In his 2015 State of the Union address President Obama noted that Iraq War No 3 (not his term) “will take time”, meaning there is no end in sight. But what is it that will take time? What would be its end? Does anyone have any realistic idea about that given that a militant cancer is spreading throughout the Middle East?
The US has recently committed a further 3,000 troops to Iraq though officially their ‘combat roles’ are confined to air strikes in Iraq and Syria. It is not hard to envisage that before the US can reduce troop levels they would have had to increase if anything like ‘success’ is to be achieved meanwhile. Nor is it hard to envisage that the Australian Government under Prime Minister Abbott would be keen to leg up again, as he has designated the Islamic State (IS) as a direct threat to Australia’s security.
This would be further “mission creep” and would represent a failure to heed previous experience in that region. The earlier commitment, last year, was purely an Executive act without reference to Parliament and struggled to get Iraqi government approval initially. Unfortunately Australia has allowed itself to be led in this direction for well over a decade. US/Australian military interventions and diplomatic misjudgments over that time have resulted in increased conflict and the political maelstrom now tearing those countries, particularly Syria and Iraq, apart.
There is much about the Islamic State to dislike intensely. If in the light of developments it can be demonstrated as being a ‘direct threat to Australia’ the government should be obliged to submit its case to the Parliament before any further Australian forces are committed there. This surely should now be the Parliament’s prerogative.
Buying into these conflicts without a profound understanding of the complex forces at work or a clear idea of what ‘success’ from an Australian viewpoint would mean – and without a demonstrated capacity to achieve that success anyway – will win few friends and create resentments which home grown jihadists could exploit.
From Australia’s perspective the conflict in Syria/Iraq is destined not to have a ‘good’ outcome. Historically it will be seen as yet another rebalancing of disparate tribes and religious factions, with far too many victims whose plight we can do little about.
Our best defence against externally inspired terrorist attacks is to stand resolutely by our core values, to maintain sensible anti-terrorist measures that do not intrude unnecessarily on citizen’s rights and freedoms while seeking better ways of integrating our diverse cultures, and to exercise our diplomatic skills in working with other like-minded governments to ameliorate conflict wherever we can.
Ill-considered foreign interventions with bombs and bullets only compound these problems; they are not a solution. The solution at this time lies with the countries and peoples most directly involved.