John Menadue. The Sydney seige and social misfits. Will we ever learn?

I posted the following blog ‘Will we ever learn?’ on 27 October this year. Amongst other things it highlighted the domestic risks that would result from the Abbott Government’s decision to join the war in Iraq and Syria.

Keysar Trad from the Islamic Friendship Association has today  described the hostage taker and killer as a ‘nutter’.It is also clear that there were numerous warning signs in the previous  behaviour of the attacker,

John Menadue.

The Coalition and conservative commentators have told us for years that international action by Australia in taking the lead on climate change would only be symbolic and would not really have any effect.

But the Abbott Government has stood this argument on its head by urging and agreeing to join the war in Iraq and Syria. Our participation in this war will be militarily insignificant and symbolic– eight fighter jets, four support aircraft and 200 Special Forces. Our involvement won’t have any strategic effect. But the government wants to be seen to be ‘doing something’ .Whilst it may pay short term political dividends, it will not work in the longer term.

With our symbolic act of joining in the war against IS we are making Australia less secure despite what Tony Abbott says. It is clear from opinion polling that Australians believe that our involvement in Iraq and Syria will make us more prone to attacks at home. The Canadians are experiencing that right now with social misfits and publicity seekers trying to make heroes of themselves. We are being bated into the use of more and more force against IS

When intelligence officials and police are allowed to tell us openly what they believe, they tell us that we will be more vulnerable. The Chilcott Enquiry in the UK was told by the Head of MI5 that UK participation in the Iraq War substantially increased the threat of terrorism in the UK. A former head of the AFP in Australia told us several years ago that we faced the same risk because of our involvement in Iraq.

We have been told many times that our security and economic future is in cooperation with our region. We have endorsed the US ‘pivot to Asia’, but now we are pivoting back to the Middle East again. Two of our key associates in regional cooperation and security are Indonesia and Malaysia. Neither of them or indeed any other significant countries in our region are committing their military against IS.

Julie Bishop has now announced that we are to deploy 200 Special Forces to advise and assist the Iraqi military. She chooses to disregard the fact that the US spent billions of dollars to train the Iraqi army, but because of the sectarianism of the Iraqi Government, the Iraqi military collapsed and ran away from ISIS, abandoning its US supplied equipment? How absurd is it to think that our 200 Special Forces will make any difference.  But some people feel good, by ‘doing something’.

The government is hoping, as Hugh White has said, that there will be a good, cheap and successful war against ISIS. But all the evidence is against that hope.

  • The US and other air forces will soon run out of targets. After three weeks of the air war in Afghanistan, former Secretary Rumsfeld said that the US air force had run out of targets. The RAAF may already be finding this out.
  • As Malcolm Fraser has pointed out, without a ground force and an end point, the war against IS will be a farce.
  • Allied forces in Iraq and Syria will only be there for the short term, but IS, in whatever form, will always be there.
  • In Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, together with our allies, we started the escalation with military advisers, then bombing, and then limited ground forces and then large-scale ground forces. It will be the same again as our intervention flounders.
  • Foreign involvement in civil and sectarian wars never works. In the end ‘success’ depends on the motivation of the participants in the conflict.
  • The countries and groupings in the Middle East are a maelstrom of religion, ideology and tribal groups. We are taking sides in a constantly changing and complex political, sectarian and ethnic struggle. Hezbollah, the Kurds and the Assad regime were believed to be the ‘baddies’. Now it seems that they are the ‘goodies’ in opposing IS. Iran may yet turn out to be on the side of the ‘goodies’.
  • Tony Abbott has said that IS is an ‘existential threat to Australia’. Does he seriously think that IS represents a threat to our survival? If such a threat exists, why don’t nearby countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and the Emirates join in a united front to oppose IS? Yet night after night we see Turkish tanks sitting on the hill side outside Kobari and refusing to intervene against IS.
  • We are appalled when we see public executions by IS fighters, but we  turn a blind eye when US drones directed from CIA headquarters in Langley direct hellfire missiles and kill scores of citizens at wedding celebrations in Yemen and Afghanistan. We ignore our own ferocious violence.

Conservative governments have led us to our three most recent debacles in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan – and they still keep repeating their mistakes. Will we ever learn?

Until the leaders and the people of the Middle East address their own domestic and regional problems our intervention will only make things worse.

There has been a history of Western intervention in the Middle East – colonisation, supporting authoritarian rulers, military occupation and exploitation of Middle Eastern land and resources such as oil. The CIA overthrew the democratically elected Mosaddegh government of Iran in 1953, for the benefit of the Anglo Iranian Oil Company, now BP.

When will we ever learn?

From what we are feeling

Will we ever learn?

As sorrows deepen.


John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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3 Responses to John Menadue. The Sydney seige and social misfits. Will we ever learn?

  1. Avatar Michael D.Breen says:

    About “learning from”; sure there is no logic nor sense in what you describe John. It is mania, untouched by common sense or reflection or even debate. “Is this a private war or can anyone join in?”
    However there is another lesson I thought you were going to deal with, namely how often when a crazy tragedy happens we do not ask why this person? Who knew what? How did the coppers deal with it? Did the courts fail? And granted the number of judges this Martin Place guy has appeared before is there any evidence of a casework approach to the felon? OK there will be different views about freedom, innocence before conviction etc. But this guy was a risk to himself and to his community. Do mental health, community services and the police work in hermitically ego-
    bound caves? If you open the gates of safe places, asylums for the vulnerable you have to have excellent and united services to protect them and us. Funny how we never hear this kind of systemic approach from police chiefs, politicians and premiers.

  2. Avatar Dion Manthorpe says:

    Congratulations John & Pat on succinctly summarising our current dilemma. “Foreign involvement in civil wars never works”…perhaps a good subject for debate in all our schools as an attempt to at least assist our younger generation to learn from history.

  3. Avatar Pat Boland says:

    Will we ever learn indeed?

    In early 2003, Phillip Adams was in despair. He was trying to warn us that “We shuffle down the road to war like zombies”. Then and now, I also am in despair. The bleak mindlessness which dominates current Australian political ethos is simply staggering. How a whole country can blithely stand by as its military trot off to the other side of the earth to poke their weapons at a violent regime in a struggle which they so totally fail to understand and which has virtually nothing to do with them, absolutely beggars belief. But of course I’m not taking into account am I, that we are the good guys. We conveniently ignore the experience of last time and the time before that and the time before that. We conveniently ignore George Orwell’s 1945 warning “There is almost no kind of outrage – torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians – which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side”. We have witnessed the deceit and violence so often in our own lifetime – Korea and Reds under the bed, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, WMD, the War on Terror – and yet we seem to learn nothing. We pliantly swallow the political line again and again. We hide in a moral vacuum while the ugly political and media machines shower us yet again with their propaganda. We swallow their ideas of worthy alliances, of the good of this cause or that, we listen to influential journalists and try to follow their obtuse logic, and then, dazed, we change the subject. We seem never to just stop and ask “But why?”

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