There is something to be said for the position of hawks like Tony Blair, John McCain and the current American military leadership, who evidently believe that combat troops will be able to destroy Islamic State forces in the Middle East. Such a venture would simply repeat the staggering historical error of 2003 — complete with terrorist attacks in Western countries — but at least their position recognises that the current campaign against IS isn’t working and won’t work.
Meanwhile, Barack Obama and dutiful allies like Tony Abbott are persisting with the delusion that an air campaign and some more training of the Iraqi Army will inspire Iraqi forces to fight back and reverse the vast gains of IS.
This is a country that the United States occupied for eight years, where it established a client government and trained and equipped an army from the ground up. And still, that army proved wholly unequal to the challenge of IS. Who seriously thinks that a little more training and some more airstrikes are going to make a serious dent on IS, especially when the relentless demonisation of IS by Western governments has turned its members into the rock stars of Islamic extremism?
And who seriously thinks there is a coherent strategy behind the goal of “destroying and degrading” IS, even if that could be achieved? What about the Iraqi Shia militias that are using the war against IS as cover to exterminate Sunnis? What about Kurdish separatism and the visceral loathing it inspires within the Turkish government, which until recently preferred to aid IS rather than the Kurds fighting it? What about the future of Syria, once we have disposed of the almost childlike belief that a moderate rebel force can be assisted into power there?
Australia should not be considering sending yet more soldiers into this quagmire until we have some clear answers to all of those questions.