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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Troops And Super Hornets: The 'Humanitarian Mission' We Had To Have | newmatilda.com

Troops And Super Hornets: The 'Humanitarian Mission' We Had To Have | newmatilda.com

Troops And Super Hornets: The 'Humanitarian Mission' We Had To Have



By Ben Eltham





Australia has signed up for a new 'humanitarian mission' in Iraq that looks an awful lot like a war. Ben Eltham explains.



There
was a poignant re-enactment in Adelaide yesterday. Citizens
commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War I marched through the
streets to the Glenelg waterfront.



According to the ABC’s Natalie Whiting, “it was history brought to life, a tangible picture of the sacrifice and commitment of Australians at the outbreak of World War I.”


“Dressed in full uniform, re-enactors made their way through the
streets of Adelaide, marching in the footsteps of soldiers from 100
years ago.”



The more things change, the more they stay the same. 100 years after
Australians marched off to war on a distant continent, we are again
about to send young men and women into harm’s way.



The Adelaide re-enactment came just days after Prime Minister Tony
Abbott committed Australia to another military intervention in Asia,
ostensibly to combat the Islamic State in Iraq. Around 600 troops and
air crew will be sent to the United Arab Emirates in preparation for
possible military action, along with eight Super Hornet fighter-bombers.



Abbott is not calling it a war; not yet. “What we did yesterday, as a
Government, with the full support of the Opposition, was deploy an
Australian force to the Middle East,” he explained at a media conference
in Arnhem Land, where he is currently running the government of Australia out of a tent.



“Obviously, we have a mind to engage in combat operations against
ISIL, should the circumstances be right, and we'll be in a position to
make final judgments about that in the next week or so,” Abbott
continued.  “But this is a mission – it is a mission to be ready to join
an international coalition to destroy this hideous death cult.”



Rather like the Great War a century ago, Australia’s head-long rush to intervention has been bipartisan and abrupt.


Little discussion has taken place about the national interest for
Australia in intervening in a messy civil war in Iraq and Syria. With
Labor under Bill Shorten apparently in lock step behind the government,
meaningful political discussion of the action has been left to the
Greens and independent parliamentarians like Andrew Wilkie. Nor is the
media doing a particularly robust job of questioning the government’s
motivations and actions.



Just like a century ago, the conflict in Iraq is being painted in
overtly moral tones: a fight of good against evil, in which Australia
must play our part on the side of the good.



Then, the enemy was Prussian militarism. Today is it Islamic
extremism. The Islamic State, according to the Prime Minister, is a
group of “ideologues of a new and hideous variety, who don't just do
evil but they exult in doing evil”.



As we’ve consistently argued at New Matilda,
the justifications for renewed Australian military intervention in Iraq
are threadbare, at best. The rapid destabilisation of Mesopotamia is a
geopolitical puzzle and a human tragedy. But it’s hard to see what
threat it poses to Australia’s vital national interests.



There is a deep contradiction at the heart of the government’s justification for war.


On the one hand, the intervention is being painted as a humanitarian
mission. For example, Abbott said yesterday that “the objective is
fundamentally humanitarian and we realise that fundamentally
humanitarian objective by helping the Iraqi armed forces to disrupt and
degrade ISIL.”



On the other hand, the presence of Australians fighting for the
Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is also being advanced as a reason for
war. In the very same interview yesterday, Abbott said that “it was one
of the principal reasons for committing to the anti-ISIL fight that
there are Australians there in significant numbers who wish to do us
harm”.



These are two very different objectives. Indeed, they’re plainly inconsistent with each other.


Combating Australians fighting with the Islamic State is not a humanitarian mission. It’s a counter-terrorism mission.


Helping the terrorised population of Iraq is a very different objective to keeping tabs on Australian militants fighting abroad.


If this intervention is about combating Australians fighting with the
Islamic State, it’s worth asking why we’re sending Super Hornets and
special forces. The presence of Australians fighting in Syria and Iraq
is a problem for our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, who are
best equipped for the kind of patient police work required. Given that
even ASIO admits that there are perhaps only 60 Australians involved,
the threat is clearly limited, both geographically and numerically.



If Australia is embarking on a purely humanitarian mission, it’s not
clear that bombing the Islamic State and assisting Kurdish ground forces
will produce humanitarian outcomes. A truly humanitarian mission would
feature medical supplies and food drops, not special forces and Super
Hornets.



Humanitarian missions are undertaken to save the lives of people in
danger. They are not, on the whole, pursued for reasons of national
security to do with foreign insurgencies.



It may be that Australia wants to intervene in Iraq for a range of
moral and political reasons – for instance, because we believe that
Australia has an obligation to do so as one of the original invaders of
Iraq in 2003. If so, the government should state these reasons plainly,
and distinguish them from any geopolitical and strategic aims that it
wishes to pursue.



The really concerning thing about this intervention is how nebulous
and open-ended it is. If the objective is the internal security of Iraq,
as Abbott seems to be suggesting, then Australia’s mission will be
lengthy and painful indeed.



When asked about this by the ABC’s Virginia Trioli yesterday, Abbott claimed that the mission had a “clear and achievable objective”.


That objective? Abbott explained that it was “to work with the Iraqi
forces, to work with the Kurdish forces, to ensure that they are
reasonably able to control their own country, to protect their own
citizens, to disrupt and degrade ISIL operations inside Iraq”.



That objective is neither clear, nor achievable. What does it mean
for the Iraqi and Kurdish forces to be “reasonably able to control their
own country”? Kurdistan is in fact a constituent part of the Iraqi
state. Abbott is either confusing Kurdish sovereignty, or arguing for
the effective independence of Kurdistan.



As for achievability: good luck. The United States spent a trillion
dollars and thousands of lives trying to defeat a devastating insurgency
and create a stable Iraqi state. It failed. The much smaller and more
constrained operation currently being planned therefore has little
chance of succeeding, even if “success” is measured merely as the
repression of the most brutal aspects of Sunni extremism.



The glaring unmentionable in this sorry saga is the Syrian civil war.
Ever since Syria disintegrated into horrifying internal violence, the
west has had no solution for the internal problems facing Iraq. The two
conflicts have demonstrably merged: there can be no medium-term strategy
for the Iraqi crisis without some kind of settlement in neighbouring
Syria. But the US and Australia have no easy answer for the Syrian civil
war, because, as Abbott himself memorably put it, the situation there
is “baddies fighting baddies.”



The Australian government has yet to explain what it can achieve in
such a scenario, once all the geopolitical uncertainties are taken into
account.



Degrading – let alone destroying – the Islamic State in Iraq won’t
address the regional aspects of the conflict. In fact, if successful, it
will only strengthen the hand of the Assad regime in Syria, and
therefore, by proxy, Iran. But Tony Abbott and his ministers continue to
pretend that it can ignore the wider aspect of the conflict, which in a
very real sense represents a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and the
Gulf states against Syria, the rump Shiite government of Iraq, and Iran.



By fighting the Islamic State, we’re also helping the Assad regime and its sponsors in Tehran. That’s a fact that Tony Abbott is choosing not to tell Australian citizens.  


Abbott is right about one thing: the regional situation is a
“witches’ brew” of complexity. But his determination to push ahead with
intervention means Australia is again being dragged into a land war in
Asia, with no clear geopolitical objective, and with no apparent exit
strategy.





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