Creepy Mission

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So to no-one’s surprise, the Prime Minister says we are now in the ‘next phase’ of the fight against whatever it’s called. ISIS, ISIL, IS, Daesh, you name it, has recently become a ‘death cult which is reaching out to us here in this country’. So the Martin Place siege proves the death cult is here among us, and hence that we are defending Australia.

In fact, it is an opportunistic minority Sunni assault on the Shia government of Iraq, a country divided in three by ancient religious differences and modern power politics.

What interest has Australia (or New Zealand) in fighting Iraq War III? It was, you’ll recall, Tony Abbott himself who correctly, if inelegantly, said in September 2013 that it was a war of ‘baddies against baddies’. He told the ABC 7.30, ‘We’ve got to be very careful dealing in a powder keg like the Middle East that we don’t take action, well-intentioned action, which could end up making a bad situation worse’. (Guardian, Switzer). Then it was Abbott who, in government, contributed humanitarian aid to fleeing Kurds in mid-2014; followed this with RAAF aircraft on bombing runs; and then sent SAS troops, saying they weren’t in combat roles. Now we are to add 300 more ADF people, who are apparently regulars, and who will be there for at least two years. But not to worry, they won’t venture outside their Anbar base. And there will only be 700 in all.

If you believe that, you have not learnt the lessons of history.

Abbott learned from John Howard, who learned from Menzies how to wink and nudge and deceive the Australian people into accepting an expanding war against people who were not our enemies, for the sole purpose of gratifying our American ally. They increased the commitments and won khaki elections, just as Abbott hopes to do, appealing to our support of troops in the field. The Opposition does not even seem to remember Whitlam’s principled rejection of the Vietnam war and Crean’s eloquent argument in parliament against Iraq War II. Bill Shorten offered Clayton’s support for Iraq War III, as long as it didn’t go into Syria and had an ‘exit strategy’. Now even the Syrian limitation seems to have evaporated. Apart from Labor’s courageous Melissa Parke and Kelvin Thomson, it is left to a few Greens and Independents – Scott Ludlam, Sarah Hanson-Young, Christine Milne, Andrew Wilkie – to demand that the government come clean with the people.

This time, we should be smarter, because the pattern of mission creep is observably the same, and the technique is so predictable. We should insist on Abbott telling us why we are supporting a Shia government (like Iran’s) against IS, when IS opposes the Assad Alawite government against which he was keen to go to war only a year or so ago. We should demand clarity about what Abbott means when he says his latest decision is ‘in line with requests from the US and Iraqi governments’. (Guardian) Why did he not say ‘in response to’ their requests? If he has received a formal invitation from Baghdad, why does he not table it in parliament for all to see? Why are the SAS in Iraq on diplomatic visas, unless it’s because Iraq refused to sign a Status of Forces Agreement? If that’s so, what visas will the regular ADF have, and what Agreement will cover them? What have the Canadians and New Zealanders got? Why, after Iraq War II, does Abbott think he can dupe us again?

John Howard could have done himself some good in the eyes of history by admitting the truth: that Australia goes to war at the will of the prime minister, who responds to the will of the United States. Tony Abbott could and should do the same. The ANZAC hype is a hundred years old and has no relevance to this war. ANZUS is the problem, as applied by Howard and Abbott, together with the Constitution that passes to the prime minister the ancient monarchical prerogative of sending troops to war if he wishes, even on a lie, just to oblige an ally. In no other democratic countries apart from Canada and New Zealand are the war powers so free of parliamentary scrutiny. In several of them, parliaments not only debate and vote on military deployments, but review the progress of an ongoing war, and may demand withdrawal from it.

Neither major party in Australia has expressed interest in reform of the war powers. Only public pressure, and supportive voices in parliament, will bring to an end the repetitive sequence of needless wars that waste money and lives and leave behind devastation and bitterness.

opinion from: Dr Alison Broinowski – 4 March 2015

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