Commentary on Turnbull’s Security Statement

PM Turnbull’s National Security Statement tells us that ISIL is “in a fundamentally weak position” and this has “strengthened the resolve of the global community… to defeat it”. But there is apparently a consensus among the leaders he met at recent international meetings against “sending a large US-led Western army to attempt to conquer and hold ISIL controlled areas”.

Why? We are not told, although it seems to be that a political solution in Syria is needed before attention can “turn more fully to eliminating ISIL”. Why is a political solution in Syria needed first?

No explanation is given and no mention is made of the main reason viz that Obama opposes putting more troops on the ground  (although tonight’s news reports that US special forces have made a major contribution to helping the Kurds drive back ISIL forces in  a centre in Northern Iraq). Yet there is little doubt that if Obama explained to Americans that ISIL is “fundamentally weak”, and that it is important for the US to support the western values that he now talks a bit more about, he would find support for troops on the ground higher than the recent US polls  have already showed (60%). Turnbull missed an opportunity to express the hope that the US might change its mind.

At least though, Turnbull has dropped his earlier absurd justification that any defeat of IS would leave the victors unsure what to do next. That is indeed a difficult problem, of course. But why then is there a 60 nation-strong objective “to disrupt, degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL”?

Turnbull used his claim of a consensus against a military campaign to justify no change in Australia’s on the ground military commitment in Iraq and Syria (while at the same time claiming we are making the second largest contribution). This justification is obviously designed to combat Abbott’s proposal to increase the forces we already have in Iraq. Turnbull asserts that Iraq believes it would be counter-productive to have “large scale western troop operations” and that current advice from Australian officials is that combat troops on the ground are “not feasible or practical”. I wonder. I do not recall the withdrawal  of Australian special forces from Iraq not so long ago being so explained. Turnbull also claims that Iraq has not consented to Australia deploying forces outside the wire but does not say whether Iraq has been asked.

Apart from his weak arguments against increasing boots on the ground in Iraq/Syria, Turnbull adds virtually nothing to existing policies designed to combat domestic terrorism or to the increased threat environment resulting from the Paris attacks and the subsequent threats of additional activity made by IS. The last two pages of his four page statement outline measures which have mostly been already announced, viz the additional 12,000 Syrian refugees who will be “rigorously assessed” and the support for a new Malaysian counter messaging centre, or the protection provided by our intelligence agencies, which are to install a new five-tiered system of warnings. But their advice is not to increase the existing threat level.

What is missing is any explanation of the underlying source of the terrorist activity in Paris, Mali and Nigeria, and the subsequent threats by IS. The only reference to Australia’s Muslim community is to extend a thank you to “all those Muslim groups and leaders who made statements denouncing the Paris attacks”. True, Turnbull does say that the “ promotion of authentic, modern, and tolerant Islam”… by Indonesia, Turkey and Malaysia… “has been especially important”. But if readers of Turnbull’s statement had not been following media reports of those attacks, they would be unaware from the statement itself that the Paris etc terrorists were Muslims and that terrorists are influenced by the Muslim religion.

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