Within the Federal parliament, Andrew Wilkie MP (Independent member for Denison in Tasmania) has been a consistent and vocal opponent of Australia’s ongoing military invention in the Middle East. On January 14, he was interviewed by ABC RN Breakfast reporter, Alison Carabine, on the Turnbull government’s decision to decline a US request for more military assistance in Iraq and Syria.*
The request was originally sent to about 40 countries by US Defence Secretary Ash Carter in early December last year. The Turnbull government informed the US of its decision later that month.
A statement by Defence Minister Marise Payne dated January 13 confirmed the Turnbull government’s decision to decline the US request. However Australia’s existing contributions to train Iraqi security forces and to the bombing campaign would be maintained.1
Amongst the handful of politicians opposed to the Coalition’s current military intervention in Iraq and Syria are the Greens and Andrew Wilkie. Unfortunately the Labor Opposition has so far backed the Coalition’s hitherto enthusiastic support for US-led military operations in the Middle East.
In the light of this regrettable consensus between the Coalition and Labor parties, along with the lack of debate on the real impact of Australia’s military operations in the region, the views expressed by Wilkie are especially noteworthy. Apart from welcoming the recent decision by the Turnbull government for expressing a degree of independence, Wilkie also referred to the following:
- The undeniable part played by the Howard government in the outbreak of sectarian hostilities in Iraq and the rise of ISIS following the US-led invasion in 2003, an act of aggression which was a clear violation of international law;
- The need for Australia to immediately devise an exit strategy from the civil war in Iraq;
- The importance of identifying cause and effect in relation to terrorist attacks such as those that occurred in Bali and more recently in Paris;
- The need for an increased commitment by Australia to nation-building and humanitarian aid in the Middle East and South East Asia;
- The failure of those who have described the US request as “reasonable” to recognise that there is “a civil war in the Middle East and we shouldn’t have got involved in the first place” and that conservatives, like former PM Tony Abbott and former Defence Minister Kevin Andrews in the Liberal Party, “helped create this mess …. and that the risk from religious extremism that Australians now face is a direct result of their foreign and security policies since 2003 to this very day”.
Not only has Wilkie demonstrated the shallowness of Australia’s justification of its past and current military interventions in the Middle East2, but he has also pointed to the urgent need for a fundamental debate about the defence and the security of Australia, where the key issues are the identification of Australian national interests and the sharing by Australians of global human interests.3
Such a project requires the development of an independent Australian defence and security policy freed from the restrictions imposed by the asymmetrical Australia/US alliance.
Those politicians and defence community members who refuse to genuinely engage in such a project are selling Australians out in the interests of a foreign power.
It will be of interest to see the degree to which the overdue Defence White Paper upholds the ruinous defence and security policies and strategies that currently prevail.
1. Refer to the statement by the Minister for Defence, ‘Australia’s contribution to the fight against Daesh’, Jan 13, 2016.
2. Refer to Andrew Wilkie’s ‘Statement on the crisis in Iraq’, Jun 13, 2014 and his comments on former PM John Howard’s decision to back the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 in ABC News report, ‘Iraq crisis: John Howard’s decision to back 2003 invasion helped fuel Islamic State militant group, says Andrew Wilkie’, Sep 22, 2014.
3. Richard Tanter, ‘The US Military Presence in Australia. The “Asia-Pacific Pivot” and “Global NATO”: Asymmetrical Alliance and its Alternatives’, Global Research, Nov 11, 2013. Also refer to Richard Tanter, ‘US joint facilities are a threat to the national interest’, The Conversation, Dec 4, 2012 and ‘The “Joint Facilities” revisited – Desmond Ball, democratic debate on security, and the human interest’, Nautilus Institute, Dec 12, 2012.