Sep 2, 2014

Rundle: the real target in Iraq intervention is not IS, but Iran

When it comes to the Islamic State, media and politicians are currently engaging in a competition to out-sententious each other. As always, the bluster and rhetoric hide more grievous atrocities and some harsh geopolitical realities.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


The current intervention in northern Iraq is about as overdetermined a political-media event as you could get. A radical and ruthless insurgent group, heavy on the branding, with a highly efficient video distribution system, has made it impossible for the West not to intervene. In the United States the possibility of an intervention is being minimised, since it is deeply embarrassing to President Barack Obama, and the UK remains resolutely opposed to any sort of military adventures. In Australia, of course, it has come as a godsend to Tony Abbott, who has played up the ruthlessness of the Islamic State (also called ISIS) in a manner that IS would find deeply gratifying -- why else would they release their videos? The group is no more than common-or-garden ruthless, executing some hostages, killing captured soldiers, massacring whole villages of "apostate" civilians. Yet the group's theatricality and slick video skills have made it possible to turn it into a force of "radical evil". Abbott has already described IS as "worse than Nazism". That's Mr Motormouth again, getting all excited and telling people what they want to hear, as in the Liberal party room last week. He should have kept something back, just in case RAAF personnel are captured or killed. With the rhetoric stepped up, the political-media elite have fallen into lockstep. The commentariat are currently engaging in a competition to out-sententious each other. IS are very, very bad, Gareth-Gareth Evans and Peter Hartcher tell us in the op-ed pages today. Perhaps you knew this already. The pompous, pointless bluster in which high-profile commentators urge us on to do something we were going to do anyway -- and that even those opposed to practically all interventions have taken up a tactical silence concerning -- is simply a substitute for analysis of the region and the complexities of the politics. The first and most obvious point is that we aren't doing anything comprehensive about the ruthless violence of IS overall, we're simply pointing it away from Iraqi Kurdistan and some northern groups. South of Mosul, the group has free rein. Indeed, the current intervention will strengthen IS's hand there, since the direct supply of arms to the Kurds further weakens the Iraqi state. Indeed, this current intervention may be the death blow -- at some point the Kurds will go back on their word to the US and unilaterally declare their independence. The US-made military aid contingent on its continued commitment to Iraq, but what could the Americans do if the Kurds make the declaration mid-mission? Their newly declared independence would make the mission more strategically necessary, not less. Steering your foreign policy based on the video presentation of beheadings is not a good idea -- and it's not one the US or its allies are pursuing. Media and public interest in the IS's grisly snuff shots would quickly fade among the public if we chose to do nothing about them -- and we would choose to do nothing about them if the territorial integrity of a future ally were not under threat (quite probably a somewhat exaggerated one). The US and allied intervention is also about forestalling further Iranian expansion into the affairs of what was previously Iraq. The Western Americophile rhetoric -- why does the US always have to be the good guy? -- is misplaced here, as always. Former Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki had already made clear that he would invite the Iranians in if he did not receive sufficient support from the US -- and the Iranians made it clear they would be willing to oblige. Meanwhile, one side effect of the West throwing itself into action in the north is that Shia violence is legitimised in the south. Last week, near Baqubah, 75 kilometres north of Baghdad, around 70 Sunnis were killed by a suicide bomber and machine-gun militia in a massacre staged by a Shia group with links to elements of the ruling Dawa party. Had IS done this, it would have played for days. But it has passed unmentioned, as will any and all subsequent massacres by our new Shia allies. The omission is particularly significant because the attack caused the withdrawal of the Sunni parliamentary bloc from the Abadi government -- an ominous step towards further sectarian conflict in the southern part of Iraq. It didn't make the news, because there was no video, and it didn't get a mention among the commentariat because there was no opportunity to parrot Churchillian rhetoric. Whatever compelling moral argument there might be -- emphasis on the might -- for a very limited assistance/intervention in the north, dressing it up as a cosmic battle is the least helpful thing that anyone can do. The likely effect of this latest move will be the further destabilisation of non-Kurdish Iraq -- and the stability of Iraqi Kurdistan itself is not a given. By the time any of that happens Tony Abbott will have moved on, just as he moved on from MH17 and from MH370, from 18C and "Team Australia". None of it appears to be convincing an electorate with a bad case of buyer's remorse, but it is perhaps putting a floor under the fall. This is a government to make the Rudd era look like the first hundred days of FDR. That is of itself of little importance, except insofar as it affects the question of who will live and who will die -- and the government should be held to a more cogent argument for its case. We should hold them to account, rather than providing a chorus for the latest fanfare.

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20 thoughts on “Rundle: the real target in Iraq intervention is not IS, but Iran

  1. jmendelssohn

    “This is a government to make the Rudd era look like the first hundred days of FDR. ” So sad, so true.

  2. Matthew Tolj

    I have a ten day trial for Crikey and after reading this clap trap there is no reason to subscribe.

    Obviously massacring whole villages is something the west should sit by and watch without being moved to do anything. The fact there is bipartisan support just goes to show the author of this (I would call it an article but that gives it too much credence) bs is wandering around the edges of some foreign planet of unknown origin.

    As for an efficient delivery system of propaganda welcome to the 21st century. Were you expecting Goebbels?

    While it is true it is a complex situation it does not divest intelligent people to see it for what it is not what you want it to be.

    I suggest the author revert to analysing sports where the rudimentary life would be much more aligned to their ability.

  3. ilolatu

    You mean the real target is the opinion polls.

    Matthew Tolj you need to be a billionaire miner or media mogul to corrupt journalists. Consider the multimillion dollar losses papers are making. A year subscription dollars just isn’t enough.

  4. GF50

    Thanks Guy. The whole sick mess and the LNP gagging to get in the action. ME! Me! Me! shrills Abbott, the discombobulated sociopath. Does this Government have no one to tell them the facts? and suggest he STFU.
    So far every promise is a lie in fact. Now there is no possibility that he has any humanitarian in his bipolar range of “characters”. His “crimes” against humanity, the poor the weak the downtrodden are far too numerous to list. The LNP the party of cognitive dissonance.

  5. Guy Rundle

    Actually matthew

    If you read the article youll see I say there was no likelihood there wouldnt be an intervention – and nothing in the article suggested I was opposed to it.
    But its clear that talking up every group as worse than nazis, is for political purposes at home, not core strategic ones. We’ll most likely be negotiating with ISIS in 5 years time – just as we did in syria, when assad was the bad guy.

  6. klewso

    “The adults are back in charge – of the red cordial.”

    How do they pick their cause célèbre – “tick the cran of red herrings”; “spin the cobblers”?

    Things just as bad aren’t happening in Africa – but we wouldn’t dream of intervening on anyone’s behalf there?

  7. Helen Razer

    i love that line of argument, “what, do you want people to die?”,
    and of course, the obvious “answer” is for the White Knight Of The West to sweep in and “do something”, in this case it’s to arm a group which has been in violent opposition to to the so-called government which Our Saviour is supposed to be helping, apparently without the knowledge or say so of said government itself. that’s as much a solution to this situation as 5 is a solution to “2 + 2 = ”

    anyway, good luck with your perpetual war matey (and exponential waste of tax dollars)

  8. Helen Razer

    oh and remember when the “solution” in libya was to arm islamic militia and overthrow gaddafi? hows that working out? 100% on plan by the looks of it uh huh. oh, and when the “solution” in syria was to arm, fund and train violent jihadists to overthrow assad? hows that working out? well, we’re seeing it splashed across our tv screens right now. and afghanistan? and…and…. yep, more guns to more violent fundamentalists is always the solution, isn’t it,

  9. j.oneill

    Steve Coll has an important analysis in the New Yorker. He discusses the elephant in the room notably lacking in Aus media. That is the fact that major US oil firms have very favourable contracts with the Kurdistan government. The US wants to protect that investment for a number of reasons. Not the least of those reasons is the goal of using Iraqs oil and gas as an alternative source for Europe thereby cutting out the Russians. There are major geopolitical forces at work here and the Aus public are being denied itL information. Ukraine is another classic case in point.

  10. Zeke

    Thank you Helen Razer. I can’t listen to the news in the MSM any more. I end up yelling and my blood pressure rises in concert with my feelings of utter impotence. How can we stop this lunatic?

    I’m ashamed of my own people. Abbott’s polls go UP when he talks about going into Iraq? God save us. How can the Australian people be so ignorant to recent history?

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