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Aug 23, 2017


The exhalation of relief from the foreign policy establishment was audible. Trump would, at least when it came to military intervention, be a traditional Republican president. His address on Afghanistan — as could be predicted from previous major Trump policy pronouncements — lacked small things like detail (excused as strategic obscurity, to keep the enemy guessing) and a clear description of what indicators could be used for determining if his “policy” was a success. But it appeared to be distinguished by two key features from previous policy — more troops sent back to Afghanistan to kill terrorists, rather than build Afghanistan into anything resembling a viable self-sustaining state, and getting tough(er) on Pakistan.

Cue nods of appreciation and supportive op-ed pieces around the world. Trump would not be the dangerous maverick from his campaign who, even if entirely inconsistently, damned US foreign adventurism abroad and promised an end to it. He even acknowledged that he’d changed his position in support of withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Purity Left who damned the neocon Clinton as a blood-soaked hawk are oddly silent. Bombing Syria. Sending troops into Yemen. Threatening military intervention in Venezuela (thus accomplishing the extraordinary achievement of engendering support for the socialist thug Maduro). Now, back into Afghanistan. But her emails!

[We can be a friend to the US, but we should no longer be an ally]

There’s now debate about US expectations of increased military support from its allies, including Australia. But we’re experienced at this game: if America is invading or re-invading a country, get in early with your commitment to join. That then can cover for the fact that your contribution is relatively limited. That was the basis for John Howard’s participation in Iraq, from which thankfully Australian forces emerged without a combat casualty. In May, the Turnbull government pre-emptively announced it was sending an extra 30 troops to Afghanistan to train Afghan forces, in response to a US/NATO request. That lifts our commitment back to 300 in a country where we have already lost 41 young men since 2001 and over 260 injured — and who knows how many more with long-term mental health problems.

The justification for expanding the war in Afghanistan once again is that we cannot allow the country to be used as a base for terror attacks — which was the basis for the original invasion and occupation of Afghanistan sixteen years ago. It will be the same justification in another sixteen years. We’re still killing terrorists there, only the terrorists to be killed have expanded to include not merely al-Qaeda but Islamic State, who now compete in Afghanistan with the traditional mix of Taliban forces, local warlords and corrupt western clients. But this is a local variant of the great unspoken question about the War on Terror: why, after sixteen years, trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives are we told that we’re just as much at risks of attacks as ever, from as many terrorists as ever, representing a greater variety of terror groups than ever? Like the killing of “Al Qaeda’s No. 3” that was triumphantly reported annually throughout the 2000s, we apparently have a literally endless enemy. As a war, the War on Terror has been a spectacular failure — unless you make money from weapons, or you’re an intelligence bureaucrat who enjoys more funding and power than ever before, or media companies that can boost their flagging revenues by talking endlessly about (non-white) terrorists.

[If Trump comes a-knockin’, will we be able to tell him ‘no’?]

The answer to the unspoken question, as a succession of the world’s most senior intelligence officials have told us over the last sixteen years, is that western military intervention is a key, if by no means sole, driver of terrorism, making the War on Terror and extraordinarily expensive exercise in self-perpetuation, one in which the foreign policy establishment in academia, thinktanks, the media and governments are complicit. It’s not a matter of tactics; a premature withdrawal here, a surge there is not the point: our mere presence is. In the words of then then-head of the CIA, “our engagement and direct involvement will stimulate and spur additional threats to our national security interests.”

There is no reason whatsoever to expect we won’t still be in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or whatever other country we decide to intervene in, in another 16 years, long after the Trump presidency is a footnote to the long tale of the decline of the United States, governments still insisting that the goal is to kill yet more terrorists, new generations of them. A “decades-long struggle against terrorism”, we’ll be told, as we spend more money and waste more young lives in the very process of ensuring it continues not merely for decades, but permanently.


Sep 19, 2016


From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Eddie Hayson off the leash. Just what advice is PR extraordinaire Max Markson giving to Eddie Hayson? Hayson, the “controversial gambler”, is trying to resurrect his image after a series of scandals, including his links to the rugby league match-fixing allegations currently being investigated. He held a press conference last week in which he said that NRL players and jockeys enjoyed services free of charge in his brothel but he was just an ordinary punter who had no involvement in match fixing. The presser didn’t have the desired effect, with Kate McClymont writing that Hayson should “shut up” to avoid more bad press. Hayson didn’t take her advice, sending an abusive, homophobic rant via text message to Sydney Morning Herald journo Andrew Webster. Webster shared the text today in a powerful story, saying: “Most turn their back on nasty homophobia and pretend it didn’t happen. Don’t give the grub who said it any more oxygen. I’d prefer to call it out.”

The text said “your (sic) just a weak homosexual aren’t you,” before going on to more homophobic insults.


It’s not the first time Hayson’s abuse towards journos has been made public. McClymont also posted to Twitter screenshots of his texts last month, where he said “I still believe your (sic) a notorious wanna be gangster mole”.


If Max Markson was really committed to his client, it sounds like he should take Hayson’s phone off him.

Intelligence review will not lead to insight. Whether there’s benefit or not to be had from yet another review of the Australian Intelligence Community — as mooted today in the Fairfax press — will depend on how serious the government wants there to be. The last intelligence review in 2011 was a facile, Pollyannaish effort by an academic and a former head of the Attorney-General’s Department that declared all was well with agencies that had enjoyed a massive boost in personnel and resources with minimal accountability. Since then, of course, governments have pumped billions more into the coffers of our least accountable bureaucracies in the name of the endless War on Terror. But one benefit of any review will be that it will give Malcolm Turnbull an excuse to kill off any efforts by Labor to improve parliamentary oversight of security agencies via the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. Labor looks set to renew its push to strengthen the powers and role of the committee, but Turnbull appears to regard the committee with contempt, having appointed first far-right wingnut Andrew Nikolic to head it and then, after Nikolic was thankfully dispatched by his constituents, junior backbencher Michael Sukkar, who is likely to be rapidly house-trained by security agency bureaucrats who’ve been around longer than he’s been alive. A review should enable Turnbull to dismiss any reform efforts for the rest of what is likely to only be a two-year parliament.

Dutch take on Al Jazeera. A Dutch multimedia journalism company has taken a swing at multinational media company Al Jazeera over an article it claims the Qatar-based network republished — complete with Danish source code — without permission. Scrollytelling, a journalism company that specialises in online multimedia projects (articles that include videos, pictures and text on one page), wrote to Al Jazeera on its own website, saying multiple attempts to contact Al Jazeera had been ignored.

“Initially we were taken aback and confused. We knew there must be some mistake. We contacted the author of the piece, Hidde Boersma, who told us he sold his piece to you. This is fine. Our source code however was not included in the sale, nor could it have been. Hidde promised to resolve the situation. In addition we contacted you directly too. After waiting patiently we received no response. After many tries through your editorial office we got hold of an editor who promised to return our call. This never happened either. As a final measure we sent you a DMCA takedown request and waited patiently. No response.”

The story, which originally ran in Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant in May, was republished in Al Jazeera, and Martijn Van Tol and Joost Baaij from Scrollytelling say their source code was stolen as well, but badly:

“To add insult to injury, you didn’t do a great job at ripping the code either. The social sharing doesn’t work, the ‘audio off’ option is gone, and the animations are glitchy and let’s not get started on how the slide transition is just plain messy. Your video doesn’t seem to be globally distributed like ours, and the story isn’t on https.”


Conroy not the only high-profile departure. While most attention (including ours) was focused on the stealth resignation of Labor frontbencher Stephen Conroy on Friday, two of the country’s most senior public servants also announced their resignations. Department of Finance boss Jane Halton called it a day, after decades in the upper echelons of the public service. She was the longest-serving of any current APS secretaries, and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann paid tribute to her work. “At all times I have very much appreciated Jane’s professionalism, competence and good humour,” he said. “Though it is fair to say that Senate estimates is more fun with Jane sitting next to you rather than on the other side of the table.”

Halton said it was time to give someone else a chance to run a federal department, but she didn’t give any other clues about what she would do next. She told staff:

“After nearly 15 years as a secretary, at the beginning of a term of government, having beaten my father’s record of time as a secretary (a personal milestone), and now with our reform program in place it is the right time to go.”

Clerk of the Senate Rosemary Laing also announced that she would be leaving her role, but with an extra long notice period — her last day will be in March next year. She’s been in the role for seven years and in the department for 26, starting as a researcher, according to our friends at The Mandarin.

Aeroplane jelly. We know you love it — especially Crikey’s readers at Russell Hill — so we’re happy to bring you the latest news on the F-35. Yes — it’s Flying Heap of Crap Watch. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the air, 15 of the “troubled” planes have been grounded. The insulation around the fuel tanks is “peeling and crumbling”, apparently. The F-35 has previously been grounded for the minor problem of its engine catching fire. We’re no aeronautical engineers here at Crikey, but we imagine that a leaking fuel tank probably isn’t going to help in that regard. By the way, that’s the fuel that has to be ferried about on the tarmac in special high-vis trucks because otherwise it gets too hot. The F-35’s builder, Lockheed, dismissed the problem as just “a supply chain manufacturing quality issue” and not a technical or design issue, but we suspect that would be, erm, cold comfort for F-35 pilots as they’re engulfed in flames.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to or use our guaranteed anonymous form


Jul 25, 2016


Children as young as 14 would be subject to control orders, and those convicted of terrorism who have served their sentences but failed to show remorse would remain in jail under plans announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Turnbull announced that Attorney-General George Brandis would be convening a meeting of state and territory attorneys-general to seek to implement post-sentence preventative detention orders to keep “high-risk” terrorist offenders in prison after the end of their sentences. Brandis said that this would be similar to post-sentence detention measures for sex offenders and other violent offenders where they remain a risk to the community and are thought incapable of rehabilitation.

Each state and territory would have to introduce legislation in their respective parliaments, and states and territories gave in-principle agreement at the Council of Australian Governments in April. Brandis said that it would have court oversight, with regular reviews of the orders made.

The government also announced it would proceed with the last counter-terrorism legislation entered into Parliament — but not passed — before the election. The most controversial of the legislation includes the change to allow children as young as 14 to be subject to control orders, down from the current age of 16. Brandis said the recommendations of the committee would be adopted, and that control orders for 14- to 17-year-olds would be different from those issued to adults. The committee recommended ensuring that young people subject to the court orders should have legal representation, and the AFP should serve the control orders to the parent or guardian of the young person.

The 21 recommendations of the committee will be adopted, and Turbull said he would reintroduce the legislation into Parliament once Parliament begins sitting at the end of August.

Many civil liberties and legal groups expressed concern about the broad control order regime. A joint council of civil liberties submission said that it was opposed to control orders and preventative detention orders as they represented “unnecessary and unjustified encroachments on rights and liberties and rule of law principles”:

“Our general opposition to control orders is that they undermine the rule of law in that the conditions imposed are coercive and punitive and breach important liberties and rights and should not be imposed without a fair trial process and conviction. This is so for adults. The significance of such an unnecessary breach of rights and liberties is considerably greater when the imposition is on school age children. It is a very serious step. “

The groups said that it was difficult to see how control orders could be effective because most terrorist attacks have been carried out by people unknown to authorities, and pushing control orders on younger people would only make deradicalisation efforts tougher:

“It is highly likely that the imposition of control orders on 14-15 year olds will generate anger and alienation within the child’s immediate family and community and more generally within the Muslim community in Australia.”

The Law Council of Australia describes control orders as “significant restrictions on a person’s liberty without following the normal criminal process of arrest, charge, prosecution and determination of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt”.

The former Independent National Security Legislative Monitor said control orders were “not effective, not appropriate, and not necessary” for people who have not been convicted of terrorist offences and recommended they be repealed. The Australian Human Rights Commission recommended against control orders for 14-  to 16-year-olds and instead suggested a full review of the control order and preventative detention regimes.

The committee noted the criticism of the control order scheme but refused to engage with it, stating that “the Committee has not in this inquiry examined the merit of these regimes, but has instead focused on the provisions of the Bill before the Parliament,” and said that these regimes would sunset in September 2018.

The government will also be introducing a new offence for the advocacy of genocide.


Jul 7, 2016


Among many other elements of the Blair government’s decision to join the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the report of the Chilcot Inquiry provides forensic detail about not merely how the Blair government was warned it would increase the threat of terrorism, but that it ignored that warning because of a commitment to making a political point.

While the inquiry report shows the flawed intelligence process that led to false claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction stockpile, and the political process that led to Blair hyping the threat of those WMDs, it also details the specific risks judged by British intelligence agencies relating to terrorism, those WMDs and their potential use by terrorists or Hussein himself against the West.

The main form in which these judgements were conveyed to Blair and his government were Joint Intelligence Committee assessments — reports prepared by a cabinet office committee composed of the heads of MI6, MI5, the surveillance agency GCHQ, Defence Intelligence and Defence, Foreign Office and other senior bureaucrats, chaired by a permanent head (usually a former senior intelligence officer); representatives from the CIA and Australian, Canadian and New Zealand intelligence services may also participate in the group. The committee has its own assessments staff as well as the material provided by the three collection agencies.

The assessments provided by JIC on terrorism in the lead-up to the attack on Iraq make for damning reading. JIC advised Blair that there was little chance of Saddam Hussein co-operating with al-Qaeda. In November 2001, JIC advised “Saddam Hussein had ‘refused to permit any Al Qaida presence in Iraq'”; “evidence of contact between Iraq and Usama Bin Laden (UBL) was ‘fragmentary and uncorroborated'” and that “we judge it unlikely … There is no evidence UBL’s organisation has ever had a presence in Iraq”. There was, according to JIC, “no credible evidence of covert transfers of WMD-related technology and expertise to terrorist groups”.

In early 2003, JIC told Blair “despite the presence of terrorists in Iraq ‘with links to Al Qaida’, there was ‘no intelligence of current co-operation between Iraq and Al Qaida'” and that “Al Qaida would ‘not carry out attacks under Iraqi direction’.”

What about Saddam himself? Would he launch terror attacks against the West? In 2002 and again in 2003, JIC assessed “Saddam’s ‘capability to conduct effective terrorist attacks’ was ‘very limited’ and Iraq’s “‘terrorism capability’ was ‘inadequate to carry out chemical or biological attacks beyond individual assassination attempts using poisons’.”

Afterwards the head of MI5, Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, said that this assessment of Saddam’s minimal capacity to launch terror attacks on the West had “turned out to be the right judgement”. However, JIC did warn beforehand that attacking Saddam would increase the possibility of a terror response, even if his capacity was limited. He would “… aim to use terrorism or the threat of it. Fearing the US response, he is likely to weigh the costs and benefits carefully in deciding the timing and circumstances in which terrorism is used.”

But what about in the future? Could Saddam Hussein develop a capacity to launch terror attacks at the West using WMDs? Again, intelligence agencies disputed the possibility:

“Asked specifically about the theory that at some point in the future Saddam Hussein would probably have brought together international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in a threat to Western interests, Baroness Manningham‑Buller responded: ‘It is a hypothetical theory. It certainly wasn’t of concern in either the short‑term or the medium‑term to my colleagues and myself.'”

So, Blair was told by intelligence agencies there was little threat of Saddam launching terror attacks on the West or of him working with al-Qaeda to do so — but attacking him would increase that threat, albeit within his limited capacity.

But intelligence agencies also made assessments about the broader consequences of an attack on Hussein. According to the report, in February 2003, JIC warned Blair that “Al Qaida and associated networks would remain the greatest terrorist threat to the UK and its activity would increase at the onset of any military action against Iraq”.

Moreover, the removal of Saddam Hussein would increase the risk that any WMDs (which fortunately turned out to be fictional) could fall into the hands of terrorists. This was the JIC advice Blair got:

“Al Qaida and associated groups will continue to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat will be heightened by military action against Iraq. The broader threat from Islamist terrorists will also increase in the event of war, reflecting intensified anti‑US/anti‑Western sentiment in the Muslim world, including among Muslim communities in the West. And there is a risk that the transfer of CB [chemical and biological] material or expertise, during or in the aftermath of conflict, will enhance Al Qaida’s capabilities.”

The following week, JIC repeated the warning to Blair, then repeated it again in March. The report states “Baroness Manningham‑Buller subsequently added [in her evidence to the inquiry] that if Ministers had read the JIC Assessments they could ‘have had no doubt’ about that risk.”

This is chilling reading. As Crikey and many others have been pointing out for years, Manningham‑Buller told the inquiry that they knew afterwards that attack on Iraq led to to an increase in the terror threat to the United Kingdom. She told the inquiry:

“I think we can produce evidence because of the numerical evidence of the number of plots, the number of leads, the number of people identified, and the correlation of that to Iraq and statements of people as to why they were involved … So I think the answer to your … question: yes.”

But now we know in detail that intelligence agencies before the attack repeatedly warned of exactly that outcome, without the benefit of hindsight. Why did Blair not heed that advice? In his statement to the inquiry, he said: “I was aware of the JIC Assessment of 10 February that the Al Qaida threat to the UK would increase. But I took the view then and take the same view now that to have backed down because of the threat of terrorism would be completely wrong … There are ample justifications such terrorists will use as excuses for terrorism.”

Blair’s second point can be disposed of quickly: terrorists can always find justifications for their attacks, yes — the issue was the increase in their ability to recruit willing supporters to help them conduct those attacks that is the key issue, and the attack on Iraq acted “as a recruiting sergeant for a young generation throughout the Islamic and Arab world”.

Which leaves his first point: he deliberately ignored repeated advice that he was increasing the risk of terror attacks on the West in order to make a political point about “not backing down” — a point all the more absurd given repeated advice that Hussein posed minimal terror threat to the West anyway.

There are many far worse consequences of this illegal, immoral war: hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis (the allies who invaded Iraq, Chilcot notes, didn’t bother keeping any accurate record of civilian casualties), over 4000 US personnel, 179 UK personnel dead, the scores killed in post-Iraq terror attacks in Western cities, hundreds of thousands of allied personnel and Iraqis injured, an estimated long-term cost of US$4 trillion, the rise of Islamic State, the dominance of the Iranian regime over Iraq. But the invasion didn’t even succeed on its own terms — it was a “strategic failure”, as the report notes — because it never could have succeeded. The advice to Blair was that Saddam posed a limited terror threat, even with WMDs, and removing him would increase the risk of terrorism. Blair went ahead in full cognisance of that and helped remove him. He has a sea of blood on his hands, along with his co-conspirator George W. Bush and vassal state leaders like John Howard who obediently fell into line with the attack.

The most important duty of a political leader is to keep his or her nation safe. Blair, Bush and Howard made us less safe. The Chilcot Inquiry demonstrates how they did so wilfully.


Jun 16, 2016


An ABC staff member has been “censured”, The Australian revealed this morning, for tweeting a personal opinion from the official ABC Religion and Ethics account about how best to refer to terrorism committed by Muslims.

Though “censured” might be too strong a word. In a statement sent to the Oz yesterday, and Crikey this morning, an ABC spokesman said ABC Radio had “spoken” with the staff member about the tweet, which breaches the ABC’s social media policy. In the tweet, the account endorsed a statement that “unless you want to offend or alienate Muslims, there’s simply no good reason to ever use ‘radical Islam’ over more precise alternatives”. This, the ABC account tweeted, “ought to be displayed prominently in every newsroom”.

The tweet, sent at 9am yesterday, hasn’t been deleted.

“As per usual ABC practice the post will not be removed as it is not defamatory, abusive or offensive,” the statement reads. “The tweet has provoked a robust debate and it is preferable, for reasons of transparency, that it remains in place.”

The ABC declined to say who ran the account. It’s caused controversy before, having been covered on Media Watch in 2013 after it made several highly opinionated tweets about politicians. At the time, the account carried a description that said it was operated by Scott Stephens, the editor of ABC Religion and Ethics. It no longer carries this description, but the account maintains a similar personal tone.

The tweet sent yesterday morning garnered four retweets and several dozen negative reactions from citizens unhappy at being told not to offend Muslims by their public broadcaster.

By 4pm, it had made its way to Tim Blair’s blog, though much of the outrage came earlier than this.

The author of the sentiment retweeted by ABC Religion and Ethics is Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the American think tank the Brookings Institute. Pressed by his own followers on what the alternatives to the terms “radical Islam” are, he suggested “radical Islamism, jihadism, Islamic extremism, and so on”.

The phrase “radical Islam” is a key battleground of the culture war in the United States.

The conflict goes back to Republican president George W. Bush, who drew censure from conservatives for referring to a “global war on terror” rather than a war on Islamic extremism — he avoided referring to Islamic terrorism for much of his presidency, with some exceptions (he referred to “Islamic fascism” once in 2006, and, facing backlash, rarely did so again) .

It’s a tactic that’s been kept up by his successor, Barack Obama. Several Republicans, including presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump, have for years been criticising the administration over its unwillingness to refer to Islamic terrorism.

On Sunday, Trump put out a statement saying if Obama refused to use the phrase “radical Islam”, he should step down:

“If we do not get tough and smart real fast, we are not going to have a country anymore. Because our leaders are weak, I said this was going to happen — and it is only going to get worse I am trying to save lives and prevent the next terrorist attack. We can’t afford to be politically correct anymore.”

Obama usually prefers to talk of “terrorism” and the fight against “ISIL”, without singling out Islam.

In a speech on Tuesday widely viewed as a response to Trump’s statement, Obama said he didn’t seek to validate groups like Islamic State by talking about Islam in describing terrorism.

“They want us to validate them by implying that they speak for those billion-plus people, that they speak for Islam. That’s their propaganda, that’s how they recruit. And if we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims as a broad brush, and imply that we are at war with the entire religion, then we are doing the terrorists’ work for them.

“[T]he reason I am careful about how I describe this threat has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with actually defeating extremism.”

The ABC as a whole doesn’t hold to the same view, and the phrase “radical Islam” is used frequently in its coverage.

“The ABC has not issued any advice to staff and does not have a policy about the use of the term ‘radical Islam’,” a spokesman said. “The ABC holds the view that language should in all cases be as accurate and informative as possible.”


Nov 19, 2015


In one media conference yesterday, the Prime Minister spoke more sense on terrorism, the Middle East and Syria than his unfortunate predecessor said in five years as party leader.

In the transition from Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull, we’ve gone from a leader who seriously spoke of “baddies versus baddies” and contemplated a unilateral invasion of Iraq to one who demonstrates a basic understanding of what is happening on the ground in Syria and the profound problems that would ensue from further Western military intervention — views he shares with President Barack Obama. His remarks from his Manila media conference yesterday are worth quoting at length:

“The President’s position, and this is cutting straight to the chase, is as he has stated publicly — as he said he could send 50,000 marines into Syria and they would be able to retake Raqqa and Mosul of course in Iraq and they could achieve that success, but what happens after that and when they come home? His view… and I have to say this is the view of all of the countries’ leaders with whom I spoke in Turkey, all of them — his view is that the presence of foreign armies in that theatre at the present time would be counterproductive given the lessons of history, relatively recent history.

“The critical thing is the outcome of what you do and the plainly a political settlement is the objective, it is enormously difficult you know the enmities run very deep. But plainly, when you look at Daesh or ISIL, its base is a Sunni population that has felt disenfranchised or oppressed in Syria — and with very good reason — and also has felt left out of the new government in Iraq.”

And later:

The reality is that trust is broken down and that some degree of trust has to be re-established slowly and then over time, because plainly the position is catastrophic… one of the keys in undermining and moving in effect the support that Daesh has, because they are preying on and taking advantage of the deep unhappiness of large parts of the Sunni population in both Syria and Iraq.

In those remarks, Turnbull has committed what for neoconservatives is one of the greatest sins: contextualising terrorism — that is, seeking to identify what is motivating terrorism and what role external forces, including Western military interventions, play in it.

“The presence of foreign armies in that theatre at the present time would be counterproductive given the lessons of history, relatively recent history.” Recent history? That’s the Liberal successor to John Howard making it clear that the Iraq War was “counterproductive” in terms of terrorism. And making it clear that foreign military intervention will make the current problem — created by the Iraq War — worse, not better.

In acknowledging how “counterproductive” Western intervention would be, Turnbull is implicitly contradicting the myth peddled by major party politicians across the West — indeed peddled just this week by Philip Ruddock — that Western foreign policy has no impact on terrorism.

No wonder the hard right can’t stand Turnbull. This sort of nuanced, fact-based assessment of terrorism is anathema to the “slaughter our way to peace” policies advocated by some on his backbench, including failed PM Tony Abbott, and by News Corp. Worse, Turnbull dared to acknowledge that Islamic State has some perceived legitimacy in the Sunni heartland of Syria and Iraq, because Sunnis “with very good reason” feel “disenfranchised or oppressed” (he might have more accurately said “slaughtered in the thousands”). Again, this is painful context for warmongers, who insist Islamist terrorism has no real-world motivation, but is instead a kind of mediaeval virus that turns its victims into zombies intent on destroying modernity.

News Corp, at least, has a commercial interest in promoting war and demonising Muslims — hate and fear are a crucial part of its tabloid business model, one that places it in an unholy alliance of interests with the very terrorists its outlets purport to despise. It’s not that its editors and commentators don’t understand that yet another Middle East invasion will not merely not solve the problem but yet again make it worse. Quite the opposite: they’re counting on it, because what better way to prop up its dying media model a bit longer than endless war and endless terrorism driving endless headlines of hate?

Politicians, on the other hand, have no such excuse. Turnbull at least has demonstrated that Australia is now governed by a leader capable of thinking beyond tomorrow morning’s front page.


Nov 18, 2015


After the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday night, pundits, writers and analysts all over the world had strong opinions on what Western governments should do next. Should the United States invade Syria? Should NATO bomb Islamic State (also called ISIS or Daesh)? How can IS be defeated?

Roger Cohen in The New York Times: a full-scale military campaign

“The only adequate measure, after the killing of at least 129 people in Paris, is military, and the only objective commensurate with the ongoing threat is the crushing of ISIS and the elimination of its stronghold in Syria and Iraq. The barbaric terrorists exulting on social media at the blood they have spilled cannot be allowed any longer to control territory on which they are able to organize, finance, direct and plan their savagery.”

James Stavridis in Foreign Policy: a military campaign, with NATO support

“The Islamic State is an apocalyptic organization overdue for eradication. It has beheaded and raped citizens from around the world; has killed civilians in spectacular and horrific ways; has enslaved young women and girls and sold them in open markets; and appears to have brought down a commercial aircraft full of tourists. Now it has killed Westerners execution-style in a city theater. There is a time for soft power and playing the long game in the Middle East, but there is also a time for the ruthless application of hard power. It is NATO’s responsibility to recognize our current moment qualifies as the latter.”

Bruce Newsome in the Berkeley Blog: ground forces are necessary

“The air strategy has been chosen not for its effectiveness in defeating ISIS (indeed, US President Obama has carefully promised to “degrade” ISIS), but for its effectiveness in reducing the exposure of friendly personnel, while still offering spectacular images of destruction…

“To defeat the Islamic State and contain ISIS fighters, the ground campaign would need to be led by first-tier Western armies, would need to be of a scale equivalent to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and would need the cooperation of Iraq’s neighbors, so that Iraq’s borders can be closed, otherwise ISIS fighters would escape to other failed states.”

Graham Fuller, on his blog: destroy its territorial control with help from every stakeholder

“The elimination of ISIS requires every significant stake-holder to be present: UN, US, EU, Canada, Russia, Iran, Kurds, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq, Qatar, Egypt and others. China, aspiring to a major world role, cannot sit this one out either. This convocation requires real heft and clout to impose some rough plan of action. Above all, the UN must head up future operations involving the indispensable future ground operations. If ever an neutral face was essential, this is it. The essential goal is the destruction of ISIS as an organization possessing territory, infrastructure, command structure, and administrative control. But it is not a genuine state, either territorially, ethnically, geopolitically, economically, historically, even religiously. It may be turning to international terrorism — as did al-Qaeda –as it sees its future on the ground fading.”

Simon Schama, in the Financial Times: defend liberalism as something to fight for

“What our fellow citizens need now is a clarifying, empowering and inspiring statement of just what it is we must defend, if necessary, to the end. This, rather than the fluctuations of the business cycle, ought to be on the agenda of this week’s summit of the Group of 20 leading nations.

And what are those principles? They are the ones enshrined in the words of those who first articulated the imperatives of free speech: religious toleration; the right to civil peace; resistance to tyranny and theocracy. They are integral to the imperishable statements of Jefferson, John Milton and John Locke, but also Montesquieu, Voltaire, Condorcet, Emmanuel Levinas. They should be written on our battle standard, now that we know they cannot be taken for granted, as something to fight for.”

Charles P. Pierce, in Esquire: follow the money-trail

“In 2010, thanks to WikiLeaks, we learned that the State Department, under the direction of then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, knew full well where the money for foreign terrorism came from. It came from countries and not from a faith. It came from sovereign states and not from an organized religion. It came from politicians and dictators, not from clerics, at least not directly. It was paid to maintain a political and social order, not to promulgate a religious revival or to launch a religious war. Religion was the fuel, the ammonium nitrate and the diesel fuel. Authoritarian oligarchy built the bomb. As long as people are dying in Paris, nobody important is dying in Doha or Riyadh.

“It’s time for this to stop. It’s time to be pitiless against the bankers and against the people who invest in murder to assure their own survival in power. Assets from these states should be frozen, all over the west. Money trails should be followed, wherever they lead. People should go to jail, in every country in the world. It should be done state-to-state. Stop funding the murder of our citizens and you can have your money back. Maybe. If we’re satisfied that you’ll stop doing it. And, it goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway — not another bullet will be sold to you, let alone advanced warplanes, until this act gets cleaned up to our satisfaction. If that endangers your political position back home, that’s your problem, not ours. You are no longer trusted allies. Complain, and your diplomats will be going home. Complain more loudly, and your diplomats will be investigated and, if necessary, detained. Retaliate, and you do not want to know what will happen, but it will done with cold, reasoned and, yes, pitiless calculation. It will not be a blind punch. You will not see it coming. It will not be an attack on your faith. It will be an attack on how you conduct your business as sovereign states in a world full of sovereign states.”

Jon Soltz in The Huffington Post: global partnerships are necessary

“To strangle ISIS, we absolutely must put all other differences to the side, for the time being, and work with all partners around the world, against ISIS.

“Not bringing Putin, Assad and Iranians to the table, right now, would be like not bringing Stalin to Yalta.

“Not only do they have an interest in and ability to help defeat ISIS, but they all are parties with a stake in what post-ISIS Syria looks like. Only a negotiated post-ISIS plan that includes all parties will have a chance at bringing stability to the region. Thankfully, it seems like Secretary of State John Kerry realizes this. A post-war Syria that doesn’t include buy-in from those parties will be post-war Iraq on steroids, and a breeding ground for the next generation of terrorists.”


Jul 1, 2015


The Abbott government’s reaction to the death of Reece Harding, the 23-year-old Queensland bloke who went to fight with the Kurdish YPG forces in Rojava, is indicative of the hypocrisy and bad faith that attends current Australian policy.

Harding is believed to have been killed two days ago, stepping on a landmine during a night operation with the YPG forces in Rojava — the Kurdish autonomous enclave in northern Syria, on the front line against Islamic State (also called ISIS or Daesh).

The YPG informed his family of the death yesterday.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s reaction to the death was down-the-line policy — people fighting “on either side” of the conflict were breaking Australian law, and she warned against people going to “take part” in places where “terrorism is going on”.

This is absurd. It’s absurd given the government’s other position repeated endlessly by Tony Abbott — that the IS/Daesh is a “death cult” out of the order of normal brutality of such conflicts, and that “ISIS is coming here”.

Nevertheless, if those who actually agree with Abbott — that IS is at war against humanity, against the notion of human equality and the right of communities to live as they please — act on that humanist judgement and go to fight IS in the name of humanity, we will prosecute them and … what? Strip them of their citizenship.

Everything about Abbott’s construction of IS is hypocritical, bogus and sleazy, as this allegedly “even-handed” policy on foreign fighters proves. Abbott conspires with IS’ use of media — its ability to turn grotesque and ceremonial choreographed killings — in order to paint it as uniquely evil. This is partly for domestic consumption, as a desperate attempt for an angle on the polls.

But it is also intended to obscure the denunciation of our earlier “barbaric” enemy, the Assad government in Syria. Assad’s barbarism was marked by his use of high-tech weapons for brutal ends; now that we’re lined up with him against IS and its threat to what remains of the Iraqi state, the mass violence of Assad’s attacks on Syrian civilians — outpacing anything IS can unleash — must be obscured.

Secondly, although we are talking a big game against IS, we’re not really putting the pressure where it should be applied, against Turkey. President Recep Erdogan’s cossetting and funding of IS is not in dispute; it now appears that Turkish authorities let 30-50 IS fighters through the Turkey-Syria border to launch terrorist attacks on Kobane last week, causing dozens of civilian deaths in a recaptured city

The aim of such disruption is clear. Turkey doesn’t want a contiguous Kurdish-controlled region along its border with Syria. Erdogan’s despite of the Kurds goes beyond their alleged threat to the Turkish nation-state. The PKK, YPG and the HDP party in Turkey have all renounced the idea of a Kurdish nation-state.

Erdogan now fears the secular modernity of the Kurds. On both sides of the border, the Kurdish groups are creating secular-modern autonomous zones, with women mandated as holding 50% of the leading roles in politics, administration and fighting. Erdogan is a conservative who believes that women should be home and pregnant.

The Kurds have also internationalised the struggle, creating international brigades under the YPG banner and the Marxist MLKP banner. Though they and the Kurdish troops are getting US air support (something my friends on the anti-imperialist left have been tactically very, very quiet about), they’re doing the fighting on the ground, retaking Rojava from the enemy as a struggle for self-liberation.

The refusal to support them, or to make laws against foreign fighters specific to the cause in question, shows how little the Oz government believes its own civilisational rhetoric. IS was created, in part, out of “the surge” — the paying off of Sunni militias to give the appearance of military victory in Iraq, and the subsequent weakening of the Iraqi central state. Were it to prove advantageous we would switch back to supporting elements of IS again — who would become Islamists we can talk to — against Putin-backed Syria.

This would all be done in true 1984 style — a book that is most pertinent to the current situation. For it was Orwell who pointed to the British government’s “neutrality” with regard to Nazi and Italian fascist backing of Franco as a form of national suicide — Tory MPs cheering the bombing of Spanish republic shipping convoys in Parliament is the same as the studied indifference to the Kurds displayed by the West. Letting them be squeezed between IS and Turkey is a gangster move.

Above all, failing to support those who actually go and fight on the front line against such brutal forces is betrayal of the highest order. Abbott has actually got something right — that line is the line between civilisation and a brutal politico-religious cult. So back the people actually willing to put their bodies on the line in the name of humanity and modernity. The absurdity of celebrating the Gallipoli disaster while threatening people like Reece Harding with prosecution should be obvious. The man was a genuine hero, not the counterfeit kind manufactured for historical consumption. No wonder the Abbott government can’t use him. But then, if Orwell were Australian, they’d be stripping him of his citizenship too. Is there anyone on the right with the guts to break ranks on this sleazy absurdity?


Jun 9, 2015


For a long time, Crikey has been arguing that the War on Terror is self-perpetuating and that that might well be the goal of Western governments, since the War on Terror is an excuse to give themselves more power and funnel more money to large defence companies that directly benefit from endless military interventions, usually in the Middle East.

With that thought in mind, here are some further examples sceptics of that theory may like to reflect on:

  • Fleeing Iraqi forces in recent weeks have handed to Islamic State 2300 Humvees, 40 main battle tanks, 74,000 machine guns and 50 mobile Howitzer guns, plus innumerable small arms, all provided by the United States. Among other weapons the US is currently sending to Iraq are Hellfire missiles and AT-4 rockets, many of which are likely to end up in IS hands.
  • The terrorism trial in the UK of Swede Bherlin Gildo was abandoned two weeks ago because the Syrian militant groups that Gildo was to be charged with assisting were also being helped by British intelligence agencies.
  • Just to demonstrate it wasn’t an accident the first time, CIA head John Brennan has repeated his admission that the War on Terror stimulates recruitment to terrorist groups. Crikey looked at Brennan’s admission when he made it at Harvard in April. Two weeks ago, he repeated it to the American CBS network. According to Brennan:

“I think the president has tried to make sure that we’re able to push the envelope when we can to protect this country. But we have to recognise that sometimes our engagement and direct involvement will stimulate and spur additional threats to our national security interests.”

  • Saudi Arabia continues to prosecute a very dirty war against Iranian-backed forces in Yemen. Twenty civilians were killed in a Saudi airstrike on Sunday; the deaths of women and children in air strikes are a regular occurrence. Saudi Arabia is intervening in Yemen as a direct proxy of the United States, backed by a sudden surge in weapons shipments from the United States, with the conflict likely to further destabilise the country and enrage new generations of Yemenis already enraged by years of US drone strikes that killed civilians (drone strikes that are only admitted to when they kill Western civilians, not Yemenis).

Meanwhile, at home neoconservatives are pushing for more Australian troops to return to Iraq and fight IS directly, while our aircraft should be freed up to kill more civilians in order to properly take the fight to Islamic State. Yesterday The Australian used claims that IS might use weapons of mass destruction (yep, we’re back to hyping WMDs in Iraq) to demand more airstrikes. As always with neocons, we just need to incinerate a few more Muslims to secure victory.

The West is stimulating (to use the CIA’s words) recruitment for terrorist groups, it is providing arms and other assistance to them, and it and its proxies are enraging the populations among whom terrorist groups operate with our military tactics. Our policymakers and their cheerleaders are either profoundly stupid or deliberately engaged in a policy of trying to perpetuate the War on Terror. Which is it?


May 20, 2015


Australia is now mired in an open-ended $300 million a year debacle in Iraq, with no coherent exit strategy except, apparently, to maximise the risk to Australians that the government’s campaign against Islamic State is creating.

It’s only a few months since the optimistic talk was of IS — or “Daesh death cult” as Tony Abbott likes to melodically call it — being on the run. The defeat of the IS campaign to capture Kobane, in Syria, was heralded as the beginning of the end. There were ambitious American plans for an Iraqi Army spring offensive to recapture Mosul. Iraqi forces and Shiite militias backed by Iran and aided by United States air strikes retook Tikrit in March and April. But by then the idea of retaking Mosul had been abandoned. Then Ramadi fell last week, its defenders — supposedly the elite units of the Iraqi Army — routed by IS militias and suicide bombers, and as appears to be the rule in this conflict, they left in their wake a rich trove of new American weaponry and vehicles for IS forces to collect.

This is how we get our weapons,” says IS. Thank you, American taxpayers.

Now Shiite militias — who once waged war on the allied occupation forces — are likely to be sent in to try to force IS out of Ramadi. Based on the Tikrit experience, victory there will be a precursor to reprisal atrocities against Sunnis, regardless of whether they support or oppose IS.

In the wake of Ramadi, former Iraq commander and one-time Coalition staffer Jim Molan told Fairfax the conflict was now a “stalemate”. It was Molan who had cheerfully declared in December — in response to statements then that the conflict had become a stalemate — that the allied effort against IS in fact had been “remarkably successful”. When even the Coalition’s military cheerleaders start using words like “stalemate”, it’s a bad sign. And we’ve committed hundreds of millions of dollars to that stalemate.

Other military types have themselves downgraded their appraisals. Former general Peter “get ready for a 100-year war against Islam” Leahy now says about IS: “They are showing initiative, they’re showing they have strategic reach, that they have an eye for the dramatic and for some bravado.”

The Australian government is deluding itself that it is effectively training what the Iraqi Army to fight this conflict, spending hundreds of millions of dollars in doing so. This is wash, rinse, repeat: in 2007 John Howard boasted “training and mentoring Iraqi forces has been a key element of Australian support for Iraq ever since 2003. The Australian Army has been involved in the basic training of more than 12,500 Iraqi soldiers.” Right-wing Tasmanian MP Andrew Nikolic likes to boast of his role in that training mission, which, judging by the results since, was a miserable failure. Shiite militias, backed by Iran — whom Nikolic wants the West to attack — are so far the only forces that have demonstrated a capacity to retake key locations from IS.

Now we’re spending $300 million a year re-doing the training we were told we’d done eight years ago.

Islamic State is a vivid demonstration of what even the head of the CIA John Brennan has acknowledged: the War on Terror has been very good at, to use Brennan’s term, “stimulating” people to join the ranks of terrorists. Indeed, IS is entirely a creation of the Iraq War, and the current Western campaign against it has been a profound stimulus to recruitment for it. And for every dollar Australia spends as part of its role in Iraq, we are in effect helping fund IS recruitment, not merely in Syria and Iraq but here in Australia as well.

Of particular concern, of course, have been young Australians lured to join IS, a trend that prompted the passage of more draconian anti-terror laws last year, although it’s not clear if the new laws have had even the slightest effect on stopping young Australian men from travelling abroad with the goal of joining the barbarous ranks of IS.

But if it is unable to prevent them travelling abroad, the government is certainly committed to discouraging them from returning home. The Prime Minister has been at pains this week to ensure any Australian who regrets travelling to Syria to join IS can expect to be jailed if they come home. The government’s hard line of jailing returning jihadis for 25 years was endorsed by the Telegraph today under the splendid headline “We’ve jihad it with you”.

The logic of the government’s stance is presumably that disillusioned Australian jihadis should be encouraged to stay in Syria and Iraq and keep fighting for IS rather than face 25 years’ imprisonment back home. This might make a kind of sickening sense if the Iraqis, the Syrian regime, the Iranians and the allied air campaign were successful in halting and killing IS forces, but Ramadi suggests that isn’t the case. And it’s at odds with the view of intelligence officials like former senior MI6 chief Richard Barrett, who explained last year that disillusioned returning jihadis were likely to be most successful at “undermining the terrorism narrative”. As long as they were “committed to a non-violent future”, Barrett said,

“These are the people who can expose the true nature of the Islamic State and its leadership. Their stories of brutality and the motives behind it will be far more credible and persuasive than the rhetoric of men in suits.”

In other countries, the focus is on deradicalisation of returning fighters, not punishment, to ensure they can successfully reintegrate into Western societies and serve as examples to discourage potential recruits. The Abbott government’s focus, it appears, is on deterring them from returning at all with threats of spending a quarter of a century in prison.

The result may well be that not merely are we stimulating terrorism recruitment, but encourages terrorism retention as well. That would indeed make for a novel Australian variant of the self-perpetuating War on Terror.