After the Paris attacks Australians are nervous that we will be next. Their fears are justified. With news media often reminding us that Australia is second only to the United States in its military commitment to the operations against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the militants surely have a big bulls-eye drawn over Australia on their maps of planned strikes.
After all, IS identified France’s and Russia’s roles in the Syrian conflict as the reason for the Paris outrages and the downing of the Russian airliner departing Sharm el-Sheikh that killed 224 people. Only water and distance – and perhaps superior intelligence services – have so far protected this country from horrors on a similar scale.
We should, however, never lose sight of the fact that our political leaders must carry much of the responsibility for the dangers Australians are now exposed to. The collapse of order after the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq was the most powerful catalyst for the formation of Daesh or IS.
The dismantling of the Iraqi army without regard for the consequences, and the exclusion of Sunnis from political authority, drove many experienced officers into the extremist camp, and it is they who now direct the insurgency in Syria and oversee the terrorist attacks in the West.
The Howard Government played a direct role in the Iraq calamity with its enthusiastic participation in President Bush’s invasion in 2003, a war that was little more than the action of a wounded beast driven to rage by the 9/11 attacks.
At the time any armchair critic could see that the “intelligence” on Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and the regime’s links to al-Qaeda was flimsy at best, put together under extreme pressure to justify the Bush-Cheney conviction that Saddam must be to blame. (George W. Bush believed literally that he was on “a mission from God”.)
When US Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the United Nations Security Council in February 2003 to present the evidence of Saddam’s threat it was obvious that he himself had serious doubts about the truth of what he was saying. We expected better of him and he subsequently made a pathetic apology.
Australians are less prone than Americans to surges of patriotic overkill. Some six hundred thousand marched against the Howard Government’s plan to join the US war of revenge, an enormous number by any standard of modern protest. Former intelligence analyst and now federal MP Andrew Wilkie warned at the time there would be a terrorist backlash.
Yet our political leaders are so dazzled by the power of our American friend that they are willing to put their own citizens in danger.
Oceans and distance cannot protect us from radicalized Islamists already settled here. Encryption programs allow would-be terrorists to communicate with each other with little risk of detection, and serious weaponry is available to those in the know.
ASIO chief Duncan Lewis and the other heads of police and military intelligence know full well that Australian citizens are at much greater risk from terrorist attacks because of our involvement in the war in Syria and Iraq, but they are forbidden from saying so.
They remember what happened to AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty in 2004 when he spoke the truth and was forced into a humiliating retraction that nevertheless damaged his career permanently.
Yet we all know the truth. If the terrorists strike we must of course hunt them down and deal with them as harshly as the law permits; but let us not forget why Australia is so high on their list of targets.