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Middle East

Sep 3, 2015

This is Abbott's Dubya moment

Tony Abbott seems determined to bog Australia down in another war in the Middle East, even though it is bad for Australia and even bad for Abbott himself.


If the 2003 attack on Iraq gave invading Western nations anything more than bad dreams and blowback, it was a boost to conspiracy hobbyists. Those with an interest in both statecraft and suspicion developed an opinion on the “real” reasons for the US-led invasion, and these ranged from “blood for oil” to fantastic stories about Dick Cheney’s personal fortunes to Saddam Hussein’s fatal preference for trade in euros, instead of dollars. There had to be a reason for all those corpses.

As it turned out, there wasn’t much of a reason at all. While it’s true that petrodollars poured out of Iraq and capital flowed into Halliburton, it’s also true that the spoils of war are not always the spur for war. If you’re looking for the “real” reason for this war, good luck. Even the most clear-headed realist thinkers on the conflict are unable to determine its strategic basis.

George W. Bush was advised that this would be a long and not especially profitable bloodbath. But sometimes, leaders go to war because they’re twits who prefer to take their foreign policy from Disney’s Aladdin instead of the State Department.  Across the past decade, Bush has emerged as one of history’s notable twits — even the most ridiculous US presidential nominee publicly calls this war a mistake.  As Tony Abbott progresses in joining US airstrikes on Syria, he also inches towards the possibility of becoming a total twit — even by the low, low standards of Donald Trump.

This is Abbott’s Bush moment, and it is one he is inhabiting with such blind unreason that even to call it mission creep is generous. Against considerable advice and for minimal gain, he seems determined to be a twit.

Lowy Institute West Asia expert Dr Rodger Shanahan has told press that the operation would not be strategically significant.  Vice Admiral David Johnston, Defence’s Joint Chief of Operations, warned that airstrikes in such a complex theatre would achieve very little. In a nation even Abbott himself described as contested by “baddies versus baddies”, a Super Hornet doesn’t offer much precision in attack. It’s especially difficult to know which “baddie” you’re bombing in the multi-dimensional Syrian conflict, which is why the US maintains an Iraq-first approach in the region.

Still, Abbott maintains that he was asked to war prom by Obama. Let’s suppose that this is true and that Abbott did not, as reported by Fairfax media, plead with the hegemon for an invitation. Let’s make-believe that Obama has said Australian support would be useful or even noticed next to the Turkish Air Force fleet.  And let’s even ignore the possible strategic and legal errors of acting without Security Council approval or outside international law and ask: is Abbott really obliged by the US to dilute Team Australia’s efforts in Iraq and commit it to an even more unwinnable game in Syria?

With military analysts suggesting that his reasons are inscrutable, the answer is probably no. People like Shanahan and Johnston don’t just overlook the importance of our alliance with the US before they speak. Often, we must join the conga-line of suckholes and in 2003, our middle power presence in Iraq, however deeply unjust and falsely humanitarian the conflict, was demanded. There was no refusing Bush’s maniacal dance, and if Mark Latham had shut up enough to become prime minister, you can be pretty sure he too would have learned to move in time.

Now, though, things are different. Obama’s commitment to cleaning up his predecessor’s mess is pretty slight and he’s not going to give these final months over to history.  The guy who recently said “gun-related incidents around this country dwarfs any deaths that happen through terrorism” is not going to bully us, or anyone, into another coalition of the willing. Abbott could easily refuse the “invitation” without real risk to the loss of our most important ally.

Of course, he risks loss in Canning or in next year’s federal election. It’s very likely that Abbott is counting on a khaki vote. But perhaps even these potential votes will be the spoils and not the spur for war.

The truly terrifying thing about Abbott, like the truly terrifying thing about Bush, is his ardent belief. He believes in this war, and he seems increasingly to be unable to separate his passions from his policy. Just as Bush believed entirely that his stupid, expensive, legacy-trashing actions in Iraq were grand strategy, Abbott believes that his personal morality is the best basis for foreign policy. Or marriage equality or asylum seekers or Aboriginal Australia. He has begun to act not only against the national interest but against his own interest when he really believes.

If there is a truth to be revealed about Abbott, perhaps it is that he is, like Bush often was, very sincere. If there’s something more frightening than the thought of a leader in service to oil or even to his own re-election, it’s the thought of a leader in service to himself. That Abbott believes himself to be truly humanitarian is a “conspiracy” we’re largely unprepared to entertain. Perhaps we should, because there are few leaders more terrifying, and more guaranteed of sustained power, than genuine ideologues.


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13 thoughts on “This is Abbott’s Dubya moment

  1. Johan Nemo

    “developed an opinion on the “real” reasons for the US-led invasion”

    These days it cannot be about oil as the US is now a major exporter of hydrocarbons. So it must be about something else.

    And the political and social wreckage of US wars in the area has led to a flood of migrants into Europe.

    So what is worth all the angst and cost?

    There are rumours online that the amazing early civilisations in the area were more amazing than publicly known – and that the remarkable constructions and artifacts were produced using remarkable technology. Could the technology be still there, concealed underground as done by the Nazis when their war was lost?

  2. Aethelstan

    It seems that Tony Abbott is absolutely desperate to get the focus off renewable energy or the state of the economy and really important issues and onto national security … or at least his escalation of his adventure in the Middle East … where we seem to be getting deeper into the mire of a complex civil and religious regional war with all sorts of sinister groups on each side … but Abbott has chosen ISIS as the special bogey man … indeed it appears that fighting ISIS is going to be the central element in his Canning byelection strategy … it reeks of cynical manipulation … but maybe he is just being a twit …

  3. James O'Neill

    @Aethelstan “it reeks of cynical manipulation … but maybe he is just being a twit”. May I suggest that he is both. Worse, he is a dangerous ideologue who, as Helen suggests, puts his own peculiar and warped 19th century belief system ahead of the national interest.

  4. klewso

    They had theirs – we got ours, and we both got FUX.

  5. Duncan Gilbey

    The problem with the 2003 incursion into Iraq was that there was no consideration of what to do after the inevitable military victory.

    The defeat of the Iraqi government and dissolution of its’ institutions (and the subsequent failure to replace them) produced a power vacuum that led directly to the current chaos.

    The PM’s utterances to date are little more than focus group orientated slogans (Bomb the baddies!) and show no critical thinking or understanding of the Middle East.

    I am no expert, but “Shock and Awe” directly contributed to the rise of ISIS. More of the same will not make them go away.

    For the PM to be have a credible policy on the Middle East (as opposed to a catchy slogan), he must complete the following sentence (using words of more than one syllable):

    “We will defeat the Death Cult and then … “.

  6. Jaybuoy

    “It’s pretty obvious that, well, sometimes shit happens, doesn’t it?” was Captain Clownshoes putrid response to an ADF members death..seems borderline psychopathic and should be of real concern to our supposedly apolitical military leaders many of whom seem to harbour private reservations about our dear leaders khaki fetish..

  7. Bohemian

    Sadly there are enough Australians still willing to buy into this narrative in the face of a crappy economy heading further south for the foreseeable future. If you can believe the Essential Research it could even buy them a short term bump but it will turn swiftly as soon as someone gets hurt. The US has always had a goal of regime change in Syria and Russia has an equally strong interest in ensuring there is no change. ISIS is a sponsored agent and had provided the opportunity for certain actors to “invade” Syria. It will end badly and we could be stuck in the middle. How about we solve a few local problems before embarking on this kind of narrow sighted adventurism even if its fun for some to wear flak jacs and rub shoulders with the military. The poor Syrians are being thrown out of their own country and being treated abominably everywhere. What if it happened it us! It could you know.

  8. ken svay

    With the dollar tanking this war is going to get seriously expensive for us. When will we know the real cost of our adventurism?
    As a bit of an aircraft nut I hope that our Super Hornets get to tangle with the Russian MIGS, I think that the Russian planes might be better than ours.Is it too late to cancel the JSF deal?

  9. AR

    JNemo – been reading Pauwel/Begier’s Morning of the Magician (Le Matin des magiciens)? Or just watching too much Indiana Jones?
    As to what Abbottrocious might do, the best criteria would be –
    a) is it stupid?
    b) is it counterproductive?
    c) is it immoral?
    d) is it a wedge for the ALP?
    That’s how this gov will end, not with a bang but a whimper.

  10. Will

    As much as Abbott is a good candidate for having a thoughtlessly muscular instinct in lieu of genuine foreign policy, comparing a insignificant air strike to the monumental historical blunder of the Iraq War which unleashed internecine sectarian conflict and global conflagration is a massive category error.

  11. David Spicer

    Back in the thatcher years the Falklands war revived mrs T’s prime ministership. She was on her way down fast, that war got her re elected. Not a lot different for bush 2. A chance to go for a Churchill moment. And didn’t Tony B Liar love it too. It must be the ultimate thrill for these weak limpid guys.
    Just a theory…… Me big man. Me destroy Iraq, me stop ISIS

  12. wangchen lozang

    Stimulating writing friends, thankyou.

    Abbott is personifying mistakes from the past.
    First China is quite passive compared to the rest of the world. US has Diego Garcia, we own Christmas Island. Why cant they do what they like in their own territorial waters. Remember the first US Marine Campaign was on Bei Jing back early 1900’s. They destroyed the eldest library of knowledge, they stole all of China’s gold and flexed their DONALD TRUMP muscles. What a joke, just like our joke. Indonesia owns 1/2 of PNG. What’s going on?. FIFA has been operating in POLOTICS or POLITICIANS are making off with deals to SEAL a deal just like FIFA. They are attempting to resuscitate a failing monetary regime.
    Answer! We are being finically and environmentally crucified. Why?……………MONEY! Thus MEDITATE.

    We are screwed.


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