The Australian military involvement in Syria
The Australian government decision to join the United States in its expanding war in Syria during mid 2015 was one that should come as no surprise to those familiar with Australian military history. It was a decision that was made despite previous political promises and the general “will” of the Australian public. The Australians had to go.
By September 2015 the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) had conducted around fifteen combat sorties against targets in Syria, another ten would be conducted in December. As was the case during the Vietnam war, Australia was uninvited by the host nation. Instead the Australians invited themselves. With a mutual desire to join and a request by the United States’ Government, the “Aussies” were willing coalition partners in another adventure into another country.
Australian foreign minister Julia Bishop in late 2015 claimed that under a UN charter the Australian military mission in the region was based upon an Iraqi government request. The Iraqi government had made no such official request. Regardless as to whether the Iraqi government had or had not invited the Australians to join in on the conflict, the Iraq national government did not have any sovereignty inside of Syria.
From within Australia not much has been mentioned in detail in regards to the Australian military mission in the region. It is simply assumed that operations are being conducted against the evil Islamic entity known as ISIS. Though many of the combat missions flown by the RAAF have been in support of “anti Assad” forces. ISIS also happens to be fighting the Assad regime.
Because of the confused calamity that exists within Syria-Iraq it has become a situation of confused objectives for the Western alliance. For those on the ground, the actual locals, the conflict is just as messy. It is not a clear-cut case of ISIS vs Assad vs “Rebels” vs ISIS vs Iraq government vs Al Qaeda vs Kurds vs Turkey vs ISIS vs Russia vs “Rebels” vs Kurdish faction’s vs Turkey vs Assad vs … That would be quite simple compared to the actual reality on the ground which is by far more deadly. But the RAAF is capable of helping “fix” the situation with some bombs.
The Australian media and many Western news outlets have, since 2013, referred to the Syrian government as the “Assad regime.” Often it has been a simplistic trick of delegitimising a sovereign power by calling them a “regime.” It invokes an image of instability and despotic rule. Assad and his father were in the decades prior a legitimate enough government for the West when it came to hosting black sites and when the Syrians joined in on operations against Iraq against the “Saddam regime.” Now, Assad was pariah and simply “had to go.”
The Australian regime under both Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull along with the Obama regime (administration eludes to organisation and cohesion) the conflict in Syria has been one of confusion and rhetoric. It has been a situation of delirious comedy as far as US foreign policy goes, if it was not for the thousands of dead human beings and destroyed lives. The RAAF has from most indications been used as a point and click apparatus to help the US regime’s many efforts against both the Assad administration and sometimes against ISIS. The Australian government’s mission is perhaps the simplest. Support the United States regardless of what it does.
From Washington, a confused picture has emerged in regards to just what the actual military mission is, in the region. CIA backed factions have on occasion fought against those supported by the Pentagon. While Al Qaeda, ISIS and some of the many other elements that have come under the guise of the “Free Syrian Army” have received arms and support by the US, depending on which side of the Iraq-Syrian border that they happen to be.
The Australian government claimed that it would be flying operations to deny ISIS a foothold inside of Iraq and would only target ISIS threats inside of Eastern Syria. And that in no way would the RAAF look to influence the wider Syrian war. This at least were the claims made by Defence Minister Kevin Andrews when Australians were re-sent to the region.
Despite the press conferences and occasional outcry from a small anti-war community here in Australia many support the military operations being conducted by the United States and Australia. Whether this support is in blank silence or by the typical jingoistic-chauvinistic obedience that assumes that ‘Islam’ is evil and thus all ‘them’ should be killed. ISIS is after all evil, they are savages, they are oriental murderers, head choppers and rapists. Hours of footage exists and so much testimony can be found to help depict them as the monsters that they are. For most Australians, it is a good thing that ISIS is being attacked and killed by the RAAF and its American allies. But are they?
When the Putin administration entered the conflict on the side of its client, Syria it was because the United States and its allies had done very little to effectively deter and diminish the ISIS threat. While ISIS and rebel groups had been attacked from within the Iraqi borders, it seemed that ISIS and other “al Qaeda-like” organisations were in many ways receiving US support. The Putin administration and the Iranians like Assad. He is their son of a bitch, their kind of dictator. So, they intervened. In doing so, rebels and ISIS as well as more civilians were killed.
The media in the West along with the Western governments were happy to report on the Syrian and Russian governments’ taking of civilian lives. They were however far more adept at downplaying the civilian death toll at the hands of their own militaries and proxies. The dead and dying were, as often is the case, just props for the many factions. The Russian media and Western media were the most eager to exploit the human misery.
Social media is not the only propaganda tool by which to exhibit the pornographic display of the dead and deformed by war, destroyed children and baying parents are fair game in this conflict for the empty minds and cold hearts of those at home who at best can offer an ‘oh well’. Instead the dead are used as validation by every regime to further justify the bombings, the killings and to condemn the opposite sides of the war. The Australian public, media and government are no different, but again it is simple down here. Russia, Assad, ISIS bad. America good. So on flies the RAAF and so operates the SAS with precision and indecision, so long as it is on the hip of Uncle Sam.
Regardless of any wider and more sinister speculation as to why the United States, its allies and backers seek to destroy and create instability in the region, many theories circulate in the hope of creating a simple and clearer picture. Some such theories range from a desire to invoke a forty-year long war of sectarian bloodshed whereby Shi’ite and Sunni elements fight one another, all the while ignoring Israel, the Gulf states and the Western powers as they operate with splendid omnipotence. To the usual geopolitical expansion of the ‘great game’, this time Russia is joined by Iran. Where Israel, the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar indulge in divide and conquer, keeping the zealots from their own nations consumed with violence inside Yemen, Libya and Syria fighting the Persian sponsored heretics. Perhaps it was the Qatari proposition to build an immense pipeline that would run from the Gulf states into Syria, Iraq and Turkey to feed the ever hungry and energy dependent Europeans. A pipeline which would undermine the Russian gas trade to Europe. Many have speculated that US and EU intrigue in the Crimea has something to do with such gas demands as well.
Despite those and many other reasons the fact remains that it is unclear as to what the end game actually is? And why are the Australians and other participatory non-regional combatants not interested to better determine a reason as to why they should be involved in military operations so far from their borders. Perhaps it really is that simple for most, Putin is bad. He is the next (insert evil dictator here), after all he was a KGB guy (wasn’t George Bush Sr. a former head of the CIA?) and now he is a leader of a powerful nation. He has millions in personal wealth, is an ultra-nationalist, the Russians have some military bases abroad (about ten), his regime-administration has been linked to assassinations and the meddling of foreign political matters while he also supports dictators. He also helped to get Donald Trump elected, apparently.
Whereas for the Australian and most Western members of the public, the good guy, the US of A is patriotic, proud of its national history and heritage. The United States has over 800 bases in foreign nations including three major ones in Australia that are off limits to Australians and are used for strategic nuclear deployment. While the US has assassinated people, it is all done in the name of good, they were all baddies, whether they were children or unarmed, Washington always has a good reason to murder. The President has a kill list because the will of the people decided that he can be their leader and therefore this makes him omnipotent enough to determine who can die. The dictators on the US and Western side are “friendly” and “partners,” the human rights violations are overlooked and can be ignored. It is why many Westerners enjoy high paid jobs in places like Qatar while slaves die around them.
So, while Australian talking heads and politicians say with dead pan authority that Assad must go, their public chomp at the bit to see the end of ISIS. Can one achieve both and if so, can it be done in such a nature? The various military operations being conducted by the Australian government in support of the US and its coalition are limited but they are still crucial and deadly. Whether the RAAF was involved in the recent deaths of Syrian soldiers who were fighting a pitched battle against ISIS is still hard to determine. ISIS elements however did overrun the positions and take what ground the Syrian government had held, thanks to the Allied air support.
The Australian and Western public however are either naïve or willingly ignorant. The situation is confused but the images that blink across their devices and TV screens are of violence and death. Who caused that violence and what their intentions are do not matter to most, because the decisions have already been made. PUTIN_ASSAD_ISIS are the bad guys and thus ALWAYS culpable, even when they are not. So long as the Australian military is operating with the United States then the missions shall always be good and the outcome always for the best. How the Australian public has forgotten the Vietnam war years.
The Australian government has a history of sinister conduct when it comes to expressing itself from within its own national borders to have influence in foreign matters. Recently, accomplished journalist Seymour Hersh has reported that Australian “companies” have been used to help supply weapons in Libya to the various factions. While the Australian government has trained, and supplied Indonesian special forces and paramilitaries that have committed cruel and vile atrocities against Western Papuans and in the past, East Timorese. The Australian government is mute on its conduct and the public seldom if ever calls them to answer for such. When it comes to Syria, the Australian government and public have no legal authority or legitimate reason to even involve itself and yet once again, there we are.
As our navy sends ships far and wide to intercept foreign vessels in the name of a war on terror, anti-pirate operations or because the drug trade is used to fund “terrorists” they do so in order to both legitimise US policy but to also help fill in gaps. The relationship between the US and Australian government is so absolute that it is a perfectly one sided affair. The US has a willing combatant and a large strategic land mass for Pine Gap, North West Cape and logistical flights. Australia has a big friend to look to, as it has always sought since 1901. In the past, it was the British Empire to which Australia looked. Today it is the United States Empire. Australians never really wanted independence. They were too scared of their neighbours.
With a history of obedient military operations which comes at the material expense to the Australian tax payer but most importantly to those who lose their lives and suffer the trauma of war. But most of all, the victims of the war the unseen faces of millions who are simply props to a wider theatre of death. The foreigners whether Vietnamese, Indonesian, Iraqi, Syrian, Afghani, Papuan or Timorese, all who died and suffered because of Australian military support and actions. Near always not because it served in the defence of Australia, not because it protected Australian citizens and seldom because it was for any noble justice. Instead it was directly or indirectly in support of “our mate” Uncle Sam.
The Australian government has always been a useful idiot for the United States and as is often the case for Australians and Americans alike, much of the public does not appear to care about what the consequences of the present war will be. Whether it is blowback or the endless murder. In this current conflict the Australian government has perhaps the most basic and simple mission – support the Americans. It is up to them to determine the end game. It is the perfect objective for a nation full of ANZAC pride (except the Kiwis are no longer eager to play this game) with an all too eager desire to shirk moral responsibility. It is in such a bloody objective that Australians and its government can indulge in War, support its mate and outsource the political mumbo jumbo to the Yanks.
Kym Robinson, Dec 2016.