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Jun 13, 2014

Iraq insurgency revives shuffling zombie neocon army

The chaos in Iraq is another chance for neoconservatives to push for Western intervention -- a course that will again make us less safe from terrorism.

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“To the American people, I know you’re war-weary, I know you’re tired of dealing with the Mid-East. But the people that are moving into Iraq and holding ground in Syria have as part of their agenda not only to drive us out of the Mid-East, but to hit our homeland.”

Republican Senator Lindsey O. Graham was thus the first neocon to be fully reanimated by the looming partition of Iraq. Graham, who until recently has had to make do with trying to connect Benghazi and the Ukraine, will be just the first of the hawks being vomited forth from their graves to demand intervention. John McCain might have been beaten to the punch, but he was a close second, with the novel twist of using events in Iraq to demand a delay in the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The government of Iraq — the sort of description that seems to merit several sets of air quotes — is a paralysed United States client controlled by Nouri al-Maliki, whose human rights abuses run to rape, torture and execution (“let freedom reign”) and whose army appears to have maintained the Saddam-era tendency to flee at the first taste of opposition. Unless it is able to reassert control against ISIS and, for that matter, the Kurds (traditionally framed as much-betrayed honorary Westerners who have a special claim to our support, who have taken advantage of the chaos to seize the long-coveted Kirkut), a shambling army of zombie neocons will be on the march. They’ll look decidedly the worse for wear a decade on but they’ll insist, as per Graham, that you can fight them in Iraq or fight them in the streets of the your own town, but you have to fight them one way or another, so which would you prefer?

“The Iraq War thus was a multitrillion-dollar exercise in making Western citizens materially less safe from terrorism …”

Let’s do a quick recap of where that logic has left us.

The United States is estimated to have spent $1.7 trillion on the Iraq War so far, with much more to come via healthcare and veterans’ costs — the real corporate winners from the war aren’t so much defence companies or even services companies, but US healthcare companies. The final total may be around $4 trillion, decades hence. The cost to the United Kingdom of its participation was US$14 billion in 2010; the cost to Australian taxpayers of our role had, by 2011, reached $2.4 billion. The war led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis — estimates vary between 100,000 and 600,000. So many Iraqis died during the allied occupation and ensuing civil war that according to the World Bank, life expectancy fell by two years between 2002 and 2007 and had still not recovered to pre-war levels in 2010.  Nearly 4500 US troops died, along with 179 UK servicemen and women, with many thousands more injured and crippled.

As we all know, the justification for the war, Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, didn’t exist. But the broader strategic goal of making the West safer from terrorism was never achieved. In fact, quite the opposite: while the Blair and Howard governments rejected any link between Iraq and the increasing risk of terrorism, in 2006, a US intelligence report concluded that “the Iraq War has made the overall terrorism problem worse”. That conclusion was echoed by a UK government report that year into the 2005 London bombings and confirmed by the head of British intelligence service MI5 in 2010 in evidence to the Chilcott Inquiry. The then-head of the Australian Federal Police, Mick Keelty, also reached that conclusion in 2004.

The Iraq War thus was a multitrillion-dollar exercise in making Western citizens materially less safe from terrorism, at least in the view of the intelligence agencies paid to make such assessments, but then again they said Saddam had WMDs.

Australia’s contribution to a renewed effort in Iraq, as the comparative costs above illustrate, would be trivial — something US President Barack Obama noted in 2007 when he replied to John Howard’s lunatic remark that terrorists would be hoping for an Obama victory. “[W]e have close to 140,000 troops in Iraq, and my understanding is Mr Howard has deployed 1400, so if he is … to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them to Iraq.”

Neocons insist — as McCain and other GOP figures like John Boehner already have — that the apparent collapse of Iraq is the fault of Obama and their opponents; it was the West’s failure to stay the course in Iraq, to treat it as a Cold War-style generational struggle. It’s not neoconservatism that failed, they insist, but our failure to be neoconservative enough. In fact, it is another example of the self-perpetuating nature of the War on Terror, which endlessly replicates the very conditions that produce radicalisation, thereby ensuring the war, with its associated government expenditure and restrictions on liberties, need never end.

Another Western intervention in Iraq, like the previous one, will again make Western citizens less safe. Our intelligence agencies might take a break from mass surveillance — which didn’t prevent the West from being surprised at the fall of Mosul — to pass that advice on to their political masters.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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34 thoughts on “Iraq insurgency revives shuffling zombie neocon army

  1. Djbekka

    Here is the issue stated in a different way. Do we produce democracy with the barrels of foreign guns? Can we even produce safe places to have a multicultural society with guns? I would say that the answer is no even though that seems to be the way US led coalitions seems to operate – have an election, get a reasonable outcome – take the army away and leave the elected government to do the job of elected governments in the West. I just can’t see the US military or any military, conducting actions which bring local combatants together, get them talking, provide jobs for disaffected youths, protect mosques of different sects, see that girls get to school safely and the economy operates at as a peace economy.

    On the other hand, my cynical side can see it is a tempting way for the current government in Australia to regain some authority. The question asked by Mark Duffett rolls over all other considerations and reduces the issue to the West and the ‘extremists’. I agree that ISIS is extreme. I don’t agree that Western military intervention is the immediate answer. I don’t agree that the way to support the millions of refugees is to spend our money on things that blow up rather than on houses, food and assistance in organising self sustaining safe camp communities.

    This is a case in which Islamists are attacking Muslims in their homes and cities. How will millions of western dollars in military intervention really help Iraqis who want to worship in their mosques, work in their businesses and live in their homes?

    There has to be another, and much more complex, way to move away from civil war.

  2. Dan B

    @ Malcolm; I would assess those same chemical weapons in Syria currently being eradicated by the UN are the same given to the Iraqi’s by the US. I would further assess that a percentage of those weapons have made their way back to Iraq.

    Although directed to Mr. Duffet, in response to your question as to why the ISF refuse to fight the ISIS, there are a number of reasons. The ISIS is a Sunni dominated islamist group. They were successful making agreements with the Sunni tribes of Anbar who were fed up with the Shia dominated, and US installed Maliki Government. Those agreements allowed the ISIS safe havens inside Anbar effectively enabling them to build sufficient forces to conduct the operation(s) we are seeing today. The areas recently taken by the ISIS have had majority Sunni soldiers and police forces, whom refuse to engage ISIS in retaliation to the al Maliki Government. But that attitude has been compounded by the fact the areas in which they have been charged to defend has been, for the most part, the most violent areas in Iraq for a long time. They are fed up, undermanned, ill-equipped and have no further appetite to fight for the central Government. Because the ISIS were pushed back and out of the city of Kirkuk and other northern areas by the Kurdish Peshmerger should provide substance to this assessment.

    As for extended military deployments being responsible for the current debacle, I would agree only because of how those deployments were conducted. But if they were conducted differently, the outcome, obviously, would be different. This is where I see politics playing too big a part, too early in military operations. The military is usually called in after diplomacy has failed. Therefore, politicians need to stay out of military operations until our military commanders make the assessment that diplomatic efforts can again be attempted. Since we continuously demonstrate that collectively, we do not learn from lessons past, I do not think redeploying mass military forces will turn out any better. Unfortunately, Iraq and its neighbours need to sort this one out on their own.

    @ seriously?; I am no hawk. But I do not appreciate illogical dialogue. Australia has a military, world renowned as a professional military. And Australia also has alliances with other countries that require that military to support them sometimes. A soldier has no say in whether he or she goes to war if called upon. They make that agreement with the Australian Government when they enlist. Soldiers do not join the Army not to go on operations. They constantly train for the day they are called upon to fight, and they do so knowing that people, possibly them, are going to get hurt or worse. As a civilian it is your right to not wish to join them. Losing a son, a brother, father, sister, mother or daughter is tragic. But so is war. The conundrum is that the ADF refuses to engage in military operations where 1000’s of people are killed by failed social order and are condemned for not doing enough. They engage and assist and are condemned for doing so. I mean, the whole thing is laughable. Should we have a say in who controls a country after we have assisted them to get back on their feet? No. But we have an obligation to insure whomever takes over said country is not as bad as the previous person/people. Unfortunately, and as I pointed out above, this did not happen in Iraq because the politicians thought they knew better, even though the military had intelligence to suggest otherwise. Our soldiers learn all the time. Because if they don’t it means their mates might get killed for it. Politicians never learn, simply because, they don’t have to. They just send in the military anyway…

  3. seriously?

    So Dan B, you are quite certain that Australia definitively has a role to play in this?https://theconversation.com/how-has-iraq-lost-a-third-of-its-territory-to-isis-in-three-days-27933

    And our troops, who as you point out are expendable, really are worth sacrificing in this mess? And once we re establish a military presence with the Americans, can you advise how long and how much money should we spend there (noting that we are in a budget emergency)? Is the ultimate objective to establish a Sunni or Shiite led Iraq? You may think comments are just laced with sarcasm but frankly I’m sick of hearing the good v evil / goodies and baddies view of the world and hope Australia doesn’t volunteer yet again to fight some futile war.

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