It started out as a “humanitarian” effort a few short months ago:

“At this stage I want to stress that this is very much a humanitarian mission to try to ensure that tens of thousands of people are not exposed to the murderous zealotry of the Islamic State.” — Tony Abbott, August 13, 2014.

A month later we were deploying aircraft and military advisers, but it didn’t mean we were at war. Now, Australia is joining the US in airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and sending Special Forces commandos in to advise the Iraqi military, in what the PM has admitted will be a long and dangerous mission:

“I want to reassure the Australian people that it will be as long as it needs to be, but as short as it possibly can be. I also need to warn the Australian people that this is a dangerous mission.” — Tony Abbott, October 3, 2014.

Are we at war yet? It’s safe to say we are. But as Jeff Sparrow writes today, many other critical questions about this conflict remain unanswered.

In explaining Australia’s latest commitment to Iraq on the ABC’s Insiders on Sunday, Defence Minister David Johnston said: “All of us who have been there know that the secret to a counter-insurgency is to get the bad guys.” The problem is, the West’s fixation with one lot of “bad guys” has a long history of leading to the creation of the next generation of them: our fixation with the Soviets led to spread of Islamic fundamentalist militants; our fixation with Saddam Hussein (or his oil?) led to the success of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Now the West is helping arm and train “moderate” rebels in Syria, many of whom are hardly liberal secularists with an enthusiasm for Western values.

So who are we arming and assisting in this war that we’ve rushed into? And how do we know they won’t give rise to the next Islamic State?

Those are the questions that Johnston and Abbott must now answer.

Peter Fray

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