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The limits to military power

By David Leyonhjelm - posted Tuesday, 18 August 2015


Thousands of miles from here a backward, misogynist, psychotic group of Sunni Muslims is terrorising all within their reach. Quite rightly, the Australian Government has not committed a single soldier to counter this evil. I speak of Boko Haram in Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon.

A similarly backward, misogynist, psychotic group of Sunni Muslims called ISIS is carrying out its own reign of terror In Iraq and Syria. In response the Australian Government has committed hundreds of Australian military personnel to confront ISIS in Iraq, and now Dan Tehan proposes extending this commitment to Syria.

What's the difference between Boko Haram and ISIS?

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ISIS has snappier promotional videos than Boko Haram, so attracts more Australian dickheads to join them. The reasonable response to this is to spy on the dickheads, throw the book at them if they break the law, prevent them getting on a plane, and put conditions on their return if they're already in Iraq and Syria.

But it makes no sense to respond to these snappier videos by sending Australia's military to Iraq or Syria. That is, unless the specific mission is to target ISIS's cameras and video producers.

Some say the deployment of Australia's military will help ensure that ISIS does not overrun Baghdad and Southern Iraq. There is little risk of this, as the Iran-backed Shia militias that control Baghdad and Southern Iraq are as well-resourced as ISIS, and most of the people there are Shia.

Some say the deployment of Australia's military could help retake ISIS-held territory. But this can only go so far, as we've limited our military's air strikes to Iraq, while ISIS is stronger in Syria. But more to the point, shrinking ISIS-held territory would be good only if what replaces it is better.

Unfortunately, this is questionable. The territory currently controlled by ISIS is populated by Sunnis, with some Shias. ISIS is making life hell for the Shias and numerous Sunnis, but has support from other Sunnis under its control.

If ISIS loses territory, it will be to Shia militias. The Shia population who have not already fled would get respite, but a new reign of terror could be imposed on the Sunni majority, irrespective of whether individual Sunnis supported ISIS or not. And in terms of being backward, misogynist and psychotic, the Shia militias are up there too.

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There would be no secular, even-handed, Western-minded Iraqi Government to ensure civility. Such a Government does not exist, other than in the romantic imagination of wishful thinkers in the West.

Some favour Australia's military involvement as the price of our alliance with the US. I accept this, up to a point. If you're an ally, then you can give the benefit of the doubt to your ally and join them in a fight, even though you suspect that they are making a mistake. And you can try to bring them to their senses behind closed doors.

But when your ally keeps getting into pointless fights, eventually it's better to stand back. If we encourage the US to get into pointless fights, we'll be to blame if the US is a weakened ally in the decades to come.

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This article was first published in the Australian Financial Review.



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About the Author

David Leyonhjelm is the Liberal Democrat Senator for NSW.

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