Tag: Jihadist

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.

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.