Retracing our steps on the march into Iraq
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.
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