Attacking Vietnam And Iraq Didn’t Work Out So Well For Us, But Syria Will Be Different, Right?


Just because today’s Australians line up on ANZAC day, go to see Gallipoli, and rely on ANZUS for defence, doesn’t mean they always will. Intelligent Australians, like JK Galbraith, change their opinion when the facts change. We are now in such a fact-changing, opinion-changing moment.

The Prime Minister, Bob Carr, and Gareth Evans – strange bedfellows – insult Australians’ intelligence by trying legal and moral con-tricks on us.

They endorse the emerging plan to bomb Syria, a country which does not threaten us, and which has enough problems already.

These are the tricks Menzies used to get us into Vietnam back in the days when Australians believed our governments. Howard used the same tricks to get us into Iraq by simply ignoring what 500,000 demonstrating Australians thought. How many repeats of the pattern do intelligent Australians need before we reject it?

Habitually, it starts with the US deciding on an enemy (communist, terrorist, Islamist, whatever) and drawing a red line somewhere.

To get American political support for undeclared wars, US leaders want to rally a coalition of countries to counter the enemy threat.

Some allies offer to join, others are coerced.

First in are ‘humanitarian’ teams and secret service people, then – to counter what’s reported to be a global and escalating threat – the military.

The result has been a series of unmitigated disasters, ever since Vietnam.

Since then, Australia has joined the US in four wars, none of them declared, all of them enormously costly of lives and cash, and not one successful, least of all Iraq.

By refusing to hold an inquiry into it, our government can dismiss public indignation, break its promise not to go into Syria, and repeat the pattern.

The con is old and familiar, but the world is changing. This time, Australians are smarter, and several groups of citizens are ready to challenge it. Today’s Australians are demanding answers to such questions as:

1. When did the Prime Minister make his offer to the US to bomb Syria and why did he pretend the US invited us first?

2. What independent legal advice does the Government have, for example from the Solicitor General, stating that the actions it proposes in Syria are legal under international law?

3. Will the Government make such advice public?

4. Can the Government confirm that it could, if it had to, defend its decision at the International Court of Justice?

5. Will the Government secure certification by the Governor-General-in-Council that the proposed actions are lawful?

Without proper answers, Australians will object to this latest mission creep, as many are already doing.

One of Australia's F/A-18F Super Hornet's in action during an air show in Victoria. PIC: Australia Defence Force.

Although complicit journalists (see Greg Sheridan, Weekend Australian) claim it is legal and moral for Australia to make a vacillating Obama shape up, many others see the reason for the expansion into Syria and its timing for what it is: a distraction from Abbott’s slide in the polls, and a strategy for a khaki by-election.

The ducks are lining up: Julie Bishop, from Western Australia, last year got SAS troops installed in Iraq on diplomatic visas; a former Army captain whose men infamously held hands with dead opponents is standing in the Canning by-election; former General Jim Molan, who commanded the onslaught at Fallujah, wants Liberal pre-selection.

Australia is becoming an increasingly militarised society.

And Abbott, Carr, and Evans have the nerve to talk about legality, morality and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), without even saying what, apart from more dead Syrians, will result from bombing Syria, or when it will stop, or how Syria will be governed.

As they should know, attacking a country which does not threaten us is a breach of international law. Since Libya, even R2P must be exercised under a resolution of the UN Security Council.

Australians, unlike Americans, could be accused of war crimes for bombing Syria. Rather than urging the Americans into an escalating war, Australia should be advising them against it.

Fresh from our experience on the UN Security Council, Australia has an opportunity to join – even to convene – international discussions about how to avoid it.

Of course, a government led by Abbott, who learnt his con tricks from Howard, will do no such thing.

According to Sheridan, the September 8 meeting of the National Security Committee of Cabinet will decide about bombing Syria.

We have less than a week to demand answers from our politicians about what they are doing and why.

Intelligent Australians need, at the least, a debate and a vote in Parliament, as the British have, before we widen this war.

Dr Alison Broinowski is a Visiting Fellow at ANU and UNSW, and an Honorary Associate at Macquarie University.