Why we should not expand our engagement in the Middle East.

Tony Abbott is seeking to expand Australia’s role in the war against ISIS by broadening the operational range of the RAAF into Syrian territory.

Tony Abbott pushed for US request to join Syria air strikes

In a practical sense, this probably doesn’t involve a great change to the RAAF activities especially as ISIS does not have defined sovereign borders in the way that most nation states do. So bombing ISIS in Iraq is not all that different from bombing it in Syria.

ISIS  controlled  territory in the Middle East
ISIS controlled territory in the Middle East

Every other aspect of this expansion of Australian involvement is intensely problematic.

Australia is fighting in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government and would regard itself as an ally of the Iraqi government. This is not the case with Syria who has not invited Australia to fight ISIS inside its borders.

Australia would certainly not regard itself as an ally of the murderous Assad regime in Syria, however both Australia and Syria are involved in a war against ISIS and that’s probably a pretty good definition of an ally.

Unless Australia is prepared to increase the number of Super Hornets in the Middle East, then simple arithmetic would indicate that every bomb that Australia drops on ISIS in Syria is one less bomb that Australia can drop on ISIS in Iraq. In addition, every bomb that Australia drops on ISIS in Syria is one less bomb that the Assad regime needs to drop.

So it would appear that expanding operations into Syria has no practical benefit unless Australia is prepared to increase the number of planes in action in the Middle East.

From a broader perspective, there’s been no argument advanced that supports a strategy that involves the broadening of Australian operations. If it were to be argued that the current operations had been successful in driving ISIS back inside the borders of Syria, then attacking ISIS in Syria would be seen as a positive step towards the conclusion of this war.

But this argument has not been advanced and there is no indication that the war in Iraq is proving to be particularly successful. So we’re left wondering what advantage is to be gained by extending operations into Syria.

This is a direct outcome of the situation where the engagement of Australian forces in the Middle East has not been subject to parliamentary or public debate. The Labor Party is so keen not to be branded as “soft on terrorism” that it agrees with everything that Tony Abbott suggests.

But maybe the time has come for more nuanced approach to the war in the Middle East and that we should be convinced that an expanded role will contribute significantly to Australian national security.

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