Morrison follows US into Middle East conflict
(Above: Filipinos protest outside the US Embassy in Manila January 6. Millions of Filiinos work in the Middle East)
Moves by the Morrison coalition government in Canberra to follow US-led military operations in the Middle East, have set Australia on a collision course and war-footing in the region.
While US-led Operation Manitou is primarily concerned with security around the Strait of Hormus, there are clearly wider regional considerations.
US foreign policy toward the Middle East has entered a period of crisis, the outcome of failures to act upon accurate military assessments: as the balance of forces has swung away from US imperialism, Washington and the Pentagon have become desperate to deal with Iran, which has become a dominant player, and its allies which provide Tehran with diplomatic support.
In mid-January the Australian frigate HMAS Toowoomba with a crew of 190 naval personnel joined the US-led Operation Manitou. The stated aim of the operation was couched in diplomatic jargon and stated its 'primary aim is to promote security and stability in the Strait of Hormuz – but with tensions continuing to simmer between Iran and the US – the waters of the Middle East may be more difficult to navigate than normal'. (1)
The military exercise has followed decisions taken in Britain to send two Royal Navy vessels to the Gulf, a destroyer HMS Defender and a frigate HMS Montrose. While the stated reason for the British involvement was to provide escort facilities for oil tankers in waters close to Iran, it has also taken the form of an escalation of diplomatic tensions with Tehran.
Operation Manitou clearly has wider regional implications as the US remains desperate to regain lost positions of domination and control. It is not particularly difficult to establish their predicament: US-led regional foreign policy has fallen into a number of distinct phases, each one ending in failure to achieve planned military objectives.
The initial invasion of Iraq, accompanied by similar moves in Afghanistan, was followed by support for the demonstrators of the so-called Arab Spring which toppled a number of governments. What tended to follow were highly unstable administrations across the Arab world, where political vacuums were quickly filled by international jihadists: US-controlled 'intelligence assets' funded through their strategic ally, Saudi Arabia.
It is not difficult, therefore, to observe why many of the residents of the region have little time for the US. The personal security of millions of people has been compromised, together with huge numbers of asylum-seekers fleeing for safety. Someone might like to notify the Pentagon, if you invade somewhere you are subsequently responsible for the defence and security of the land on which you stand. A sensible observer might, therefore, like to question why whole families from the region walked into Europe to settle in Germany; it is a very long way to travel, to do so on foot reveals the desperation of those fleeing.
The US-led Operation Manitou has followed soon after a joint naval operation with Iran, China and the Russian Federation, Operation Marine Security Belt (MSB), in the Gulf of Oman and Indian Ocean last December. The area, historically, had relied upon the US Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain since the mid-1990s. The joint operation provided clear evidence of the changing balance of forces across the wider region.
An official media release from Tehran by Iranian Admiral Gholamreza Tahani about Operation MSB, for example, announced that 'the message of this exercise is peace, friendship and security … to show Iran cannot be isolated'. (2)
The fact Operation MSB took place near Oman while Omani leader Sultan Qaboos bin Said was on his death-bed, dying of an undisclosed illness, sent shock-waves into the heartlands of the Pentagon; Oman has long been a strategic hub for US-led regional operations. (3) The scale and military planning of Operation MSB would have been unthinkable a decade ago.
Following the end of war hostilities in Syria, forces grouped around Iran, which include the Russian Federation and Syria, have become a much stronger regional influence. Iran has been able to extend diplomatic links and become a major regional player, as the centre of Sh'ia for the world's Muslims. The development has enabled governments to pursue policies with a sense of self-confidence, effectively reducing US influence.
Far-right military hawks have, therefore, been in the ascendency during the Trump administration; the attention has remained clearly focussed upon Iran. (4) A recent media release noting that the administration had identified 52 Iranian targets with a view to a massive bombing campaign, is evidence of the extensive use of electronic warfare facilities with satellite-imaging and drone surveillance over the country. (5) The hawks, however, are also focussed upon other countries where Iran has favourable diplomatic links.
The Russian Federation, likewise, has become a major player in the region; strong diplomatic links with Turkey have included the Erdogan administration purchasing an S-400 missile system from Moscow, and recent threats to close two strategically-placed US bases used for Middle East operations have been met with characteristic diplomatic silence from Washington. The US imperialists are deeply concerned at developments taking place, beyond their control.
A recent announcement that Iraq was considering buying a similar missile system from the Russian Federation followed by a recent unanimous vote in the Baghdad parliament to expel the US military from the country have shown just how far forces have swung against the US. (6) The position of the Russian Federation toward Iraq would appear also straightforward; a media release recently noted 'Iraq is a partner of Russia in the field of military-technical co-operation'. (7) The Pentagon, likewise, is well aware the missile system 'could compromise its security'. (8) The diplomatic situation in Iraq and elsewhere across the region, therefore, remains tense.
Recent developments in Iraq follow a disaster for US diplomacy where US Brigadier William Seeley informed his Iraqi counterpart in a personal letter that 'American troops were preparing to leave Iraq', and, 'we respect your sovereign decision to order our departure'. (9) The Pentagon, however, quickly responded with an official statement the letter 'was sent by mistake'. (10) The Morrison coalition government in Canberra appear to have slavishly followed the Pentagon position with an announcement that no decision had been taken to 'withdraw Australian troops from Iraq'. (11) Australia has 300 military and diplomatic personnel in the country.
The developments were not unnoticed by Iraqi people; while the confused diplomacy was taking place, groups of pro-Iranian demonstrators stormed the US embassy compound in Baghdad. The Pentagon responded with rapid deployment of Marines to safeguard their main diplomatic premises. (12)
For the record it is important to note that the US has already spent US$5 trillion in Iraq, and lost seven thousand military personnel in a failed attempt to stabilise a central country in the Middle East after initial military occupation nearly twenty years ago. (13) The US imperialists are unlikely to see any upturn in their fortunes. They are quite clearly not in control of developments taking place inside Iraq, or elsewhere in the region.
China, likewise, has become a major player in the Middle East, with favourable links with Teheran and the building of the One Road, One Belt logistics system using Syria as a hub on the trade route. China's involvement has further assisted in the changing balance of forces, adding weight to Russian Federation involvement. The two countries’ combined military strength has equalled that of the US.
Amid the general confusion with US foreign policy toward the Middle East, the Morrison coalition government in Canberra have now joined Operation Manitou. It can only send signals to countries in the region about Australian military connivance with the Pentagon. The fact that the military exercise has been accompanied by the US sending 3,000 troops to the region in an operation which has been made subject to high levels of classification has been regarded as a 'highly unusual' procedure by the White House. (14) It remains to be established just what the US are attempting to do with their regional foreign policy; something would appear to be in the offing with military planners.
Australia has also been placed in a situation where military exercises might escalate into real-war scenarios very quickly. The fact that an official Australian Defence Department media release about Australian involvement with Operation Manitou was given the heading 'Our troops to stay in Iraq', leaves little to the imagination for sensible people about involvement in wider regional operations and what is really going on. (15)
Sensible Australian people would usually stand back in such a situation and distance themselves from fighting wars far-away from our own region and where the people of the Middle East are developing new options which do not include subjugation to traditional US-led hegemonic positions. Australian involvement with Operation Manitou can only end in the fiasco of US-led foreign policy when even a recent Australian editorial noted 'the US had become an impotent observer in the Middle East'! (16)
We need an independent foreign policy!
1. Cheers, tears and fears when navy duty calls, Australian, 14 January 2020.
2. China, Russia join Iran in patrolling strategic Gulf oil routes, Australian, 30 December 2019.
3. Steady as it goes for Oman's new ruler, Australian, 13 January 2020.
4. 'Everyone' wants revenge, Australian, 6 January 2020.
5. Trump nominates 52 Iranian targets, Australian, 6 January 2020.
6. Russia suggests selling S-400 missile system, Middle East Eye, 7 January 2020.
7. Would Iraq really purchase S-400? The National Interest, 9 January 2020.
8. Middle East Eye, op.cit., 7 January 2020.
9. Esper shoots down letter on Iraq pullout, Australian, 8 January 2020.
10. Crack troops rushed to Iraq, Australian, 2 January 2020.
11. Morrison delays decision on Aussie troops in Iraq, Australian, 6 January 2020.
12. Australian, op.cit., 6 January 2020.
13. Australian, op.cit., 8 January 2020.
14. Australian, op.cit., 6 January 2020.
15. Our troops to stay put in Iraq, Australian, 10 January 2020.
16. Editorial: An unholy Middle East alliance, Australian, 30 December 2019.