Discussing calls for "more troops" in the Middle East

Whether Australia should increase its military commitment in Iraq and Syria must be based on expert advice and facts, not on perceived party-political expediency or incorrect memories of supposed historical lessons.


Letter to The Canberra Times 
Friday, 15 January 2016
(published Monday, 18 January 2016)

Your January 15 editorial, "Turnbull right to resist US call for troops", unfortunately included two problems that so mar proper public debate on strategic policy issues.

First, the discussion largely used a party-political prism, and indeed an intra-party rivalry one, rather than objectively view the matter on its merits and via the national decision-making processes that need to be involved.

Second, it included the types of factual and conceptual error in historical knowledge that so often mar current informed debate.

The attempted British diversion of the returning 6th and 7th AIF divisions, was from Java to Rangoon, not to help defend Singapore, which had already fallen with the loss of the 8th Division.

Moreover, the consequent profound political and bureaucratic panic in early 1942 was a result of Australian governments of both political persuasions having so consistently ignored the military advice predicting such strategic risks, in detail, since 1920.

In terms of further contemporary relevance, the decision that the AIF convoys should return directly to Australia (and not Java or Burma) was almost entirely based on the professional advice of Lieutenant General Vernon Sturdee, the only Australian among the Chiefs of Staff and the quasi-CDF of the era.

Indeed Sturdee noted that if Cabinet declined to accept his professional advice he would have to resign as their principal military adviser.

The lesson — apart from throroughly undue historical credit often being given to Curtin alone — is that national strategic policy should be steered with the help of expert diplomatic and military advice, not by partisan or intra-partisan political considerations.

Just as the professional advice of the current ADF Chiefs is surely a major factor in whether we can or should increase our current commitment to the latest Middle-East war.

A complex civil war that, on the ground, can only be effectively resolved by concerted Iraqi and Syrian efforts for once — and with actual, not nominal or counter-productive, help by all their neigbouring states.  

Constantly being bailed out by the international community cannot replace local effort in the long term.

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