As an Aussie I’ve always believed that we have a responsibility to be a good global citizen. For much of our history we’ve been that. Being a good global citizen means sometimes doing the hard things as well as the easy things. It’s no secret that I think that’s an area we’ve fallen down big time in recent years. Unfortunately very little of our international comitments are predicated on doing the right thing. Most are politically motivated. Our politicians, by and large, step onto the international stage while playing to a local audience. That’s probably the case in many countries today, but rarely as raw as it is here.
That’s why we have asylum seekers rotting away in places like Manus Island, and doing themselves self-harm in detention centres around the country. Good citizenship means we should treat these people with humanitarian decency, but that comes second to blowing the dog whistle and playing it up to the domestic audience to win votes. That’s one example.
Another example came yesterday, when Tony Abbott announced pretty much that we were going to war again. No doubt ISIS is an evil chancre on the world, but realistically they’re more sound than fury, notwithstanding the ugliness of their ideology. There are few civilised people who don’t want them destroyed as an organisation. There’s no arguing that something should happen; the question is whether it should be left to little ol’ Oz?
That’s where it stands though. Yesterday Abbott announced that once more Australian military forces would be heading abroad to fight someone else’s war – just months after they finally got back from Afghanistan. Somehow we seem to have taken a lead on this. Why?
Politics. The LNP has pretty well lurched from one disaster to the next during its year in power. Time and again one or another government minister has put his foot in his mouth, or been ham-fisted when he needed to be adept. Abbott has been a star in that regard, as has Hockey, but pretty well every one of them – with the exception of Julie Bishop – has given proof of their incompetence and misjudgment. Over the course they’ve lost both credibility and respect throughout the Australian electorate. In large swathes of the community the government is seen as buffoons and Abbott as a genuine fool. Many of us are afraid of the legacy such an awful government will lead. Potentially they are an utter disaster for the nation.
The only time that Abbott has appeared remotely credible was in the aftermath of MH17 being shot down. The world was outraged, but with 30-odd Australians murdered on the flight we had greater cause for anger than everyone but the Dutch. Abbott caught the mood of the nation and spoke with it. He refused to let Russia, and Putin, off lightly. He demanded that our interests were protected in the investigations that followed. For the only time in his tenure there was a brief spike in his popularity rating.
I believe this is a great motivating factor in his announcement yesterday. With the government floundering his hope is that by taking decisive and aggressive action the electorate will respond. It’s an old ploy, but pretty shoddy regardless, particularly when you consider he is now putting Australian lives at risk. This is a political decision – very wag the dog.
Having said that I reckon that our Tone takes a secret pleasure in muscling up. There are countless pictures of him donning military uniforms and firing weapons like he’s a kid playing goodies and baddies (and ISIS are clear ‘baddies’). It wouldn’t surprise if in his time off he puts on a pair of chaps and straps a six-shooter to his hip. He enjoys the military stuff, and I think he harbours a deep-seated ambition to be seen as a warrior prime minister. That gets his rocks off, and this is his big chance.
Sometimes we do the right things for the wrong reasons. These are the wrong reasons. Is it the right thing?
Like I said, I don’t mind us doing our bit, but we’ve done it time and again. We’ve done our fair share, and more. And ok, sometimes you have to go above and beyond, I get that, but here we are a hemisphere away from the action sending troops to the action while countries next door to it do nothing. It’s the same old story, the west sends troops to the middle east or some place like that, do all the heavy lifting and manage to lose friends regardless.
From my perspective there are plenty of good reasons why we should keep out of this. Firstly it’s the Saudi’s, etc, who should be going in. It’s their neighbourhood, and politically a lot more palatable.
The spark – excuse – for our involvement was the third execution in 4 weeks by ISIS of a western hostage. Each of them have been beheaded on film for the world to see. It’s gruesome, horrific stuff, but ISIS arent (just) doing it for laughs. They want to outrage the west. They want to rile us up. They want us to act. This was the same strategy Bin Laden used. Poke the bear and rouse it’s blundering rage. That’s what happened after 9/11. The ‘coalition of the willing’ went in all guns blazing, and what was relatively contained was drastically enlarged by the actions of the west. It was like clubbing a bee hive thinking that would do the trick, when what actually happened is that the bees got enraged and stung anyone within reach. Now the bees are abroad, in every country, glad to sacrifice themselves if they can sting someone in the process.
We’ve got a bloody awful situation in the world today, but if the west go in as they have before causing indiscriminate mayhem then it’s only going to get a whole lot worse – and that’s what the militant Muslims want. They’re happy to give martyrs to the cause if with every martyr’s death another 10 or 20 step up to take his place. “Look at what the evil Americans do. Look at the depravity of the infidel west.” They might lose this battle, but they’re winning the war because we – the so-called west – aren’t smart enough to choose our fights. We fight at the place and time of their choosing every time. We may go to Iraq and defeat ISIS, but in so doing how many more Muslims do we rouse to militancy?
That’s not to say we should do nothing, but we must do it smarter. For me that means – for a start – that we need to enlist moderate Islam to fight extreme Islam. Given that there are a dozen or so executions by beheading in Saudi Arabia every month they could hardly be called moderate, but they are pragmatic and in part westernised. They should be prodded to take the lead among other like-minded nations. Muslim against muslim is much less damaging than muslim against christian.
The day before Abbott announced we were going to war the terrorist threat in Australia was elevated to extreme. I would now rate that as being reasonably accurate, but only because Abbott in his desire to be war leader has made it so. We could have kept out. Now by going in we have painted a big round target on ourselves. For his glory and political survival he has put Australians in peril. How soon until we see an Australian among ISIS’ public victims? It’s bound to happen now.
It’s horrifying, the whole thing. We go to war on a whim. Not even the right war really. A war in which Australian soldiers will likely die. A war which makes Australian citizens wherever they are potential targets for terrorism. A war aimed solely to give the government a political boost.
Unfortunately the Labor party is predictably gutless on the issue. They put on their serious face and go along with the narrative, not wanting to be left behind, or be accused of being wimps. It probably matters little in this case, but still there is something wrong when the leader of the day can unilaterally declare war. That needs to be something that goes through parliament, if only to pay lip service to the democratic process.