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The Bulletin for Australians for War Powers Reform.
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Campaign Update #29

Dear members and supporters,
Events over the last few weeks have demonstrated only too clearly the dangers inherent in the small group decision-making that is an inevitable consequence of allowing the power to deploy the ADF to rest with the Executive rather than the Parliament. It is too easy for decisions to be made without the right questions being asked, and too easy for the Prime Minister of the day to get his or her way. The situation in Iraq is a mess, and the government’s undisciplined muscling up to China has some very sober commentators asking what the Government thinks it is up to.

This Bulletin focuses on a variety of recent developments:

  • Editorial piece on the situation in which we now find ourselves 
  • Is IS the result of a too-clever idea gone wrong?
  • The fall of Ramadi
  • What war are we fighting?
  • Can what we are doing work?
  • What on earth is the Government up to in the South China Sea?
  • Dangerous Allies – the contemporary meaning of Pine Gap
  • Update on AWPR’S new book, to be released shortly and details for launch event in Canberra

As ever, we welcome your feedback. Australians for War Powers Reform will continue to promote the need for parliamentary involvement in any decision to send Australian troops to war.

Please help us to share these items using our social media pages, blog and website. If you can make a donation towards our new book it will be greatly appreciated. Our fundraising campaign has now reached its target but there are a few days left to help facilitate a wider distribution! Many thanks to those of you who have already contributed.

Events

Dangerous Allies: Independent and Peaceful Australia Network national conference | Brisbane
9th July 2015


Register at ipan.australia@gmail.com, for IPAN’s 2nd national conference, to be held at the Queensland Council of Unions.  
 
Senator Scott Ludlam, Professor Richard Tanter and Professor Kozue Akibayashi will address why our "Dangerous Allies" are threatening our security and why we need an independent and peaceful national agenda. The conference will be preceded by a Public Forum at the State Library on Wed July 8 at 6.30 pm. Further information here.

What a mess

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.
 
Picture: Displaced Iraqis cross the Bzebiz Bridge after spending the night walking towards Baghdad. Hadi Mizban / AP Photo.

The fall of Ramadi


Then came the fall of the city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, and that had its curious aspects. The collapse of the Iraqi 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.

This story was picked up by Tony Walker in the AFR Weekend and elaborated by Kilcullen in an ABC news item on 22 May .
A too-clever idea gone wrong?

On 4 June Seumas Milne of The Guardian went to print on the basis of a recently declassified US intelligence report written in August 2012 which indicates that a year into the Syrian rebellion, the US and its allies weren’t only supporting and arming an opposition they knew to be dominated by extreme sectarian groups; they were prepared to countenance the creation of some sort of “Islamic state” – despite the “grave danger” to Iraq’s unity – as a Sunni buffer to weaken Syria. The idea was that the establishment of a Sunni entity in Eastern Syria and Northern Iraq would isolate Syria and hence cut off “the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran)”. It sounds as though too many too clever people are having too much fun playing an updated version of The Great Game.
 
Read here the heavily redacted intelligence document.
What kind of a war are we fighting?

In order to win a war it is always helpful to have a clear idea of the nature of the war one is fighting. Prime Minister Tony Abbott insists that IS is not a state – his preferred term is to refer to it as a “death cult”. The inference one would draw is that IS is some kind of insurgency like al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
 
Counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen would beg to differ. In this piece in The Age he argues that IS meets most of the criteria of a state, and notes
 
As of mid-2015, the Islamic State already meets, or is well on the way to meeting, all these criteria. It controls a territory that includes several major cities and covers a third each of Iraq and Syria, giving it an area significantly larger than Israel or Lebanon. This territory's resident population is roughly 4.6 million, a higher head-count than New Zealand, Kuwait or Qatar, and almost as high as Norway, Denmark, Singapore or Finland.
 
The significance of this, he says, is that its state-like character means that it is less vulnerable to disruption by the killing or capture of its senior leaders, but it has two critical military weaknesses, one territorial and one personnel-related. His conclusion is that this is a straight up conventional fight against a state-like entity, and counter-insurgency should not even be under discussion.
 
It helps to know what kind of a war you are fighting. If Parliament were given a say in ADF deployments some of these issues might have been ventilated and we might have had some idea what we were up for and what we are trying to achieve.
Can what we are doing work?

Meanwhile, Major-General (Retd.) Jim Molan and Australian Strategic Policy Institute Director Peter Jennings said on Tuesday 2 June that the current strategy is not working and called for the current "advise and assist" approach to be extended to "accompanying" Iraqis outside bases, as well as using coalition "forward air controllers" who can more accurately guide air strikes. When influential government advisers are telling the government its strategy is not working and cannot work, sooner or later it will have to take heed and the mission will creep again, but not necessarily in a direction that will ensure victory, whatever that might mean.
What is the Government up to in the South China Sea?

The Government’s taste for military adventure is not confined to the Middle East. A report by Greg Sheridan   in The Australian on 2 June stated that the Abbott government is ­actively considering conducting its own “freedom of navigation” exercises near artificial islands built by China in disputed territory in the South China Sea.
 
This prompted no less a figure than Geoff Miller, former Australian Ambassador to Japan and former Head of the Office of National Assessments to publish a piece in the Lowy Interpreter in which he concludes that “it would be quite unnecessary and unwise for us to follow the US into yet another ill-considered adventure under a slogan of 'protecting freedom of commercial navigation', which is clearly a straw man”.
 
In an interview on Radio National Professor Hugh White said a power battle was being played out on the world stage and the prospect of war was real.

"There is a real risk of a military conflict between [China and the US] which could easily escalate into quite a broadly based war," he said.
"Once that happens the dangers are very great indeed. Immense dangers to the whole region including to Australia.
"There's no reason to believe that the conflict might not in some circumstances escalate to the point of a nuclear exchange.
"And so I think the really important thing for Australia is to do whatever it can to help reduce that escalating rivalry and reduce the risk that it produces a conflict."

Do we really think the national interest is best served by allowing decisions about injecting the ADF into this hotspot to be left on the basis of a “captain’s call”?


Dangerous allies – the contemporary meaning of Pine Gap


In his book Dangerous Allies the late Malcolm Fraser argued that Australia should adopt a much greater degree of independence in foreign policy, and that we should no longer merely follow other nations into wars of no direct interest to Australia or Australia's security. He argued for an end to strategic dependence and for the timely establishment of a truly independent Australia.
 
One of his concerns was based on the view that the Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap made us too intertwined with US strategies and plans that we would have no real choice about whether or not to follow the US into war.
 
Now  a new report  by Desmond Ball, Duncan Campbell, Bill Robinson and Richard Tanter sheds new light on how the role of Pine Gap has changed over the years. A Sydney Morning Herald summary of the report can be found here .
 
As we observed in the last Bulletin, our Prime Minister would do well to consider whether there is such a thing as an official Australian independent opinion on defence matters.  That’s all the more reason the country needs at least the possibility of some tough questions on them being raised, in the institution that exists for debating the big issues - our Parliament.
AWPR new publication “How Does Australia Go To War?”

As noted in our previous bulletin, AWPR Vice-President Dr Alison Broinowski has edited a collection of short chapters on Australia’s history of repeatedly joining wars and the need for serious examination of why and how.
 
A copy of the book will be sent to every federal parliamentarian, and it will be available online and in print for all interested Australians. Our funding appeal to enable us to do this has not quite reached its target.  Please support this publication financially, via this page.  A big thanks to those who have already contributed. (Double dipping is permitted if you can spare a bit more!). For our Canberra-based supporters, please see the below invitation to the launch.

Personnel changes

It is great sadness that we say farewell to Dimity Hawkins, who has been our Communications and Outreach Coordinator since October last year and who has given us service above and beyond the call of duty on many occasions, always with a smile. We know that Dimity remains with us in spirit, but she has studies that require concentrated attention and so must step down from the role. Thank you from all of us, Dimity.
 
And it is with pleasure that we welcome Gem Romuld who will take over the role. Gem is a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Social Inquiry) and is Outreach Coordinator with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons; we look forward to working with her. Welcome aboard, Gem.
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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