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Welcome the War Powers Reform Bulletin #38


The big news for this week is the Fairfax report that the Turnbull Government has formally declined a request from the US to increase its military commitment in the Middle East campaign against Islamic State (see Australia rejects US request for more military help in IS fight).
 
This is a very welcome announcement, not least because it indicates we have a Government and a Defence Minister who will not give knee-jerk acquiescence to every US request, and who will consider each request from the perspective of the Australian national interest, which will not always coincide with that of the United States.
 
The announcement will have come as no surprise to Washington – one can assume it was notified well ahead of the announcement, and carefully explained. Indeed the Sydney Morning Herald article cited above notes that 'US Ambassador to Australia John Berry played down the response, saying it elicited "absolutely no disappointment."'

So the announcement is gratifying also for its revelation of the unsurprising fact that in a mature and effective relationship it is possible to decline a request without the sky falling in.
 
The announcement hasn’t pleased everyone in Australia, with former Defence Minister Kevin Andrews calling for Australia to do more and noting the view of American military personnel that we “would need forces on the ground in order to defeat ISIL” (see Former Defence Minister calls for bigger contribution to the war against IS ).
 
This statement comes the morning after President Obama told the US Congress in his State of the Union Address:
 
'We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it's done with the best of intentions. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it's the lesson of Iraq -- and we should have learned it by now.'
 
 
Kevin Andrews’ statement simply serves to demonstrate why it is so dangerous to leave decisions about deployment of the ADF in the hands of a very small group of people rather than the Parliament: one small group might make a very sensible decision like the one announced this week; another might not.
 
Two other items in this week’s Bulletin make clear in their own different ways the need to avoid small group decision-making. The article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by former US diplomat Dan Simpson illustrates that US motives for military action are not always the purest, and the decision making process not always of the highest quality. We should always undertake a hard-headed review of what is going on before we sign up to military action.
 
The news that Bob Hawke’s personal popularity soared when he took Australia into the 1991 Gulf War illustrates, notwithstanding that this was pursuant to a UN Security Council Resolution, the conflict of interest when the Prime Minister is considering whether or not to deploy. Wars are good for Prime Ministers, at least in the short run.
 
Paul Barratt
15 January 2016
Peace on Earth? Not until the U.S. stops selling arms and making war
Dan Simpson

Reviewing the bidding on the United States at the end of 2015, I conclude that we are a killer nation, at home and abroad. The segment of our society that benefits most from this role, again, at home and abroad, is the arms industry...
Read on.
Cabinet papers: Gulf War boosts Hawke's popularity
Damien Murphy

As his government's stocks declined Bob Hawke's personal popularity as leader soared when he took Australia into the First Gulf War in the Middle East...
Read on.
'This is for Syria'
Alison Broinowski

In a New York bookshop a few years ago I heard a customer ask for Bibles. The assistant directed him, and he went to inspect them. ‘Hey Miss’, he then called, ‘Who’s they by?’...
Read on.
The recent suggestion by Rodger Shanahan, writing in the Lowy Interpreter, that "Syria is proving to be a boon for foreign militaries in terms of exposing their personnel to the rigours of operational planning and execution … For both the West and the East it seems, Syria is the kind of operational proving ground gift that keeps on giving” is beyond bad taste.
The views expressed in this Bulletin are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Australians for War Powers Reform or the Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry (Inc). Readers should note that both Australians for War Powers Reform and the Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry (Inc) seek a diversity of views and opinions in order to identify common ground.
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