Even as Donald Trump announced he would cut and run from Syria, leaving his Kurdish allies to whatever bloody fate awaits them and opening a door for the resurgence of ISIS. our fearless prime minister was not ready to breathe a word of criticism of his friend, ally and protector.
To the contrary, in fact: the man of titanium actually praised the Donald for keeping an election promise, in that some years ago he said he would bring his troops home, as part of making America great again.
It was time to stop the stupid, endless wars, Trump declared – and perhaps he has a point. After all, for all his belligerence, against North Korea, Iran, and even China, he has not personally started any wars. That was left to his predecessors, most particularly George Bush, whose misguided and disastrous response to 9/11 began the invasion of Iraq and the whole ghastly imbroglio that followed.
But the hard reality was that America broke it, and America owned it. Neither Trump nor any other president can simply wish it away, wash his hands of it regardless of consequences.
Some of his apologists are now pretending that he never gave Turkey a green light to invade – the idea was only to withdraw US troops, and allow the establishment of a buffer zone of peace between Turkey and Syria. But such ingenuousness does not stand up to the faintest scrutiny.
Turkey’s autocratic president Recep Erdogan has publicly threatened for years to crush the Kurds within his own borders and subdue any on the outskirts.
Like Trump, he is now doing more than honouring his promises. And of course there are side benefits: a swift war would be a useful distraction from the economic woes causing protests within his country and the so-called buffer zone would be a convenient dumping ground for the huge influx of refugees that fled the long-running conflict.
Indeed, Erdogan is attempting to use them as a bargaining chip: if the European nations, deeply unhappy over his invasion, try to impose sanctions against his regime, he will open Turkey’s borders and flood the west with asylum seekers. It may or may not be an empty threat, but for many leaders already battling with problems around immigration, it remains a potent one.
And Trump himself has already walked back from his initial line that the invasion was “a bad idea” and that if there were to be significant civilian casualties, he would use sanctions to bring Turkey to its economic knees. Within 24 hours he was now talking about mediation between Erdogan and the Kurds as the desirable path, a move immediately rejected by the triumphant Turkish war leader.
So roll on the stupid, endless wars – but without, for once, American participation.
Australia’s predictably supine reaction was to say it was deeply concerning, but all Turkey’s fault – Scott Morrison and his Foreign Minister Marise Payne had a quiet chat with one of Trump’s current enforcers, Mike Pompeo, as a result of which Morrison berated Turkey for what he described as a “unilateral” crossing of the border, ignoring the fact that Trump had implicitly invited the Turkish troops to do so. And in his compliant response Morrison has confirmed that whenever Washington begins its next stupid, endless war, Australia, as always, will be the first in line to join in.
Arguably, this subservience makes him even more reckless and dangerous than Trump; at least the American commander in chief of a super power can claim some justification for his bellicosity as the west’s self-appointed policeman, guardian of both the national and international interest. Morrison is offering Australia as no more than cannon fodder – sending Australians into battle in the name of mateship, an alliance which has been shown to be less reliable than ever with no conceivable national interest involved.
And it will only a need a simple tweet from the White House for the call up to begin – thus it was in Vietnam, the leaden standard, and thus it has been ever since. The hapless and long-suffering Kurds may be the first casualty in Trump’s impetuous move but they are unlikely to be the last.
And as the political crisis over Trump’s impeachment continues and escalates he is likely to become more unstable and unpredictable. A smart prime minister – a serious and sensible ally – would have been warning of restraint both privately and publicly, and planning to avoid becoming entangled in America’s problems, both domestic and overseas. ScoMo appears more interested in going to the footy in Fiji to bring out the water and the kicking tee for his prime ministerial selections.
However, if he could tear himself away from marketing his marketeer image, there is something useful he could do: consider the inevitable victims, many of whom are already on the run as the Turkish bombs and artillery are driving them out of their makeshift refuges.
Forget the ISIS prisoners – if they escape it will be someone else’s problem. But taking in an emergency planeload or two of Kurdish refugees, if they wish to abandon their last hope of a state of their own, would surely be a worthwhile contribution to an unfolding disaster. After all, we did it once before, with a special consignment from Syria – now there is an even more pressing moral obligation.
And then there are the Australians immured in the camps. Border supremo Peter Dutton is utterly dismissive – the men are effectively traitors, to be stripped of their citizenship. And the women – why, some of them, many of them, are as bad as the men, so bringing them back to Australia could precipitate what Dutton quaintly calls a “mass casualty event,” even if his suspicions were founded and they were charged and convicted under Australian law.
But what about their children, usually the outcome of rape or at best forced marriage? Even Dutton and Morrison have evinced a touch of concern for them. If their version of the lucky country stands for anything, surely it should include at least an effort to free them and bring them to the safety of the extended families pleading for help in Australia.
It would obviously be the right and decent thing to do, and Trump would presumably raise no objection. And if he did, then it would surely be finally time to tell him to get stuffed.