Iraq: the weasel words of war begin

Aeschylus, the Greek tragic dramatist,said, “In war, truth is the first casualty”.

In Parliament today Tony Abbott said

“So in good conscience, Madam Speaker, Australia cannot leave ….. people to face this horror, this pure evil, alone or ask others to do in the name of human decency what we won’t do ourselves,” Mr Abbott said.

Now I’ve taken a key part of this quotation out. But isn’t this something that we should apply to Australia’s border protection policy where we do leave people to face the pure evil of detention in tropical hell-holes. And asking other people to do things that we would not do ourselves is exactly what we are requesting PNG, Nauru and possibly Cambodia to do to do when we asked them to take refugees bound for Australia. But then high-minded idealism doesn’t apply to our border protection policy.

What is also disconcerting about Abbott’s statement is that Australia is not asking anybody else to intervene in Iraq. At present even the Americans haven’t asked anybody to intervene. Everyone’s volunteered with considerable alacrity. Everyone is doing this of their own accord. We are not under an obligation to match any international commitment on the basis that we should not ask people to do what we are not prepared to do ourselves.

There is a case for supplying arms to the Kurds in Iraq but the argument that Abbott has mounted is not it.

Abbott also maintains that “there has been no request for military action itself”. This is splitting hairs. There’s not much difference to supplying arms to someone and bearing those arms yourself. The overall effect is a military action. It’s going to be a war of weasel words.

Christine Milne is right. The government does not have a strategy for its intervention in Iraq. Nor any idea what the limits to that intervention should be. She is also correct in pointing out that there has been no United Nations resolution for military intervention. This is a unilateral US intervention. But of course it isn’t a military intervention if you except Abbott’s argument that supplying arms to the combatants isn’t “military”.

In applying different standards to border protection policy and armed intervention in Iraq, Abbott is making it perfectly clear that he is going to milk the Iraq situation for every little bit of political juice he can get.

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