Leading article Australia

Back to Iraq

16 August 2014

9:00 AM

16 August 2014

9:00 AM

It’s twelve years and eleven months since a single graphic image punched us in the guts with such force. Then, with smoke billowing from two New York skyscrapers, themselves symbols of the West’s industrial and economic clout, we realized that our technological supremacy was nothing in the face of determined, medieval, amoral, religious fanaticism.

Now, as a young Aussie kid in K-mart shorts holds aloft the decapitated head of an ancient religious rival with all the glee that his mates back at school in Sydney would triumphantly display a prized bag of Krispy-Kreme donuts, we realize that our gloriously affable and naïve lifestyle is as much under threat as were the twin towers.

In 2001 it was our minds that Islamic terrorists chose to mess with. Now it is our souls.

Tony Abbott is right to refuse to rule out Australian troops returning to Iraq. Sadly, and almost inevitably, he will be forced to issues those orders within the term of his prime ministership. Indeed, a return to Iraq may well end up being his legacy.


Those eager to blame the current horrors unfolding in the Middle East upon the American/Australian/British invasion of Iraq in 2003 have missed the broader point of the so-called Arab Spring. Namely, the centuries old schism between Sunni and Shia streams of Islam, dating back to 632AD, was only ever put ‘on hold’; firstly by the Ottoman, European and Soviet empires, secondly by the brutal suppression of the so-called ‘strong men’ who dominated the Middle East after the Second World War. At some point it was inevitable that the lid would blow and the war for ownership of Islam resume. Yes, George W. Bush made a mess of the toppling of Saddam Hussein, chief among them the dismantling of his Baathist Sunni forces – it is their humiliation that has provided the crucial popular support for the Islamic State atrocities. Barack Obama, as Hillary Clinton now suggests, made the opposite mistake – by not toppling the equally dangerous (and even deadlier) Bashar Al Assad. Where the Egyptians took it upon themselves to overthrow their own dictator, they have ended up coming back full circle to pretty much where they started.

So why on earth would Australia embroil itself anywhere near this hell-hole? And why would Tony Abbott even hint at a return of troops, when a timid and hopelessly ineffectual Obama has appeared to rule that out?

The answer is as simplistic as it is obvious: goodies versus baddies. For all our moral equivalence and collective guilt and shame about previous Western military incursions, the bottom line is that our democratic conscience will not allow the existence of pure totalitarian evil to thrive. The moral equivalence argument dissipates when you see a father training his son to cut off the heads of his enemies and boasting about it on Facebook, or when a group of helpless, pathetic, starved and terrified refugees are confronted with the choice: convert to our Islam or die.

Hockey out of his depth

The claim by federal Treasurer Joe Hockey that the re-introduction of twice-yearly indexation of the fuel excise won’t have an adverse impact on the lowly-paid because ‘the poorest people either don’t have cars or actually don’t drive very far’ stands as one of the most fatuous comments yet made by a member of this government.

Not because it is or isn’t true. It may well indeed be a socio-demographic fact, derived from some taxpayer-funded statistical survey or other, that the lower your income the more cautious you are with how far you drive; that those on lower incomes rely more on public transport than others; or indeed that many people simply can’t afford the exorbitant cost of fuel, tolls, insurance, registration and so on.

All of which is irrelevant. From Day One, Joe Hockey has failed to grasp that as holder of the nation’s purse-strings, it is his role to not only make the decisions that will guarantee the economic health and well-being of the nation and its people, but to convincingly explain – or ‘sell’- his prescriptions. A doctor who cannot explain the cure or the benefits of his medicine will struggle to successfully implement his potions.

This latest blunder only serves to humiliate and ridicule the less well-off. Where Wayne Swan struggled to fire up a class war, Hockey seems determined to pour petrol on the flames at every opportunity. As former NSW Treasurer Michael Costa has repeatedly pointed out, Hockey’s prescriptions are sound. The tragedy is his inability to sell them.

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  • EschersStairs

    Sigh. I wish I could disagree.

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