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30 September 2014
by Sean Stinson

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s off to war we go…

It’s almost 100 years since the Sykes-Picot agreement was signed, in which Britain and France divided up the spoils of the Ottoman Empire, paving the way for the mess we see in the Middle East today. Suffice it to say dividing up territories with a pencil and a ruler without regard to ethno-religious distribution, nowadays known as demographics, was probably not the most well thought out plan for regional stability.

And so with the drums of war beating ever louder and the zombie population whipped into an orgy of racial hatred by robot reporters controlled by media moguls who answer to billionaire bankers, the Crusade of the Willing are once again on their way to do battle in the Middle East, with Team Vegemite proudly bringing up the rear.

This is now Australia’s third engagement in Iraq in 25 years and I can’t help drawing parallels in the pattern of events. During the course of 3 successive wars the scene on the ground has gone from bad to worse. We train and fund our enemies’ enemies to fight proxy wars, and when they turn on us, we send their enemies after them. It’s a cycle of escalation and retaliation with no end in sight. It’s a deal with the devil gone bad.

As we approach the anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli, I’m reminded of our long history of involvement in the region, and find myself confronting a mythology which I suppose has become a part of my cultural identity – one which is entirely inconsistent with historical fact.

Gallipoli was a disaster.

The Dardanelles campaign was never meant to involve boots on the ground. (Where have I heard that before?) In 1914 Britain was the greatest naval power in the world, but its impressive fleet of battleships were no match for the new destroyer class, making them highly expendable. So Churchill, then Lord of the Admiralty, sent his battleships to crash or crash through the Dardanelles, engaging forts along the way with cannon fire. The plan would a: give the Russian allies clear access from the Black Sea right through to the Mediterranean, and b: force the Germans to fight a war on two fronts. In terms of the second objective, the campaign was undoubtedly a success. It drew the enemy’s fire, taking the pressure off the British and French forces fighting on the western front right when the Imperial German Army was within a stone’s throw of Paris.

But who ordered the strategically flawed and ultimately unnecessary ground invasions at places like Gallipoli, where any sane soldier ran away while the rest were mowed down like bowling pins? Landing troops was never part of anyone’s strategy to win the war. Rather this is one of our first modern examples of ‘mission creep’. The Dardanelles campaign started out with a clearly defined objective, but turned into a monumental clusterfuck.

So what is our purpose in Iraq this time? What are our key objectives and how do we hope to achieve them? What is the time frame? What is the exit strategy? What, to echo Scott Ludlam, would success look like?

No idea? That seems to be what I’m hearing from our fearless leaders. Perhaps if they’ve learned nothing from the last 25 years of conflict they’d be wise to take a lesson from history.