Saturday, August 30, 2014

WAR, AGAIN . . .

The urging is specific, immediate and urgent.

Unless we intervene in Iraq now, they say, something terrible will happen.

The Islamic State at work

What, worse than this?

I'd enjoy reading the intelligence assessment that says the deployment of 12, 18 or even 24 Super hornets with ancillary supports will make any difference to what's happening on the ground, as I wrote in today's Canberra Times . . .


Before his election, Tony Abbott expressed his feelings about the ongoing conflict in Syria clearly, cogently and concisely.  “We’ve got a civil war going on in that benighted country between two pretty unsavoury sides. It’s not goodies versus baddies – it’s baddies versus baddies.”  

What, exactly, has changed?

The decapitation of an American journalist is utterly horrific: yet not any more so than the lining up and shooting of hundreds of Arabs against a wall because, although they worship Allah, they don’t happen to belong to the right branch of Islam. Or the beatings, torture or public execution of thousands more, seemingly at the arbitrary whim of the conquering insurgents. Yet nor is this any more barbaric than what’s been happening in a multitude of countries throughout the world. Set the hurdle for military intervention this low and we’ll be sending troops abroad forever. Even this isn’t, however, the real objection to the deployment. It’s practical. Who, exactly, are our jets going to bomb? What are the targets?

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the reclusive leader of the Islamic State? Forget it. Even if real time evidence did allow the accurate delivery of a bomb the result would be like cutting off the head of a hydra: two new ones would spring up to replace it.

Killing the king isn’t a viable strategy because this isn’t a kingdom – it’s an ideologically powered movement fuelled by intense violence. It can’t be surgically removed. Sure, it will be possible to destroy an armed pick-up here and an insurgent there, but this won’t eliminate the terror. Bombing the insurrection will limit its expansion and force ISIL onto the defensive: it won’t destroy its capacity to fight and murder. That requires boots on the ground.

This means either Iraqi or Syrian troops. The Iraqi’s have already proved they won’t fight and previously we were backing the insurgency against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Does our change of heart mean he actually isn’t so bad after all, or is it just we’ve abandoned hope of winning that particular proxy war?  It doesn’t seem very long ago that the self-same chorus of ‘experts’ now urging war were promising Assad would fall, if only we were prepared to aid the insurrection. I really wish they would make up their mind.

There is no simple solution. The current map of the Middle East was drawn up after World War One by two middle-aged, heavily-moustachioed European gentlemen; Francois Georges-Picot and Sir Mark Sykes. They have kindly faces and I’m sure they didn’t intend to condemn different ethnic groups to oppression when drawing lines across the map of the old Ottoman Empire. Yet their borders ignored minor issues like religion and ethnicity; today those urging intervention want us to defend those same arbitrary borders. Why allow East Timorese, Sudanese and Scots self-determination yet deny Kurds and others their opportunity? Syria and Iraq are already breaking apart, that’s how this war got started. So let’s not intervene until we have a much firmer idea of what the region should look like before we prop up nations that fragment under our gaze.

Deploying forces fails every test. Yes, the terrorists are horrific but what, exactly, will our troops do and how will they do it? Where will they be based? They may be capable of flying off an aircraft carrier but that doesn’t mean our pilots are trained to do so and the US doesn’t have spare berths anyway. There is no realistic possibility that bombing alone will be successful in destroying the Islamic State. So why has Abbott suddenly become such an advocate for a course of action he so roundly condemned just a year ago.

It’s important to note that no politician’s child will risk their lives. The impression’s being given that this is a cost-free exercise. We can bomb the terrorists but they can’t hit back at us . . . so it will all be OK. This is wrong. The days when we could send a gunboat abroad to restore order are over. Decide to participate and we will, at some point, reap the blowback.

Some might see a political motive behind Abbott’s actions. Nobody can defend the horrors being unleashed by al-Baghdadi and bombing the Islamic State seems popular and easy. Abbott has, however, been given firm military advice that this alone won’t be enough to crush the insurgents. He’s choosing to ignore this. Why?

You don’t need to be particularly astute to see Australia will unite behind the case for war. This is manna for a politician who’s behind in the polls, can’t sell their budget, and hasn’t revealed a long-term vision for the country. I don’t doubt for a moment that Abbott is genuinely horrified by the horror enveloping the region and I’m not suggesting in any way this is some sort of contrived political distraction. It’s worse. The PM looks as if he believes that bombing alone can achieve something. This is fantasy. He’s ignoring reality and constructing an imaginary world, one where the struggle provides its own reward. It’s almost fundamental.

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