Slowly does it, but battle-ready Australia will be at war

September 14, 2014 – 6:47PM


Mark Kenny

Chief political correspondent

Tony Abbott says a final decision is yet to be taken on whether our forces deploy in Iraq itself. Right now, they are being “prepositioned” to our base at Al Minhad, in the United Arab Emirates.

Don’t believe it.

Within days it will become clear that Australia is to play a “proportionate” yet key role in a lethal multi-national campaign involving an air war of staggering ferocity, and support for ground forces operating in Iraq, and potentially even, into Syria.

The theatre of war is always preceded by the theatre of politics.

In this case, those theatrics are being crafted extra carefully in light of past military misadventures which remain so fresh in the minds of Australians, Americans, the British, and of course, Iraqis.

And to that list should be added the Vietnamese.

While parallels with the miserable Vietnam War have previously been drawn at the time of Iraq Mk I and the subsequent Afghanistan foray, there are some obvious similarities to note here too.

The US-led disaster in Vietnam was an ill-advised attempt to stop the export of an anti-western ideology, in that case communism. But it was the campaign’s ultimate failure, preceded by an inexorable ratcheting up of forces, for which it is notorious. It too began with military “advisers”.

The politics of the gathering storm to hit Iraq and Syria are at least as tricky involving highly motivated and well-funded guerilla forces operating across borders, with various lines of support and a raft of declared and non-declared national interests to balance in the region.

A glance at the multi-national force assembled so far reveals some of this complexity by way of who is not involved such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, and Turkey.

Domestically, Abbott like US President Barack Obama, is treading carefully, slowly, and methodically.

The plan, in contra-distinction to the flawed intelligence-based case for Iraq Mk I, is to ensure the people come along – even if the precise end goal is hard to define.

Everything Obama has done in the prelude to this conflict – and Abbott too for that matter – has been designed to mark it out as quintessentially different from that first Iraq disaster.

They’ve been aided in this regard by the televised actions of the terrorists themselves brutally beheading US and British nationals, as well as their genocide against fellow Muslims.

Abbott has stressed Australia’s responsibility to intervene in the blood-fest if only because we have unwittingly supplied some 60 fighters to ISIL and have many more who provide it with support.

But he has also made a convincing case on Australia’s national security grounds – both in terms of returning and highly trained jihadists, and in terms of the risks of lone-wolf sympathisers.

Yet the task domestically is not without risks.

The Labor opposition remains firmly onside, eager not to be seen to be equivocal in the face of terrorism.

But it seems unlikely everyone in “team-Labor” will stay in the peloton – especially if Australians die at the hands of those they are advising.

The Greens have already slammed the decision branding it just another case of Australia slavishly following the US into war.

This reflects a surprising indifference on the political left to the plight of hundreds of thousands of powerless Iraqis.

But the mission remains problematic. Degrading ISIL may well be possible from the air, but destroying it? That has to happen on the ground.

Perhaps it is time western political leaders levelled with voters on that score rather than getting there by degrees as also happened in Vietnam.

Source : The Sydney Morning Herald

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