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” . . . . but what comes next?”

10 Sep

Australia sends its warplanes into Syria – but what comes next?

Denis Dragovic, University of Melbourne

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced an expansion into Syria of Australia’s military operations against Islamic State (IS), joining the US, Canada and several Arab nations. Long-term success will depend upon the government investing equally in regional diplomacy and reconstruction to secure any military gains.

Remarkably, the preceding public debate has largely been muted – with a few exceptions. These have included reports suggesting that Abbott had initiated the request from US President Barack Obama for Australia’s involvement and off-hand remarks by Vice-Admiral David Johnston, chief of joint operations, that acquiescing to the US request would add little value.

Former foreign minister Bob Carr came out in support of expanding operations into Syria for moral reasons.

The decision to expand operations is justified on operational grounds. To effectively carry out its ongoing mission in Iraq, a limited expansion of military operations into Syria was necessary. Such an expansion – a legal grey area – will allow Australian aircraft to pursue IS personnel fleeing across the border and to attack their command-and-control structures used for attacks in Iraq.

Making the announcement on Wednesday, Abbott emphasised that the aircraft would be targeting IS and not the Assad regime, “evil thought it is”. Airstrikes are expected to begin with the next week.

The widening of the area of operations will not increase Australia’s current troop deployment. This is made up of 400 personnel supporting aerial missions over Iraq, 200 SAS soldiers training Iraqi counter-terrorism units and a further 300 soldiers training Iraqi forces at the Taji training base north of Baghdad.

Why now is the right time

While presented as a limited expansion driven by operational needs, the announcement is also a timely commitment with wider strategic consequences. The decision recognises a rapidly changing landscape.

In late August, Turkey began military operations against IS while continuing its rapproachment with Saudi Arabia. This coming together of two regional powerhouses, along with some European countries considering committing to the fight, makes Australia’s announcement part of a growing international consensus to act.

Additionally, Syrian-Kurdish military groups have had considerable success against IS in recent months. They have cleared key towns in northern Syria. This has left only a small area, between the Euphrates River and the town of Azaz, under IS control.

IS uses this last remaining area along the Turkish border to traffic oil and historical artefacts, resupply food and ammunition and welcome thousands of new foreign recruits.

Australia’s decision, while not committing to supporting a planned US and Turkish effort to expel IS from this northern border area, will add legitimacy to the international community’s collective action while applying military pressure to IS’s eastern operations.

What comes next?

In August 2013, Abbott cautioned against military action in Syria:

We should be very reluctant to get too involved in very difficult conflicts which we may not be readily able to influence for good.

Whether military intervention can now influence the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars for good depends upon there being an accompanying diplomatic strategy that seeks to find a durable long-term solution. Military power alone cannot address the political and ideological motivations driving IS’s successes.

The Syrian civil war is in its fifth year. More than 200,000 civilians have been killed. One-third of the country’s population – seven million people – are internally displaced. Another four million are refugees.

What was an ethnically diverse country pockmarked with different histories, cultures and languages is now uniformly divided. In the west, along the coast, are the Alawites, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s supporters. In the north are the Kurds. In the east are the Sunnis. Interspersed within these three are the minority Druze, Christians and Shia.

Nearly five years of war has effectively redrawn the borders, pushing people to move to what have become self-governed regions. As such, the international community should shift its efforts away from reviving a long-lost idea of a united Syria and instead push for peace by recognising the redrawn ethnic boundaries.

We can look to the experience of the multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina following its five-year war to see how a previously integrated and heterogeneous society became segregated through conflict, and yet managed to establish a tenuous but peaceful co-existence by establishing autonomous regions.

Similarly, we must learn from the current catastrophe in Libya and the post-invasion debacle of Iraq. In both circumstances, the international community ignored the need to commit resources after the war to sustain the peace – with devastating consequences.

For expanded military operations against IS to succeed, Australia must additionally commit non-military resources, diplomats, stabilisation and reconstruction specialists as well as financing. It must have a realistic view of the end goal and start planning to stabilise and rebuild any territory taken from IS.

The Conversation

Denis Dragovic, Honorary Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

George Orwell Looking back on the Spanish War, Chapter 4

26 Jun

http://orwell.ru/library/essays/Spanish_War/english/esw_1

The other day I read in my kindle Orwell’s essay “Looking back on the Spanish War”.  I found most interesting, what Orwell wrote about party propaganda and lies. This is why I want to share here this chapter that deals with Orwell’s views about lying. He wrote this in 1942. Maybe you can find some similarities as far as our present day governments are concerned? What are your views about it? Anyhow, here is chapter 4:

“The struggle for power between the Spanish Republican parties is an unhappy, far-off thing which I have no wish to revive at this date. I only mention it in order to say: believe nothing, or next to nothing, of what you read about internal affairs on the Government side. It is all, from whatever source, party propaganda — that is to say, lies. The broad truth about the war is simple enough. The Spanish bourgeoisie saw their chance of crushing the labour movement, and took it, aided by the Nazis and by the forces of reaction all over the world. It is doubtful whether more than that will ever be established.

I remember saying once to Arthur Koestler, ‘History stopped in 1936’, at which he nodded in immediate understanding. We were both thinking of totalitarianism in general, but more particularly of the Spanish civil war. Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’. Yet in a way, horrible as all this was, it was unimportant. It concerned secondary issues — namely, the struggle for power between the Comintern and the Spanish left-wing parties, and the efforts of the Russian Government to prevent revolution in Spain. But the broad picture of the war which the Spanish Government presented to the world was not untruthful. The main issues were what it said they were. But as for the Fascists and their backers, how could they come even as near to the truth as that? How could they possibly mention their real aims? Their version of the war was pure fantasy, and in the circumstances it could not have been otherwise.

The only propaganda line open to the Nazis and Fascists was to represent themselves as Christian patriots saving Spain from a Russian dictatorship. This involved pretending that life in Government Spain was just one long massacre (vide the Catholic Herald or the Daily Mail — but these were child’s play compared with the Continental Fascist press), and it involved immensely exaggerating the scale of Russian intervention. Out of the huge pyramid of lies which the Catholic and reactionary press all over the world built up, let me take just one point — the presence in Spain of a Russian army. Devout Franco partisans all believed in this; estimates of its strength went as high as half a million. Now, there was no Russian army in Spain. There may have been a handful of airmen and other technicians, a few hundred at the most, but an army there was not. Some thousands of foreigners who fought in Spain, not to mention millions of Spaniards, were witnesses of this. Well, their testimony made no impression at all upon the Franco propagandists, not one of whom had set foot in Government Spain. Simultaneously these people refused utterly to admit the fact of German or Italian intervention at the same time as the Germany and Italian press were openly boasting about the exploits of their’ legionaries’. I have chosen to mention only one point, but in fact the whole of Fascist propaganda about the war was on this level.

This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history. How will the history of the Spanish war be written? If Franco remains in power his nominees will write the history books, and (to stick to my chosen point) that Russian army which never existed will become historical fact, and schoolchildren will learn about it generations hence. But suppose Fascism is finally defeated and some kind of democratic government restored in Spain in the fairly near future; even then, how is the history of the war to be written? What kind of records will Franco have left behind him? Suppose even that the records kept on the Government side are recoverable — even so, how is a true history of the war to be written? For, as I have pointed out already, the Government, also dealt extensively in lies. From the anti-Fascist angle one could write a broadly truthful history of the war, but it would be a partisan history, unreliable on every minor point. Yet, after all, some kind of history will be written, and after those who actually remember the war are dead, it will be universally accepted. So for all practical purposes the lie will have become truth.

I know it is the fashion to say that most of recorded history is lies anyway. I am willing to believe that history is for the most part inaccurate and biased, but what is peculiar to our own age is the abandonment of the idea that history could be truthfully written. In the past people deliberately lied, or they unconsciously coloured what they wrote, or they struggled after the truth, well knowing that they must make many mistakes; but in each case they believed that ‘facts’ existed and were more or less discoverable. And in practice there was always a considerable body of fact which would have been agreed to by almost everyone. If you look up the history of the last war in, for instance, theEncyclopaedia Britannica, you will find that a respectable amount of the material is drawn from German sources. A British and a German historian would disagree deeply on many things, even on fundamentals, but there would still be that body of, as it were, neutral fact on which neither would seriously challenge the other. It is just this common basis of agreement, with its implication that human beings are all one species of animal, that totalitarianism destroys. Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as ‘the truth’ exists. There is, for instance, no such thing as ‘Science’. There is only ‘German Science’, ‘Jewish Science’, etc. The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, ‘It never happened’ — well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five — well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs — and after our experiences of the last few years that is not a frivolous statement.

But is it perhaps childish or morbid to terrify oneself with visions of a totalitarian future? Before writing off the totalitarian world as a nightmare that can’t come true, just remember that in 1925 the world of today would have seemed a nightmare that couldn’t come true. Against that shifting phantasmagoric world in which black may be white tomorrow and yesterday’s weather can be changed by decree, there are in reality only two safeguards. One is that however much you deny the truth, the truth goes on existing, as it were, behind your back, and you consequently can’t violate it in ways that impair military efficiency. The other is that so long as some parts of the earth remain unconquered, the liberal tradition can be kept alive. Let Fascism, or possibly even a combination of several Fascisms, conquer the whole world, and those two conditions no longer exist. We in England underrate the danger of this kind of thing, because our traditions and our past security have given us a sentimental belief that it all comes right in the end and the thing you most fear never really happens. Nourished for hundreds of years on a literature in which Right invariably triumphs in the last chapter, we believe half-instinctively that evil always defeats itself in the long run. Pacifism, for instance, is founded largely on this belief. Don’t resist evil, and it will somehow destroy itself. But why should it? What evidence is there that it does? And what instance is there of a modern industrialized state collapsing unless conquered from the outside by military force?

Consider for instance the re-institution of slavery. Who could have imagined twenty years ago that slavery would return to Europe? Well, slavery has been restored under our noses. The forced-labour camps all over Europe and North Africa where Poles, Russians, Jews and political prisoners of every race toil at road-making or swamp-draining for their bare rations, are simple chattle slavery. The most one can say is that the buying and selling of slaves by individuals is not yet permitted. In other ways — the breaking-up of families, for instance — the conditions are probably worse than they were on the American cotton plantations. There is no reason for thinking that this state of affairs will change while any totalitarian domination endures. We don’t grasp its full implications, because in our mystical way we feel that a regime founded on slavery must collapse. But it is worth comparing the duration of the slave empires of antiquity with that of any modern state. Civilizations founded on slavery have lasted for such periods as four thousand years.

When I think of antiquity, the detail that frightens me is that those hundreds of millions of slaves on whose backs civilization rested generation after generation have left behind them no record whatever. We do not even know their names. In the whole of Greek and Roman history, how many slaves’ names are known to you? I can think of two, or possibly three. One is Spartacus and the other is Epictetus. Also, in the Roman room at the British Museum there is a glass jar with the maker’s name inscribed on the bottom, ‘Felix fecit’. I have a mental picture of poor Felix (a Gaul with red hair and a metal collar round his neck), but in fact he may not have been a slave; so there are only two slaves whose names I definitely know, and probably few people can remember more. The rest have gone down into utter silence.”