Federal governments over the past decade have fed Australians the story that there are no Aussie “boots on the ground” in various parts of the Middle East. Those were lies.
For the record, let’s understand that Australian “special forces” and other branches of the ADF are operating either officially or unofficially in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, the Gulf states, Yemen and Libya. Defence services are currently overstretched and costs are blowing out by billions of dollars.
The involvement is so chaotic, secretive and ad hoc that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Defence Minister Marise Payne are now trying to bring it under Canberra’s control.
The sensible service chiefs are in favour of official political intervention to take responsibility for Australia’s escalating overseas activities.
Regrettably, recent military residents of Yarralumla have inadvertently muddied the waters. Supporters of former governor-general Major-General Michael Jeffery, former commander of the SAS, and current GG, General Sir Peter Cosgrove, former Chief of the Defence Force, have mischievously regarded the two former generals as quasi heads of state and commanders-in-chief. They are nothing of the sort.
The result has been that they seem to know more about Australian service personnel abroad than 99.9% of Australians.
An increasing number of senior defence officers are resigning their commissions to take up senior military and intelligence roles with reactionary Arab regimes in the Gulf. In any other era they would be called mercenaries but now they are being hailed for their commitment to the survival of the pro-Western Arab camp which includes Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, all direct and indirect sponsors of IS and Al Qaeda terrorism.
Take the case of 59-year-old Mike Hindmarsh, a former senior Australian army officer, who is now commander of the United Arab Emirates’ presidential guard, a 5,000-strong force of marines, special forces, airmen and mechanised units.
Abu Dhabi-based Hindmarsh, who earns an estimated $500,000-a-year (tax free), reports directly to the emirate’s ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
Under his contract Hindmarsh has created a force instilled with the “warrior ethos” which has been praised for its role in crushing radicals, democrats and the Shia-led Houthi youth movement in Yemen.
The Saudi-led coalition which has been actively involved in a secret war in Yemen has been accused of war crimes such as dropping cluster bombs and deliberately targeting civilian areas, historic sites, mosques, homes, schools and hospitals.
There is no evidence that Hindmarsh himself has been directly involved but there is no doubt that the presidential guard he created has been seriously involved in an active role.
Hindmarsh has an SAS background, commanding the Perth-based regiment between 1997 and 1999 before becoming head of Australian Special Forces between 2004 and 2008.
He returned to Sydney in March 2009 as head of the Army Training Command at Victoria Barracks, Paddington, on a salary of $230,000-a-year.
But later that year the army approved his “retirement” so he could take up his role with the crown prince in Abu Dhabi on twice his former salary.
Other Australian ex-soldiers working alongside Hindmarsh are intelligence specialist Peter Butson, special operations adviser Scott Corrigan, plus Kevin Dolan and Steve Nichols. (An investigative article about Hindmarsh and his pals by Rori Donaghy appeared on the independent news website Middle East Eye in December).
What’s weird is that if they had left Australia to defend a foreign state from barbaric US, British, French and Russian bombings and killings, they would probably face treason charges and have their passports and citizenship taken away.
Days after becoming PM in September 2014 Tony Abbott announced 200 special forces troops would be sent to Abu Dhabi to act as “military advisers to the Iraqi armed forces and to the [Kurdish liberation army] Peshmerga.” The special forces commitment later rose to 600 and then Abu Dhabi-based RAAF warplanes began bombing Syria as well as Iraq.
Abbott explicitly stated at the time of the initial deployment that Australia was “not deploying combat troops but contributing to international efforts to prevent the humanitarian crisis from deepening.”
The very opposite has happened. The misery of Iraqis and Syrians has become gut-wrenching and the numbers fleeing from their lives has soared.
Abbott yearns limelight
When the Liberal party room sacked Tony Abbott last September there was a genuine sense of relief right across the country, irrespective of political affiliations.
Why? The majority of people were relieved that Abbott was grounded and that he would no longer travel abroad and embarrass them. His swaggering, aggressive approach to diplomacy was unpleasant and counter-productive.
However, there were three Australians who believed Abbott was a colossal success on the world stage – Greg Sheridan of The Australian, Gerard Henderson of the self-styled Sydney Institute and Michael Fullilove, director of Frank Lowy’s private thought tank, the Lowy Institute.
While Abbott was prime minister Fullilove wrote this glowing assessment of The Mad Monk’s handling of the job:
“Tony Abbott’s promise to ‘shirt front’ Russian president Vladimir Putin has led critics to argue he is temperamentally unsuited to conducting foreign policy. In fact, he has made a good start to this part of the prime minister’s job.
“Three strengths of Abbott’s foreign policy – and three concerns – stand out. Foreign policy is central to this government. This is partly a function of events, including the disappearance of MH370, the downing of MH17 and the rise of Islamic State. But it also reflects the personalities of the key players. National Security Committee meetings are frequent. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is the government’s outstanding cabinet minister [!]. Treasurer Joe Hockey is focused on the G20 leaders summit in Brisbane [!!]. And the Prime Minister himself is plainly ambitious when it comes to the world.” (SMH, 17 October 2014).
Last year Fullilove delivered the prestigious ABC Boyer Lecture, choosing China as his main theme. Radio National’s Fran Kelly endlessly promoted the event.
Predictably, Fullilove offered the corporate world’s line – let’s trade with China to make as much money as possible but simultaneously join Washington in a strategy to “contain” China.
It is a duplicitous and ultimately self-defeating strategy. Does anyone seriously believe that Beijing is fooled by this double-dealing?
Fullilove is a shallow-minded skimmer whose views are derived from American think tank discussion papers and dinner tables in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. The Boyer Lectures committee can do better than this.
Is Abbott a revenant?
The dictionary meaning of revenant is “a person who returns” or “a person who has returned” or “one that returns after death or a long absence”.
The noun is derived from the French revenir meaning “to come back” and the French word revenant means return and can also mean ghost.
Which brings us to Tony Abbott and his decision to stand for re-election to parliament at this year’s Federal Election.
Having just seen Leonardo Di Caprio play The Revenant in director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s harrowing masterpiece, I am very reluctant to call Abbott a revenant. Perhaps misrevenant or malrevenant would be more appropriate to describe Abbott.
Backed by billionaire publisher and tax avoider Rupert Murdoch, the US guns lobby and extreme right Christian fundamentalists, Abbott is assembling a strategy to destabilise his nemesis, Malcolm Turnbull.
We live in revenanting times.
In a pub the other night in regional Queensland, and the beer mats featured a local tradie called Matt offering the following services: fencing, selective clearing, herbicide spraying, property caretaking and farm management.
It’s not the kind of beer mat you would find in a bar in Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra.
Matt is also offering “slashing” which means cutting grass while to inner-city Sydneysiders it’s what they do in the gutters and laneways outside pubs.
Similarly, Melburnians believe a port is a rich fortified wine while to Queenslanders it is a suitcase.
We are a nation of Australians but we all come from different tribes.