Published in The Canberra Times, 11.9.14 and On Line Opinion, 12.9.14
The Lemming like haste to follow Americans into not one but possibly two new wars is as unwise as it is unseemly.
The Americans have no entry or exit strategy for their renewed push into Iraq and no identified objectives other than sending ISIS to hell, if one is to take the emotive statement of US Secretary of State, John Kerry as a preferred policy option, which it is hard to do.
They are reacting to the beheading of two of their citizens by ISIS thugs with emotion and umbrage, albeit to a lesser extent than after 9/11 but based within the same sense of outrage and need for punitive justice. Emotion, which is part of the drive to go to war, should be tempered with some hard headed analysis and, in a democracy, with debate as to the pros and cons in order to avoid what too often become downside consequences.
Abbott has over reached himself by proposing Australian advisers on the ground in the Ukraine. Did this advice come from within the Defence Department? It is difficult to believe that it did.
A reluctant American President is said by right wing commentators in Australia to have had his backbone strengthened by Abbott’s resolve with regard to fronting down Putin, apparently agreeing to bomb ISIS areas in Syria and hinting at boots on the ground in Northern Iraq.
In the face of domestic difficulties centred on a failed budget, a foreign policy performance based on war time parameters has played well for Abbott. His initial spontaneous pugnacious response to a threat or challenge has on balance stood him in good stead – in the short term. But for Abbott his challenge will be to plan or follow through in the longer term and to date he has shown little aptitude for that. He apparently has given no thought to the prospect that what he is proposing might go awry. He would be better advised to cover himself with parliamentary approval before going it alone. The Abbott Doctrine could sink in a sea of hubris.
It is not in Abbott’s nature to consider diplomacy as an aspect of war and Bishop is not sufficiently experienced to be across the many tools of trade available to her. However it seems strange that Australia is considering such an active role in Iraq when many with a greater stake in the outcome of ISIS rampaging are sitting by. Egypt which claims to be opposed to Islamic fundamentalism has not lifted a finger. Through a wilful miscarriage of justice an Australian journalist, Peter Greste, sits rotting in an Egyptian gaol for his alleged links to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
In the meantime Australia is doing the heavy lifting for the bullying military regime in Cairo. Abbott and Bishop should be twisting the ear of the Egyptian President until they pick up their share of the ISIS burden and in the process release Greste. Does Egypt have the courage to put its money where its mouth is? Australia should deploy all of its diplomatic tools to find out and achieve an outcome that will lessen our burden.
Similarly Saudia Arabia should be persuaded to cease funding ISIS and a working dialogue opened with Iran. Other Arab states including The Gulf States, Morocco, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, and Israel with its vast military resources, should be pressed into contributing to the US coalition. In conjunction with its active diplomacy Australia should step back from an overtly military role.
The highly skilled Australian Ambassador to the UN, Gary Quinlan, should be given this task. He sits on the Security Council and can bring the weight of this office to bear. Regional diplomacy should take place to coincide with Quinlan’s activities.
Australian taxpayers are entitled to ask where the money is coming from. At a time when it is claimed that Australia is in the midst of a budget crisis, Abbott appears to have unlimited funds for grandstanding from an account we are unaware of. Abbott’s open handedness puts the lie to his ill-conceived and punitive budget.
Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat.