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Welcome to the War Powers Reform Bulletin #39

Editorial: Reflections on the Long War


The Weekend Australian of 13-14 February contains a very sobering piece by Australian counter-insurgency expert David Killcullen – see the subscriber-only article Already weary of the long terror war that we're not winning.
 
This article underlines both why we seek an independent inquiry into the decision-making process that led to Australian participation in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, and why the ‘war powers’ need to be reformed to include Parliament in such decision-making processes in the future.
 


Kilcullen begins:
 
As I write, Western countries (several, particularly the US, now with severely reduced international credibility) face a larger, more unified, capable, experienced and savage enemy, in a less stable, more fragmented region, with a far higher level of geopolitical competi­tion, and a much more severe risk of great-power conflict, than at any time since 9/11.
 
He goes on:
 
And with Russia’s intervention in Syria … we’re facing a revival of great-power military competition in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the Pacific and Europe that vastly complicates our options.
 
Far from being coincidental, this, too, is a direct result of the way our failures in Iraq, Afghanistan and the broader war on terrorism since 2001 have telegraphed the limits of Western power and showed adversaries exactly how to fight us.
 
Addressing the question of where we go from here, Kilcullen says:
 
The first step is to admit that this really is, every bit, the strategic failure it seems to be. For the hard truth is that the events of 2014-2016, including the “Blood Year” that started with the fall of Mosul, represent nothing less than the collapse of Western counter-terrorism strategy as we’ve known it since 2001.
 
After 14 years, thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, we’re worse off today than before 9/11, with a stronger, more motivated, more dangerous enemy than ever. So much is happening, simultaneously, in so many places, that leaders are struggling to decide what to do and in what order …
 
The second step is to realise this war truly is, as many have argued, a long war. There’s no magic bullet, no instant solution, let alone some carefully calibrated combination of firepower, diplomacy and technology that can quickly put the genie back in the bottle. … This is, and will be, a multigenerational struggle against an implacable enemy, and the violence we’re dealing with in the Middle East and Africa is not some unfortunate aberration — it’s the new normal.
 
In Kilcullen’s view, we cannot pull up the drawbridge, disengage from the world and somehow avoid the fight:
 
There is no drawbridge now; we live in interdependent, connected societies whose prosperity and success rely on trade, travel and free intercourse with the world.
 
He concludes:
 
In short, what we’ve been doing has failed; we need a complete rethink. That rethink, I suggest, needs to start with a threat analysis. What, exactly, is the threat we’re facing, and how can we address it in ways that are cheap enough, effective enough and non-intrusive enough to be sustainable across the long term, without undermining the openness, democracy and prosperity that make our societies worth defending in the first place?
 
In the course of his analysis, Kilcullen makes the point that America’s allies — including Australia, Britain and virtually all of NATO — went along with flawed US approaches out of solidarity, while corrupt, non-inclusive governments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere were just as responsible as anyone for the dire outcomes in their own countries.
 
Nobody’s in the clear: this is a bipartisan, multinational, equal-opportunity screw-up.
 
The first lesson we would draw from the above analysis is that we need to find out once and for all how we got into this mess. We need an open independent inquiry into how we came to make the decisions that led us to participate in the disaster of 2003, in order that the mistakes of 2003 can be avoided in the future.
 
The second lesson follows from the first. Whatever mistakes might have been made by the US and in the Middle East, full and effective Parliamentary involvement in the decision making processes that led us to participate in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 might well have led to better quality Australian decision making about what then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said was “going to be a cake-walk” and about the story we were being fed about the rationale for it. We might well have asked then those questions that Kilcullen proposes in his conclusion above. There were plenty of people with senior defence and foreign policy experience, and with on the ground experience working with NGOs, who questioned the wisdom of the move at the time, and Andrew Wilkie resigned his position as an analyst at the Office of National Assessments over what he saw as the misrepresentation of the intelligence picture. All of these people would have been available to give evidence to the relevant parliamentary committees in the year of preparations that led up to the invasion.
 
Taking heed of these lessons is doubly important at a time when Western intervention in Libya is being canvassed and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is saying she would "listen" to discussions about a greater possible coalition effort" there.  On that, Chief of Air Force Air Marshall Leo Davies says the RAAF would be stretched if asked to carry out sustained bombing raids in Libya on top of the campaign in Iraq and Syria.
 
Stretched to what purpose we would ask. Let us all insist on a full and open Parliamentary debate on the rationale for any extension of our operations to Libya, before it takes place.

- Paul Barratt
President, Australians for War Powers Reform

Syria: Options for Australian parliamentarians, and the need for debate.


This paper is presented by Australians for War Powers Reform (AWPR) to stimulate discussion on non-military approaches to the problems in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. It is not exhaustive and does not represent agreement by all AWPR members on every detail. However AWPR members are agreed on the fact that these matters receive grossly inadequate debate in Australia, particularly in our parliament, and that they demand such debate from our elected representatives.

There is no political crisis in the world that cannot be made worse by external, including Western, military intervention, particularly in the Middle East. Much of the present turmoil in Syria is a response to the activities of Western nations spanning more than a century. The recurrent American approach is described by Professor Stephen Walt:

We still seem to think the Middle East can be managed if we curry favor with local autocrats, back Israel to the hilt, constantly reiterate the need for US ‘leadership,’ and when all else fails, blow some stuff up.

In the Middle East, he adds, everything the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations have touched “turns not to gold but to lead or, even worse, into a violent conflagration.” America and some other countries respond too often with intensified military action, usually bombing, with no analysis of whether that is likely to help or whether it will simply increase resentment, hatred, and more recruitment to Islamic State (IS).



Western intervention has not brought lasting solutions to Middle Eastern problems, and leaders of most regional countries do not welcome it. We need to study and learn from Middle Eastern history over the past several centuries to really understand how the Arabs regard the West.

Australia cannot define a lasting solution for such an extremely complex region, let alone achieve its acceptance by other countries. We cannot even identify enemies definitively or choose allies with confidence. Australia’s credibility in the region is not helped by the fact that Foreign Minister Bishop is completely silent on the current illegal war being waged on Yemen by Saudi Arabia, with the active complicity of both the Americans and the British. She is also conspicuously silent on the recent threats by both Saudi Arabia and Turkey to (illegally) invade Syria.

Read the rest of this paper at the AWPR website here.
Afghanistan: the war they hid for too long

It is disingenuous to claim the story of soldiers serving in Afghanistan is largely untold when it’s the ADF that has kept journalists at bay.

Thom Cookes, the Age. Read on.

Coming soon:


Members of Australians for War Powers Reform recently visited Parliament House to address the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to present the case for war powers reform in Australia and provide the final report on last October's Seminar at the Australian National University: Legislating for War Powers Reform. We'll bring this final report to our supporters very soon, along with some other materials we've been working on. 

Kind regards,

Australians for War Powers Reform.
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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