We will be at ‘war’ in Syria if the Government assents to the US request to bomb in that country. What of the legal and other justifications?
By what process will the authority to bomb in Syria be granted? Will the Solicitor-General be asked to provide legal advice? Will the Governor-General in Council be required to sign off on the decision? Will Parliament have been informed beforehand? That is, will something from the vagaries of previous decision-making over the commitment of our armed forces in conflict abroad have been learned meanwhile?
As to substance, the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has cited a doctrine of collective self-defence as being the basis for Australian bombing of Syria. Under international law collective self-defence may be justified pursuant to mutual treaty arrangements in international combat but we have no treaty with Iraq, let alone Syria, in this regard.
Collective self-defence is a UN Charter concept anyway and the UN Charter is something that is honoured more in the breach than by observance. In any case there is no UN cover for these actions.
Foreign Minister Bishop adds that as the border between Iraq and Syria no longer exists de facto there is virtually no difference between the territory of one and the territory of the other. The same could have been said about the border between Vietnam and Laos during the Vietnam War. And later between Vietnam and Cambodia, but there was. US operations in Laos against North Vietnam were acknowledged as being illegal, and the US did its utmost to conceal what it was doing there at that time. International boundaries are by law sacrosanct and we disrespect that principle at our peril.
The Government says that as IS or ISIL is a brutal terrorist force its killing must to be stopped regardless. As much as one may dislike IS/ISIL it does hold territory and it is involved in a civil war. So is the Iranian supported militias in Iraq. So is the Syrian regime itself. So are the Syrian insurgents by definition (various groups). We however should not be involved as it is not our civil war.
And what of the Turks and what they are doing to the Kurds; no less harmless nor more justified? We hear little criticism of the latter even though the Kurds are attempting to protect their own acknowledged homelands as well as taking the fight to IS/ISIL. Yet the US and Australia proscribes the major Kurd force doing the fighting as a terrorist organisation.
So in all this mess what good will Australian bombing do in the circumstances? Whether it is in relation to boat people, refugees and asylum seekers or people in the Middle East generally we rightly deplore the loss of civilian life – which apparently can justify various actions or responses which in themselves may be, and often are, considered by many to be inhumane. Will our bombers spare civilian lives and if so, how come?
When the Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesperson suggested that the air force would do better dropping food parcels on Syria, rather than bombs, Ms Bishop responded saying that we could not be sure that they would not drop onto IS/ISIL strongholds. If we can’t be sure of food parcels dropping where intended, how can we be sure about our bombs?
If our bombing is unlikely to make any difference to the war on IS/ISIL, nor to the fate of the Iraqi government – which government the Australian government alleges, without evidence, invited us to be in Iraq, but without a Status of Forces Agreement to go with it – we still haven’t heard the ‘justification for being there in the first place, apart from responding to what we are told were/are US ‘requests'? As the US itself has not explained what its objectives are, and what would be success in its view justifying such loss of life and any subsequent withdrawal, is this not a situation like the run up to the First World War when the loss of direction, judgment and political skill by the powers led the world into that disaster?
How much longer can this madness continue, before it gets deeper and deeper. And given Russia’s stake in Syria, and in the Ukraine as well, lead us into to a much wider war?
24 August 2015
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Thursday, June 11, 2015
The fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province certainly had its curious aspects. The collapse of the Iraq defence led to a very rapid and forthright denunciation by the US Defense Secretary to the effect that the Iraqi Army showed that it lacked the will to fight, a proposition which was hotly contested by Hakim al-Zamili, the head of Iraq’s Parliamentary Defence and Security Committee, who said the US should bear much of the blame for the fall of Ramadi, for its failure to provide “good equipment, weapons and aerial support” to the soldiers. What Ashton Carter’s critique failed to explain is how, if the Iraqi soldiers lacked the will to fight, the battle for Ramadi lasted 18 months with Iraqi forces fighting off IS advances while suffering casualties in the thousands. Someone is not telling us the whole story.
The setback at Ramadi is not without its relevance to the Australian Army deployment to Iraq. In an article in The Australian on 22 May Australian counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen had this to say:
The spin doctors are already playing down the fall of Ramadi. But on the ground — where things are harder to fake — it’s correctly seen as a huge defeat.
Al-Asad air base (80km to the northwest of Ramadi and home to several thousand US trainers and advisers) is now isolated by road from the rest of Anbar, though not under siege. Iraqi forces are in disarray along the whole Fallujah-Ramadi corridor, and Haditha is the only significant city in government hands along the length of the Euphrates River west of Baghdad.
Towns such as Taji, where more than 300 Australians and 140 New Zealanders are based, are looking precarious. Assurances that trainers will remain “behind the wire” — safely ensconced in defended bases — sound less soothing now that Islamic State has seized an entire city, overrunning several such bases, less than 100km away.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
In a series of announcements in August-September 2014 the Prime Minister committed us to a steadily escalating role in northern Iraq: first humanitarian supplies for Yezidi civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar, then air strikes by RAAF FA/18s and airborne support for the missions of other members of the latest US-led Coalition, then an “advise and assist” training role for several hundred soldiers.
This is presented as an operation by a US-led Coalition to degrade and destroy IS, and in early June Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said with some pride in a morning interview on Radio National that the size of Australia’s training contingent is second only to that of the US.
The fact is the principal backers of the Iraqi Government in the fight against IS are the Iranians, so the Americans find themselves de facto allies of a country with which they have no diplomatic relationship, against which they have maintained strong economic sanctions for decades, and against which they have expended considerable diplomatic energy to ensure that they are diplomatically isolated and play no significant role in the settlement of the many problems of the Middle East.
In the minds of the Iraqi Government, however, the Iranians were seen as so central to success that when the Iraqis launched an assault to recover Tikrit, Saddam’s birthplace, they reportedly neglected even to inform the Americans ahead of the event. This might have had something to do with the fact that several months after thousands of American advisers turned up to train the Iraqi Army on which they and various allies had already spent a reported $25 billion, the Iraqi Army still wasn't ready for combat. Most of the hard work would be done by Iran-backed Shi’ite militias, who reportedly made up about two-thirds of the force which the Iraqis assembled outside Tikrit for the operation.
As we now know, things didn’t go according to plan, and the ground forces were forced to call upon US air strikes, which led to American expostulation that as a matter of policy, the United States does not coordinate...anything with Iran, and that "The Iraqis have some homework to do on this before we are able to assist them in the area they've asked for." US air support was provided in due course, but the “liberation” of Tikrit was followed by a wave of looting and lynching.
Further evidence of the confusion emerged on 1 June when it was reported that the prosecution of a Swedish national accused of terrorist activities in Syria had collapsed at the Old Bailey, after it became clear Britain’s security and intelligence agencies would have been deeply embarrassed had a trial gone ahead. It seems that British intelligence agencies were supporting the same Syrian opposition groups the accused man was.
This whole operation against IS puts one more in mind of a dog’s breakfast than a well-organised military campaign. It seems neither to be militarily effective nor calculated to win the hearts and minds of the Sunni people living under the dominion of the Islamic State.
Nicholas Stuart summed it up well in The Canberra Times on 26 May (see Ramadi's fall signals a strategy in tatters). Of our Prime Minister’s approach Stuart says:
Abbott's theological background hasn't served him well in the real world. He instinctively divides forces into black and white, and that's why he's finding himself out of his depth in a Middle East where there are multiple loyalties and conflicts. Should we really be surprised that the simplistic answers he advocated have failed to solve anything?
… Abbott needs to understand that the world is not engaged in some kind of Manichean struggle between good and evil: the Middle East is a complicated situation where subtlety is needed to succeed.
It's fine to label people, or insist on particular courses of action, but unless you've got the power to enforce your desires you're wasting everyone's time. There's a rule that suggests if you don't understand something you shouldn't get involved lest you make the problem worse. Our PM should consider taking this advice.
And in a letter to The Age published on 27 May, CIAW/AWPR Treasurer Andrew Farran summed it up in a few lines – see Blindly following the US, seventh letter from the top. Andrew’s letter reads:
Tony Abbott would have us follow the US any and every where. So which country in the Middle East does the US most fear? Iran. Which force in the region does Iran most fear? Islamic State. So why is the US so opposed to IS when it could provide the required balance against Iran? Why is it so concerned with the fate of Iraq when it has become irretrievably a pawn of Iran? The region is full of contradictions. Does Mr Abbott comprehend this when he speaks of IS simply as a "death cult"?
Syria and Iraq are destroyed states. A new balance of forces is emerging based on centuries-old, pre-colonial historical and religious rivalries, in which other regional states like Saudi Arabia and Turkey are also involved.
This is not where Australia has direct interests nor should it be involved. The terrorist repercussions from there to here are greatly exaggerated.
Thursday, May 21, 2015
Observers have for several years been noticing that Australia is an increasingly militaristic society. The incremental militarisation of Australian policy goes much further than our current re-deployment in the Middle East. Little by little, our humanitarian programs have been militarised (to ensure delivery of aid), our aid programs have been securitised (to protect aid workers), Federal police have been deployed abroad (to work with other countries against corruption, drug trafficking and people smuggling), and Special Forces ‘training’ Iraqi troops carry diplomatic passports (to get around their status problem with the Iraq government).
National Security has become the new growth industry in government and academia, and ASIO and ASIS receive huge funding increases at the expense of health, education and social services. Not surprisingly, little public critique of the underlying purposes of national security is heard from the people who benefit from it.
A new book from Des Ball and Richard Tanter, and an interview with them in the Saturday Paper by Hamish McDonald () give us rare insights into what is going on. I haven’t yet got the book, The Tools of Owatatsumi, but the facts are clear. The US and Japan are extending what McDonald calls a ‘trip-wire’ of undersea sensors around the Chinese navy, even while American diplomats deny that the ‘pivot to Asia’ is the latest effort to contain China, and Australian leaders claim we don’t have to choose between China and them.
Of course the American pivot’s target is China, and it was no accident that it was announced in Australia. After years of sidling up to the US in advance of its wars, virtually begging to be involved, and hosting the bases from which surveillance and distant attacks are coordinated, Australia is already deeply implicated. Just to make sure the US will defend us against attack, we have given them permanent bases (and are paying for them) in the Northern Territory, which we now learn from a premature American announcement are likely to host B1 bombers. We are extending the runway at Cocos Island to enable American drone launches. We have senior naval officers embedded with US command in the Pacific. We collaborate with our 5-Eyes partners, using a network of undersea cables through the region to share surveillance intelligence on our neighbours.
There is no way that Australia cannot be involved in this latest effort to deny China the influence off its coast that the US has for years exercised in its own maritime sphere of influence. And given Prime Minister Abbott’s declaration that Japan is Australia’s closest regional friend, and is likely to sell us submarines, we can expect that involvement to become deeper and more complex. So deep, in fact, that if there is war, intentional or accidental, even over a small island in which Australia has no interest, we could not stay out of it, and we would make ourselves a target. The cost to Australia of going to war against our largest trading partner is incalculable, and the consequences unimaginable.
I dread reading Des and Richard’s book, but I must, and so should we all.
On the eve of Anzac Day CIWI Committee Member Kellie Merritt, widow of Flight Lt. Paul Pardoel, Australia's first serviceman to be killed in Iraq during the military operations that began with the March 2003 invasion, gave a powerful presentation at The War to End All Wars: our responsibility to those who died and their families, an event at Deakin Edge, Federation Square, Melbourne hosted by the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW).
To get the full impact of this presentation you can view it on YouTube.
The full text is below:
My name is Kellie Merritt. I am not here to talk to you because I have any qualifications or expertise on human conflict. I am the wife, the widow, of Paul Pardoel, Flight Lieutenant navigator of an RAF Hercules which was shot down in 2005 in Iraq.
Of course, Flight Lieutenant Pardoel was, to me, only my Paulie. He was to Margaret and John Pardoel their only child. He was, to our three kids, Jordan, Jackson and India, who were then 7, 6 and 2, simply “Daddy”.
I am under no illusions about my contribution to this discussion. I am a war widow. My qualifications, I guess, are in grief. My currency, I suppose, is to serve as an up close and intimate diagram of personal loss; the reminder that speaking about war in euphemistic language, or with bravado, or with optimism, is the domain of the naïve and the foolhardy.
But even in that role I have reservations – I am physically intact and my children are of course deeply photogenic (even widows are biased!). I worry that the notion of the grieving widow is almost a romantic one. I worry that the image of our family and friends crying as Paul’s flag-draped coffin returned to Australia emphasised heroism far more than any need for caution. Please don’t misunderstand me – Paul was my hero. His nine friends who died beside him along the Tigris river somewhere between Baghdad and Balad were heroes, to their families. But when the ceremonies were all over, I still did not have a husband and my kids did not have a father.
So, for me there is a disconnect between the way that we talk about our fallen in the context of ANZAC legends and the reality of the grief, the injuries and the trauma of war. One theory might be that it is human nature to think that our suffering, be it the grief of a widow, or the disillusionment of a returned veteran, is singular and unique – so to participate in the wider sentiment and ceremonies does not do justice to our individual emotions. But I think – I hope – that my unease with the commemorative furore that surrounds the Anzac celebrations is more rationally grounded. And it comes to this – my argument is that when our governments and leaders participate in and fuel this sentimentality they are trying to sell us something. They are trying to sell us something moreover which I think we should not buy.
I do not accuse mainstream Australian politicians of being amoral, or even warmongering. I do not necessarily question the sincerity of their motives in participating in ANZAC commemorations. But I do put this charge at their feet: by participating in a sort of stylised commemorative process they are only perpetuating a tired cycle. A cycle which has been pedalling along since the inception of organised conflict – of war. The cycle is this: from time to time governments require their military and sometimes even their wider population to engage in and suffer through war. Sometimes a government will claim that they have no choice. In theory the decision to engage in a war may be the last resort for the government of a country in order to preserve its citizens’ beliefs, institutions, livelihoods and even their lives. At other times, the decision to engage in a war will be cynical and foolish, motivated by greed, envy or possibly revenge. Perhaps many decisions to engage in armed conflict fall between these extremes – and the imperatives may evolve with the conflict.
If we accept that these possibilities are almost unlimited, we need to ask ourselves why our notions of respect, appreciation and affection for our troops seems to preclude any discussion about the merits of the engagement itself. And this is where the sleight of hand comes in. To question whether our troops’ involvement was warranted is to question the diggers themselves. To examine the merits of the engagement is to renounce your appreciation for their sacrifices. So the nobility of our diggers is conflated with the nobility of the conflict. Tony Abbott said recently :
“ you have fought for the universal decencies of mankind, the rights of the weak against the strong, the rights of the poor against the rich and the rights of all to strive for the very best they can. That is what Australians do. We always have and always will. Australians don’t fight to conquer, we fight to help, to build and to serve.”
Given that his speech was in the context of our engagement in Afghanistan, the United States might be surprised that our Prime Minister counts it as one of the poor weaklings with whom we always fight.
But Tony Abbott’s pronouncement begs the question – who are our leaders trying to convince? Certainly, a democratically elected leader may well need to justify military engagements to their electorate, but why to the fighters themselves? If our relationship with our diggers is sacrosanct and above politics, do we not owe it to them to give an objective assessment of the rights and wrongs and political and moral complexities of their assignments? The answer seems to be a resounding and I think disappointing “no”. We give our troops a rallying cry and tell them, not only that they are appreciated, but in the next breath also that their government was in the right to deploy them. That whenever the government deploys them it is always in the right. By so closely associating the deployment decision itself with the diggers’ actions and bravery, that decision becomes noble, brave, patriotic and unimpeachable - and to question it, especially on Anzac day, well that becomes downright un-Australian .
Coming back to the overlap between the personal and the political – a phrase that is often trotted out in my other life as a social worker. For me, it has become increasingly important to take some ownership or control of my personal/political paradigm. Or, cutting out the jargon, to feel that my experience as a widow will serve as an incentive for peace – at least in a small way.
In 1915 Sigmund Freud wrote, ‘that above all else, the Great War brought with it a heightened awareness of death’, on average 20,000 soldiers were killed every 4 days throughout the war. The millions mourning their loss were a highly visible reminder that the carnage was on a vast scale. Individual mourning became superseded by public and national commemoration that was highly politicised. A pervasive culture emerged where ‘German and American’ governments used widows and their families as symbols of national sacrifice and patriotism. As long as widows conformed to the nation’s script they could access some of their fallen husband’s glory by acting as dead soldiers’ living proxies. The trick for war widows, as Erika Kulham author of ‘little Comfort’ explains was to display the expected grief without minimizing the national glory. I can’t imagine what this divide looked like for our indigenous diggers widows and their families.
Respect for the war dead should not mean that we silence alternative narratives and conflicting opinions.
Ok, so this presumably means I am a pacifist. It is hardly surprising - my kids have grown up without their father due to war. But let’s remember that in Iraq, this would virtually be the norm. 660 000 to a million Iraqis suffered violent deaths as a result of the 2003 war, millions injured, millions of Iraqis were displaced. Approximately 4.5 million children orphaned. I pull my hat on as a widow and I inevitably ask “What did Paulie die for? Did the war that he was fighting serve a purpose? What was that purpose? Were the objectives met? And what about the human costs on ordinary Iraqis?”
These are the sorts of questions that a widow – perhaps especially the contemporary widow - or widower - will ask in the context of war grief. And surely it is not unpatriotic or unreasonable to ask these simple questions.
But in Paul’s case, the answers for me are uncomfortable. We went to war in Iraq in 2003 for a primary reason - the presence of weapons of mass destruction - which was spurious at the time. In sober hindsight a few years later it went from spurious to laughable. But we had the safety net of a secondary reason – we can’t be going too far wrong by getting rid of Saddam Hussein’s murderous regime and installing democracy. However this reason, given the disgraceful failure to plan properly, has proved catastrophically naïve and arguably disingenuous. Twelve years on, it’s as profound as it is tragic.
So, I end up with the conclusion that we invaded Iraq for no reason, that the fall back reason has backfired (especially for the Iraqi people) and that my husband did not die for any tangible purpose.
This leads me to question the nature of the contract between the military and our government. Conventional democratic wisdom holds that it is disastrous for the military to second guess our democratically elected government’s decisions. This makes it all the more important that our government exercises its decision making processes with caution, transparency and a sense of accountability.
Transparency and accountability are core values of democracy. If instilling these values in a foreign country is justification for waging war on that country, surely it would look a lot better if we also stuck to those values in the process of deciding to wage that war? Recent events suggest otherwise… security and humanitarianism are being offered as reasons to justify our participation in a third war in Iraq in only 25 years but much of the detail about our involvement is shrouded in secrecy . The absence of any spirited parliamentary debate on the issue is disappointing; a unity ticket on our participation in another war in the Middle East is depressing.
George Brandis recently said that those who link Iraq 2003 to Iraq 2014 are narrow and simple minded. I beg to differ; when the coalition of the willing invaded Iraq in 2003 it destroyed the Iraqi state – its military, its bureaucracy, its police force, almost everything that holds a country together. It forcibly removed a secular Sunni and brutal dictator Saddam Hussein and paved the way for a sectarian Shi’ite and brutal dictator Maliki. As it turns out, Maliki’s allegiances were to the terrorist sponsoring Iran and not the United States. As some experts predicted, the Iraq War lifted the lid on the sectarian violence which has gained momentum over the past decade.
It is within this framework that I support both the call for an inquiry into the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003 and the agitation for reform to the federal government’s ability to commit troops to foreign theatres of war without parliamentary debate.
A recent Roy Morgan poll, commissioned by The Campaign Group calling for an Inquiry into the Iraq war, showed three out of four Australians believe that unless there is immediate danger to Australia, Parliament should be required to approve a decision to send Australian troops into armed conflict abroad.
I said a few months back that
“Commemoration of a nation’s military history and the role that military conflict has had in shaping its sense of national identity risks a serious credibility deficit if the country is not also prepared to honestly and robustly examine how it came to be involved in its military conflicts in the first place.
What were our objectives? Were those objectives met? Would we send troops again in the same, or similar circumstances? ………………………
If we aren’t prepared to scrutinise this process then, if nothing else, our perceived affection and gratitude to our diggers seems rather hollow”
We are sorry you were maimed, your mates were killed and you have PTSD. We are not really sure if the exercise was worthwhile, or if we’d do the same again, because the process of working these questions out seems arduous and some former politicians are uneasy about any retrospective appraisal of their decisions. We are however delighted to present you with this campaign medal and to listen to the Last Post with you.
I am not advocating an inquiry into Australia’s involvement in the 2003 Iraq war on some premise that the conclusions are foregone and that this will embarrass the government of the day. I am not advocating war power reform as some tool to prevent Australia from discharging its international obligations where appropriate.
As I said before, I am talking to you in this forum as a widow and I accept that this may lend itself to certain characterisations. Perhaps our interest in the families of fallen soldiers stems from emotion and compassion, maybe it does not extend to their political notions, which can easily be dismissed as clouded by grief and emotion and lacking the cool head necessary for such momentous decisions and undertakings...But my position on both issues is consistent with the cool head imperative, surely? To advocate parliamentary debate and approval before committing to a foreign war and to support some scrutiny of a past engagement hardly seems hysterical or impulsive.
The specious arguments against this agenda and suggested reform, I think, do more to support than oppose these initiatives. The one that most grabs me is the suggestion that these reforms would stymie the dynamism and even the integrity of the government, that questioning a government’s decisions lends itself to smug conclusions with 20/20 hindsight, followed by a witchhunt.
What can be more dangerous to an ex political leader than a possible smudge on their legacy?
It would be a shame if a review of the 2003 Iraq war was ruled out because “what is done is done”, or because questioning previous decisions might offend past, well respected, leaders and appear partisan or petulant. It would also be a shame if parliamentary and community debate is shown to be so tokenistic that the decision to go to war does not require it.
We all understand that, if nothing else, war is not trivial. We treat it seriously. There is cause for ceremony, ritual and the need to acknowledge bravery and loss. But you have to forgive me if it sometimes seems that these rituals also serve as tools to perpetuate war, or – more accurately – to occupy and even distract those who might question a war.
I always hesitate before I speak for Paul. God forbid that I would be an inaccurate mouthpiece for someone who has been silenced by war, but I knew him and I loved him. He would have gladly sacrificed ceremony in exchange for any measure which made it less likely for any man, woman or child to be wounded, traumatised or killed in a misconceived war that served no purpose in a country that did not benefit from their involvement.
So my friends, (I think we kinda are now). Can I leave you with this proposition: Just because I love my country, it doesn’t mean that I think it is always right about everything. I love this country all the more for my freedom to express my disagreement with some of its decisions. So please don’t use the memory of our fallen to silence this debate. We owe it to the memory of all fallen soldiers and victims of war not to look away with jingoistic tears in our eyes. We can do better. We can honour their memory on ANZAC day by undertaking to never put them in harm’s way without proper justification.
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Today Australians for War Powers Reform launched a fundraising appeal through the crowd sourcing website pozible. The appeal is to enable us to produce and distribute to all members of Federal Parliament a new booklet for the campaign, edited by Dr Alison Broinowski and
withcontributions from a range of authors.
Our new booklet "HOW DOES AUSTRALIA GO TO WAR?" puts the government’s war powers under the microscope. The publication offers a diverse range of views from Australian experts in foreign affairs, defence, and law. With a foreword by the late Hon Malcolm Fraser, it examines the history of Australia’s wars, compares what we do with other countries, and explores new and more democratic pathways to war powers reform.
Please support the campaign by circulating this fundraising appeal to your friends, colleagues and networks. Any contributions will be welcome.
You can see more details on the appeal here:
Thursday, March 26, 2015
by Alison Broinowski
Tony Abbott’s visit to New Zealand on 26 February was carefully coordinated with John Key’s announcement of a Kiwi military deployment to Iraq. At 143 ‘combat-trainers’ it wasn’t as large as the 3500 troops the Australian Prime Minister had proposed on 21 February. But for a while it seemed the New Zealanders had upstaged us by having the agreement of the Baghdad government to their presence on the ground.
Now we discover that the NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully has gone to Iraq, just as Julie Bishop did in October 2014, to try to secure a Status of Forces Agreement which would immunise his country’s troops against prosecution for any of their actions which may break the law of Iraq.