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Retracing our steps on the march into Iraq

The parallels between the current path to intervention in Iraq and Syria and the Iraq War 11 years ago are uncanny and discomfitting.

It’s a good time to be in defence stocks in the US currently — they’ve all outperformed the market: Lockheed Martin shares are up 8.4% since President Obama announced airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq. Raytheon is up 8%. General Dynamics is up over 8%. Northrop Grumman is up 6%. The Dow’s only up 4%; the Nasdaq 5.4%, the S&P 500 just 4.7%. All the companies’ shares have hit historical highs this week. And rightly so: we’re on the cusp of another major intervention in Iraq, and most likely in Syria as well, one that even Barack Obama says will be an extended effort.

As part of that effort, the New York Times revealed, Britain and Australia would be expected by the US to join an air campaign against Islamic State militants. Thus are all the pieces falling into place for a re-run — albeit, for now, on a smaller scale — of the misbegotten Iraq venture, that US$2 trillion exercise in significantly reducing both Iraqi life expectancy and the safety of Western citizens. The parallels are fascinating:

Hyping the threat
The attack on Saddam Hussein was justified with a series of elaborate “sexed up” fictions about his weapons of mass destruction and the direct, 15-minutes-away threat they posed. There are no WMDs this time around (yet); instead, IS’s brutality is hyped instead. Chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff Martin Dempsey claimed IS had an “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision”. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said IS was “beyond just a terrorist group … beyond anything that we’ve seen” and while in Australia said “ISIL is a threat to the civilised world, certainly to the United States, to our interests, as it is to Europe, it is to Australia”.

The eager allies
UK Prime Minister David Cameron warned of the establishment of a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean. Australian defence minister David Johnston claimed pictures of severed heads from the region showed the need for more anti-terrorism laws here, while Prime Minister Abbott claimed the militants were an “extraordinary problem, not just for the people of the Middle East, but for the wider world”.

What’s missing in all this is specific evidence that IS, which we have helped create via the destruction of Iraq as a viable state, and which is funded by our Gulf State allies in the War on Terror, poses any threat beyond the borders of Syria and Iraq, or that it is engaged in or has the resources to launch a program of violence in Western countries. This was the reason why the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security last week stated that the militants posed no specific or credible threat to the US, contrary to Hagel’s hysteria. Indeed, even the brutality of IS is hardly unprecedented: the gruesome theatre of beheadings has long been a tool of al-Qaeda and for that matter any regime that wants to instill fear, regardless of ethnic background. And our ally and valued trading partner Saudi Arabia has beheaded nearly two dozen people this month alone, including one for the crime of “sorcery”.

The role of News Corp
The company whose newspapers famously supported the Iraq War worldwide (the Hobart Mercury honourably excepted) has led the way in hyping the threat of IS, with neoconservative Greg “George W. Bush will be judged one the great presidents” Sheridan cheering on a military role for Australia in the pages of the Coalition newsletter. Perhaps Rupert Murdoch still hopes another Iraq war will at long last deliver his prediction during the last one, that it would see oil prices fall to US$20 a barrel. Sadly for the company, its newspapers are now read by only a fraction of their readerships of even 11 years ago.

The warmongers
Like rats hearing the Pied Piper, warmongers have come tumbling out into the media in response to the possibility of more conflict in Iraq. Former Army chief Peter Leahy demanded a “long war” against “political Islam”. The ABC’s 7.30 has hosted two this week, with Peter Jennings of the militarist, taxpayer-funded think tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, lauding Abbott for seeing the “strategic risk” of IS and calling an attack on IS “imperative”. Jennings managed to display both remarkable ignorance of the impact of the Iraq War on terrorism and entirely contradict himself in the space of a sentence when he said “the British are as aware of the threat of home-grown terrorism as Australia is in terms of their own domestic populations. And really, that is one of the chief concerns that is created by the creation of the Islamic State caliphate, which is that it becomes a magnet for jihadism around the world, where both the UK and Australia are at risk”.  But Jennings looked relatively sane compared to the buffoonish former RAAF head Geoff Shepherd, who last night said that joining an attack on IS would be “good experience for our young Air Force men and women”.

The legal uncertainty
The attack on Saddam Hussein’s regime was illegal under international law. Now, the same question arises about attacks within Syria given the Syrian government has warned against unilateral air strikes — bearing in mind that such airstrikes would in effect be in support of the Assad dictatorship that Western governments were contemplating attacking mere months ago. A discussion of the possible legal bases for an attack within Syria is at the well-respected Lawfare blog.

The claims of special personal relationships
Last time around it was the “special relationship” between Tony “I’m With Stupid” Blair and George W. Bush, then between Bush and John “Man of Steel” Howard; this time around it’s the “unlikely but effective alliance” of Abbott and Obama, according to Sheridan.

A key difference, of course, is that thus far there is no willingness on the part of the US to commit troops beyond humanitarian relief; if anything, the Australian government is keener to commit troops than the Obama administration. Instead, this is likely to be a long air campaign. That, however, doesn’t rule out any troops on the ground. As a Labor figure told Crikey, one of Australia’s roles during the last Iraq War was providing Special Forces support for US airstrikes, operating behind enemy lines to identify targets. The US itself likely already has Special Forces/Green Berets inside Syria training and coordinating operations by moderate rebel groups (a technique used in Vietnam).

What’s unlikely to be different is the impact of another round of military intervention. Last time it led to the break-up of a country and a significant increase in the terrorism threat to Western citizens. There’s no evidence exactly the same won’t happen again.

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  • 1
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 28 August 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    What do you reckon would happen if IS told us that under them, we could get Iraqi oil cheaper than we get it now?

  • 2
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 28 August 2014 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    What was it Einstein said?

    Insanity : is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results”?

  • 3
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 28 August 2014 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    To be fair, Obama doesn’t have the “domestic imperatives” Abbott does?

    Which of course is the bright side in all this sabre-rattling dog-whistling :-
    who’s thinking about domestic politics while all this is being strung out by Murdoch, Abbott and friends?

  • 4
    Duncan Gilbey
    Posted Thursday, 28 August 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    The upshot of a military intervention will not be the “restoration” of democracy (as if…) but the disintegration of Iraq into 3 separate sub-states in at perpetual war with each other. I don’t see how this helps the Iraqis or us.

    Your average jihadist may be a misguided fanatic (or just misguided) but they are committed. IS will not be defeated, it will morph into something else in another place.

    Interfering again? How dumb can you get and still be able to breathe?

  • 5
    j.oneill
    Posted Thursday, 28 August 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    There are several reasons to be alarmed at the Abbott government’s apparent willingness to re-involve itself in Iraq and extend that involvement to Syria. A brief sample of those reasons would include:

    - the legal basis of such an intervention is far from clear, especially if IS forces in syria are attacked. Absent a Security Council resolution (highly unlikely) or an invitation from the Assad government (even less likely) there seems no obvious basis to invoke Art 51 of the UN Charter. The action would therefore probably be illegal under international laws.

    - any attack on IS forces in syria raises a number of conundrums. It would, for example, be in support of an Assad government that the US and its friends have been trying to dislodge for at least the past three years through arming, training and financing the very same forces now deemed to be a threat.

    - As Bernard notes, hysteria in favour of Australian involvement in war is coming from the usual suspects. Have they no shame and even shorter memories of past ill-advised advocacy.

    - Abbott is refusing a parliamentary debate, just as he is refusing an inquiry into the first Iraq fiasco. In a purported democracy that is nothing less than astonishing. War is rather too important to be left to yet another “captain’s call.”

  • 6
    Michael
    Posted Thursday, 28 August 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Just more solutionless whining from Bernard and his fanbois.
    Happy to hear some positive contributions on halting the genocidal intent of ISIS.

  • 7
    Luke Hellboy
    Posted Thursday, 28 August 2014 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    The break up of Iraq was inevitable since it was created by the Sykes-Picot accord post-WW1. The main aims of drawing up the borders was to divide the oil fields between British and French interests and to break up ethnic and religious groups so that inter-ethnic jealousies would distract them from anti-colonial actions. Any efforts by citizens in the middle east to install some form of representative government was subverted or overthown by European and American government puppets to ensure their oil company’s contracts for the last 100 years e.g. supporting Sadam Hussein. Even under Sadam’s brutal regime, he was only just able to exert control over the country.

    The most likely outcome of the current conflict is that IS will keep pushing until they come up against enough resistance from the Kurds in the north and the Shia militias in the south east and these will be the new borders of three new nations. There are Sunni militias that are either working with or at least not opposing IS who will be looking to have a more moderate version of Islam in which to raise their children once the dust settles.

    The other interesting thing to note is that if or when IS sets up a government to manage whatever territory they end up with, it will give western governments a lot more options to deal with them through traditional methods like trade imbalances and having infrastructures and populations that are now under their responsibility to protect. As Tony Abbott is finding out, tearing down a government is a lot easier than building an effective one.

    Whatever happens, the current explosion is from a bomb that has been ticking away for the last century.

    The most likely result of the current

  • 8
    CML
    Posted Thursday, 28 August 2014 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    @ j.oneill - I agree 100%. Very well said!

  • 9
    mikehilliard
    Posted Thursday, 28 August 2014 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    We can be certain of one thing, the GW Bush, Blair & Howard ‘solution’ was a disaster.

  • 10
    fredex
    Posted Thursday, 28 August 2014 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    The Australian economy has problems, inequality is growing, the environment is under threat, unemployment is rising, newspaper circulation has plummeted and the current PM is deeply unpopular, the government is behind in the polls.

    Lets have a war!

  • 11
    Neutral
    Posted Thursday, 28 August 2014 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Why single out ISIS? Boko Haram have genocidal intent, why aren’t the warbois going after them? Why not drone that genocidal maniac Robert Mugabe and ‘properly liberate an oppressed people’? What are the virtues of Kim Jong-un’s genocide that keeps him free from the warbois humanitarian intervention? Have the genocidal Taliban been subdued yet? It’s been 13 years, if not why not? Lack of commitment? Ability? Ammo? Intellect?

    Unfortunately all the fair dinkum duke nukem alpha warbois would be away, leading by example in nuking all these genocidal maniacs to answer a few simple questions, so we’ll never know.

    But…what I really really really do want to know is why on earth a stale white bread ten dollar pom would get into bed with a black communist muslim born in bokoharamya?

  • 12
    Andrea
    Posted Thursday, 28 August 2014 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Why is it that a leader’s popularity ratings rocket up as soon as he starts saber rattling? And the Opposition becomes mute, fearful of appearing appeasing? This is exactly what got us into Iraq - do we learn nothing?

  • 13
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 28 August 2014 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    Oppose Abbott (playing hide and seek behind this) and you’re out of “Team Australia” and straight into “Team unAustralian”?

  • 14
    Rais
    Posted Friday, 29 August 2014 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    Andrea - no.

  • 15
    CML
    Posted Friday, 29 August 2014 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    I have supported the Labor Party for decades, but if they dare to agree with Toady re military involvement OF ANY KIND in Iraq/Syria, that’s the end for me. Bill Shorten take note!!!!
    I marched in the street to stop the last foray into Iraq, and would do it again. Why? Because it is a total waste of Australian lives to become involved in a war that will have no lasting outcome.
    And the government rhetoric about terrorist attacks and safety risks in Oz, is a load of cr+p! If the bloody spooks in this country, who get hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars each year, can’t keep tabs on 150 Islamist extremists (our refugee selection is obviously working well???), then they should give the game away.
    If the FBI and Homeland Security in the US say there is NO threat from these lunatics in their country, what on earth is going on with our poor excuse for a government?
    The Labor Senator today was correct - it is diversion therapy by a government who can’t run themselves, let alone run the country. Bill Shorten - stop kowtowing to these idiots!

  • 16
    MJPC
    Posted Friday, 29 August 2014 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    BK, comprehensive summary of a sorry situation, thanks. It highlights todays one persons teerrorist is anothers freedom fighter.
    Reference beheadings, I remember some time ago a terrorist organisation would necklace its opponents (placing car tyres over their head and lighting them). Then they became freedom fighters when the west aligned against the regime they sought to overthrow. The organisation was the African National Congress led by Nelson Mandela. What we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

  • 17
    GideonPolya
    Posted Friday, 29 August 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Excellent, humane article by Bernard Keane. Peace is the only way but silence kills and silence is complicity.

    2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the British invasion of Iraq in November 1914 and the commencement of a century of Anglo devastation and ongoing ethnic cleansing of Iraq with the exception of the period 1948-1990 (see Gideon Polya, “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”, that includes n avoidable mortality-related a history of every country since Neolithic times and is now available for free perusal on the web: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com/ ).

    The Iraqi Holocaust and Iraqi Genocide has involved the following - for the period 2003- 2011, 2.7 million post-invasion war-related deaths, 1.5 million violent deaths, 1.2 million non-violent excess deaths from war-imposed deprivation, 0.8 million post-invasion under-5 infant deaths, 5-6 million refugees; for the period 1990-2003, 0.2 million violent deaths, 1.7 million non-violent excess deaths from war-imposed deprivation, 1.2 million under-5 infant deaths; for the period 1990-2011, 4.6 million war-related deaths, 1.7 million violent deaths, 2.9 million deaths from war-imposed deprivation, 2.0 million under-5 infant deaths (90% avoidable and due to US Alliance war crimes in gross violation of the Geneva Convention and the UN Genocide Convention) (see Iraqi Holocaust, Iraqi Genocide”: http://sites.google.com/site/iraqiholocaustiraqigenocide/ ).

    Exploiting barbaric acts by the IS Sunni rebels, the US and its cowardly US lackey Australia have returned soldiers and air force planes to Iraq and the US has intervened in the civil war with renewed massive bombing of Iraq with Australia likely to follow suit. Indeed the US has indicate that it reserves the “right” to bomb Syria and no doubt will be joined in this by the war criminal Australian Lib-Labs (Liberal-Laborals, Coalition and Labor Right). The racist, war criminal, militant, extremist, Australian Lib-Lab Right evidently just loves killing Asians – Australia has been involved in all post-1950 US Asian wars, atrocities that have been associated, so far, with 40 million Asian deaths from violence or war-imposed deprivation.

    Decent anti-racist Australians who abhor both non-state terrorism and the vastly more deadly US Alliance state terrorism (US state terrorism, UK state terrorism., French state terrorism, Israeli state terrorism and Australian state terrorism) will utterly reject the genocidally racist Lib-lab warmongers and war criminals, vote 1 Green and put the Coalition last.

    In 2005 anti-racist Jewish writer Harold Pinter in his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech stated: “We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it ‘bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East’. How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice” (Harold Pinter, “”Art , Truth and Politics”, Countercurrents, 8 December 2005: http://www.countercurrents.org/arts-pinter081205.htm ).

    For the US and its lackey Australia to renew bombing Iraq in the absence of (a) UN permission and (b) no clear threat to the US or Australia from the Sunni rebels would be illegal and an egregious war crime under International Law. To paraphrase Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter, “How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal 4.6 million? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that the US, UK and Australian war criminals be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice”.

  • 18
    Shirty
    Posted Friday, 29 August 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Excellent article. Should be read in conjunction with this one;

    http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/help-know-history

  • 19
    Dion Giles
    Posted Friday, 29 August 2014 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    The war on terror is, as Bernard Keane has confirmed, a pump for transferring endless wealth from the 99% to the 1% and continuing increase of the powers of the securocrats over decent people.

    The Islamic terror machine in the Middle East? Why fund it then? Against the secular regime in Syria? Purpose? To create demand for permanent war embroiling the same Coalition of the Lying and its hungry military-industrial complex maybe.

    The Islamic terror threat at home? Why persist in importing it and ceaselessly kowtowing to its ideological base? Why not require that in order to remain in Australia every imported person must be committed to freedom of every citizen to adopt, pursue, abandon, oppose any religious faith whatsoever with no PC exceptions? That is, commit to the Enlightenment that has made Western countries worth fleeing to? Could it be that the purpose of importing enemies of liberty is to “justify” a creeping degeneration into a police state? As we are witnessing with ever new demands for more power to securocrats.

  • 20
    Dingoes Breakfast
    Posted Sunday, 31 August 2014 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Oil is bubbling out of the ground in the Kurdish held area. So somebody has to go in and get it before ISIL kills all the Kurds and sells the ‘black gold’ to China.

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