Australia has decided to make a military commitment to the war against ISIS. At present this takes the form of supplying weapons to the Iraq Kurdish security force Pershmerga. We are reassured by our Prime Minister that
as if this means that the intervention is justified. There may be good reasons for becoming involved in this latest incursion into Iraq but the fact that it’s different from 2003 is not one of them.
One of the chief reasons for this form of intervention is always a humanitarian one. Unfortunately the argument is that to solve the humanitarian crisis you need a military intervention and this always has a nasty habit of escalating normally to a point where public opinion at home forces a frequently ignominious withdrawal.
There will always be a dilemma in interventions of this nature. The brutality of the ISIS attacks on the defenceless Christian Yazidis minority are a powerful argument for intervention. ISIS appears to adopt the attitude that anyone who doesn’t share their religious beliefs should be exterminated.
As Carole King sings in Smackwater Jack
“You know, you know, you can’t talk to a man
With a shotgun in his hand”
There certainly does not seem to be much room for negotiation with ISIS. This makes military intervention appear to be the only feasible solution. To date, this had taken the form of US airstrikes against ISIS. But now the US and its allies are arming what appears to be the most viable military force fighting ISIS: Pershminga. It’s the first step in what is going to be an inevitable escalation of involvement in this conflict. So while this seems to be a good short-term fix, it’s rather like driving into a tunnel that has no light at the end.
No one has articulated what the extent of engagement in Iraq will be. This is simply because it is difficult, if not impossible, to do. But if we look at the recent withdrawal of US, British, French and Australian forces from Iraq, it was clearly done too early and done leaving a government in power that was doomed to failure.
You could count the successes of the last intervention in Iraq on the fingers of a leprous hand. In fact, it is possible to argue that the current situation is a direct outcome of the previous intervention.
So what are the alternatives to military intervention? Given the nature of ISIS the don’t appear to be many.
One extremely unpalatable one is not to do anything and leave the combatants to fight themselves to a standstill. But this approach leaves the question of where the West will wish to ring-fence the expansion of the Caliphate.
It’s also worth remembering that there is the possibility that Australian troops will be fighting against a military force that is currently fighting the despotic regime of President Assad in Syria. One effect of the defeat of ISIS may be to make a victory of the Assad forces over the rebels more likely.
It is also worth remembering that the Kurds are one of the largest minority groups in the world that does not have a sovereign state. There are 40 million Kurds living in Turkey and Iraq and they would dearly love to be an independent Kurdish state. Arming this group increases the likelihood of the secession of the Iraqi Kurds and the formation of a new nation-state possibly which will possibly included the Turkish Kurds. Turkey must be watching this latest military intervention with some alarm.
The situation is highly complex and probably beyond the comprehension of most Western diplomats. There is one thing that is certain: there can be no clear outcome as result of armed intervention in Iraq. Things screw up: like the weapons that were meant for the Iraqi army falling into the hands of ISIS. Like the government that was left behind in Iraq being hopelessly corrupt. Like the aspirations for self-determination of the ethnic groups in Iraq being ignored.
And on top of all this we now have the problem of home-grown freedom fighters. These are Muslim extremists going to join their ISIS brothers and later returning to Britain and Australia having been engaged in a bloody battle with an enemy who was being supplied with arms by their homeland. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s mind as being greatly exercised by this particular quandary.
One thing we can expect in Australia is that Prime Minister Tony Abbott will be beating the terrorist war drum for all he’s worth. We can also expect increasingly virulent scare campaigns against the Muslim community, particularly from the redneck press and their fellow travellers.