Australia is now sending combat planes and special forces to Iraq ready to fight IS. It is not yet certain that these planes will actually join in the bombing, but it seems that they will. Moreover, while it is said that the special forces won’t actually fight, they may go into Iraq to support the local resistance to IS and also select targets for the planes. These plans are not merely an escalation of the previous mission to supply arms and ammunition to the Kurds, they represent an entirely new situation. The description of the new ‘mission’ provided by the Prime Minister and others leads one to suspect that they really have no clear idea what they are doing, certainly there is no long-term plan. Thus we have again heard talk of proportionality, from both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, and again I assume they have been told to say that because it sounds right somehow. The Prime Minister has also said that we are not going to war and that the mission is a humanitarian one. The second claim is nonsense, while the first is dubious. In this post I shall comment on these claims and reflect a little further on Australia’s involvement in the conflict. These comments are a little unsystematic, for which I apologise.
A humanitarian mission is one whose sole aim is to provide aid and assistance to people who find themselves in dire circumstances, and whose means do not include armed force. If it is necessary first to fight in order to get access to the people that require assistance, then the mission in question may have as its ultimate aim the relief of the persons in question, but it cannot therefore be just a humanitarian mission. The RAAF Hornet aircraft being send to Iraq do not carry out humanitarian missions: they drop bombs and fire missiles. However, from what one hears from the US, the aim of the ‘mission’ is to degrade and destroy IL. That is what Australia has signed up to and it is not a humanitarian mission by any stretch. Are we therefore going to war with IS?
Our Prime Minister says that the RAAF Hornets are ready to undertake combat missions – missions here there and everywhere – but not fight a war. The reason is that IS is not a state, and he thinks that wars are only fought between states. There is a precedent for this usage in no less a source than Clausewitz, in On War, where he said that wars are fought between states. However, while there is a great deal still of interest and relevance in this book, modern Clausewitzians like Hedly Bull define war as organised violence between two or more political units and so widen the definition. IS, like the Viet Cong, is most certainly a political unit. Also, wars differ from mere missions in that they are relatively drawn-out affairs, and our Prime Minister admits that we could be in Iraq from many months. One can quibble about words, but it seems to me clear that one may as well be honest and admit that we are going to war.
Adding to the overall impression of confusion and lack of clarity about aims and objectives here are comments about Australian citizens who are apparently fighting for IS. It is said that these recruits may come back to Australia and commit acts of terrorism and this is another reason to go and fight IS. If someone wants to go and fight for IS, and embraces the idea of a caliphate throughout the Arab world, I do not see that it follows that he would be inclined to come back to Australia and commit acts of terrorism. It maybe that IS recruits are encouraged to do so, but I do not think that anyone knows this for sure. But I would think that it would be more likely if Australia were to take part in the war and go and fight IS. We are told that this is not the case and that it will make no difference if Australia takes part. But I for one no longer trust the government in this matter. I think its members have shown themselves to be incompetent and confused. I do not see how it cannot but make it more likely that we become a terrorist target if we go into Iraq again. How can anyone doubt that?
Finally, it seems to me clear that the US, Australia, and other countries are being provoked into war by IS. War is exactly what IS wants. I assume it wants this because it will help them to recruit yet more people to the cause: once again, America and its allies attack Muslims, and Muslims must fight back. And of course IS will not concentrate its fighters in such a way as to make them targets for allied airpower. They will disperse, disband, go under cover, dig in among the local population, as their predecessors did when the US divisions were in Iraq, to emerge stronger than ever. The leadership can happily sacrifice some of its foot soldiers who happen to be caught in the open by allied planes confident that many more are on the way.