western intervention in 2003 and its policy towards Syria has been to pave the way for a Jihadist movement vastly more powerful than Al Qaida which spans Syria and Northern Iraq. In Patrick Cockburn’s words, a new and terrifying state has been born.