Iraq continues to dominate headlines, and we've had plenty of coverage on The Interpreter this week, including a debate between Anthony Bubalo and myself. Here's Anthony on why the US and Australia should 'go back' to Iraq:
The US has to go back to Iraq, not with boots on the ground but with a more focused and sustained engagement using all the wit and clout it can still muster. It needs to set aside pivots and rebalances and deal with the serious threats to its interests in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. Obama may have felt that America is done with the Middle East; the problem is that the Middle East is not done with America.
There is a lesson here too for Australian strategic planners. What is really interesting is that despite all the talk of how Australia is intently focused on the looming strategic challenges in Asia (and how this will be reflected in the forthcoming Defence White Paper), the Australian Prime Minister's instinctive reaction was to not rule out any Australian involvement in Iraq in support of the US.
This is not say Abbott was wrong to imply we might go back to Iraq. His cagey response might even be considered prudent and unsurprising, given the US probably has not yet even asked him for assistance. It is also noteworthy that since the Prime Minister's comments last week, Foreign Minister Bishop seems to have ruled out any participation by Australian ground troops.
In fact, if the immediate US response is airstrikes, there is little Australia could provide in support. More interesting, however, is what Australia could and in my view should provide to support the building of a more effective and professional Iraqi army (something we have done in the past). The fact that Indonesian jihadists are already traveling to the region for training underlines that we still have significant interests at play.
Al Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist and insurgent groups have cultivated an advanced social media presence. It serves a much more important purpose than do traditional information operations campaigns that Western militaries have been developing for the last few decades. For Islamist groups, their social media platforms are part recruiting tool, part fundraising tool and part branding tool. Video of victorious Islamic warriors parading captured Western equipment and hundreds of kaffir prisoners does wonders for the the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) brand, which in turn attracts volunteers to its ranks and money into its coffers.
Rodger again on potential odd-couple cooperation between the US and Iran in Iraq:
One of the more unusual byproducts of the advance of ISIS has been the realisation that Iran and the US share an interest in blocking ISIS advances and re-asserting government control over areas seized by the group. It is a classic Middle Eastern 'enemy of my enemy' scenario, which makes for strange bedfellows.
Publicly, President Rouhani seemed to open the door to cooperating with the US in Iraq, but this appeared to be shut again by the Iranian Foreign Ministry's spokesman.
While Tehran and Washington's security interests may converge on this issue, we should not fall into the trap of thinking that this may presage any broader degree of cooperation. The differences between the two countries on Syria and on Iran's broader regional aspirations, as well as the nuclear issue, remain significant.
Of course, there was plenty happening in our own region, and Jenny Hayward-Jones gave us the lowdown on the complex political developments in PNG:
A remarkable 72 hours in Port Moresby has seen an arrest warrant issued for Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, the Attorney-General and Deputy Police Commissioner sacked, and PNG's anti-corruption agency, Taskforce Sweep, disbanded. Respect for the rule of law and good governance from the highest political office in the land appears to be in meltdown.
The arrest warrant was issued based on information collected by Taskforce Sweep and PNG police and relates to the long-running scandal over fraudulent payments from the PNG Finance Department to Paraka Lawyers. New evidence suggests O'Neill, as finance minister, personally signed off on many of these payments. O'Neill sought a court injunction against the arrest warrant and announced he would establish a separate Commission of Inquiry into the corruption allegations. The court has not yet granted a stay of the warrant and after two sittings has now adjourned further consideration until 25 June.
On Wednesday the Australian Government unveiled what it called a a 'new aid paradigm.' Annmaree O'Keefe was at the launch:
But while the pivotal event had been created, a clear policy framework guiding this new integrated program was missing. Until yesterday, the unveiling of the new aid policy had been piecemeal and was largely in the form of speeches by Foreign Minister Bishop.
And so what did yesterday's launch reveal? When the fog cleared outside, Canberra had not changed. Similarly, inside the Press Club, nothing much new was revealed. Instead, yesterday's event simply puts into one place everything the Foreign Minister has been saying since the government came into power. Economic development and the role of the private sector remain this government's catch cry.
Mike Callaghan, director of the Lowy Institute's G20 Studies Centre, wrote on whether the IMF should apologise when it makes significant forecast errors:
The IMF should acknowledge when it makes mistakes, but the most important thing is to assess and analyse why it was wrong. The IMF is meant to include in its annual country assessments a section on how authorities have responded to previous Fund advice. It wold be an improvement if there was also a section where the IMF reviewed the accuracy of its assessment of the outlook for each country and the appropriateness of its previous advice. If the IMF was wrong, the report should say why.
Such an approach would remove the need for knee-jerk apologies, and rather than undermining the credibility of the IMF, everyone might learn something.
On climate and energy policy, Paul Bourke argued this week that policies in Europe, China and the US are continuing to 'merge', leaving Australia far behind:
The British and Chinese have a vision concerning how their energy sectors will need to work beyond 2020. The UK's is not a perfect vision and there is intense competition between nuclear power, offshore wind and gas as to which energy mix will deliver the most affordable decarbonisation of power generation. The essential point is that no-one in Europe or China denies the need to undertake major changes in energy production and consumption.
Australia has no coherent energy policy beyond preserving the market power of dirty, inefficient black and brown coal-fired power plants for as long as possible. In comparison with the UK, China and the US, increasingly it looks like we have few ideas and little progress on energy to offer, right at the time when energy policy across the globe is starting to join up.
Still on climate change, Khalid Koser looked at the results of the 2014 Lowy Institute poll and what it means for the Australian Government:
But neither should the 63% of those polled who feel that the Australian Government should take a leadership role on global warming and reducing emissions be holding their breath. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has a track record of scepticism on climate change, as do Dick Warburton, his recent pick to review Australia's renewable energy target, and Maurice Newman, his top business adviser. And so far the Prime Minister has resisted growing pressure from the US and EU to elevate climate change on the agenda for the G20 meeting he will chair in Brisbane later this year, even though international forums like G20 provide a more realistic venue than UNFCCC for concrete achievements. Brisbane is the Prime Minister's chance to direct international progress on climate change in Australia's national interests.
The result of the 2014 Lowy Poll accentuates the choice confronting Mr Abbott. Climate change is happening and its effects in Australia are accelerating. Almost two-thirds of Australians polled want the Government to respond even if the costs are significant. Fellow G20 members are primed.
We had a number of first-rate pieces on Indonesia this week. Aaron Connelly looked at differing perceptions of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Canberra and Washington:
American disappointment reflects Indonesian disappointment. SBY's popularity among Indonesians has steadily declined, dipping into the 30s late last year. Indeed, one of the biggest surprises in the Lowy Institute poll last week was the relatively high number of Australians – 38% – who said they admire SBY, almost certainly a higher number than he would get in Indonesia (precise numbers are hard to come by – pollsters have mostly stopped asking as they turn their attention to the men looking to succeed him – but this poll provides some indication as to his popularity). Australian journalists and academics, too, can hardly be included among SBY's champions; Marcus Mietzner for one slams SBY for the 'gradual calcification that befell Indonesian democracy' under his leadership.
Official Australian and American views of SBY diverge because we seek different things from Indonesian presidents. Australian interests regarding Indonesia, due to geography, are deeper and more immediate than American concerns. Perhaps for that reason, Australians look first for an Indonesian president who does no harm. Americans, on the other hand, have the luxury of aspiring to a role for Indonesia on the world stage commensurate with all the familiar statistics on its size and its status as a democracy – even if that is a role the Indonesian foreign policy elite do not aspire to, as Dave McRae argued in his Lowy Institute Analysis earlier this year.
SBY's management of foreign relations has been competent but unexciting. That has pleased Canberra, and disappointed Washington.
And here's Catriona Croft-Cusworth with a youth take on the second debate in Indonesia's presidential election:
With most mainstream media outlets having already picked sides in the race — Prabowo with two television stations behind him and Jokowi ruling TV news and newspapers — it's no wonder Jakarta's youth are hungry for independent and firsthand comment. Even foreign news outlets and observers are considered biased in their reporting and analysis. By sounding their views online, young Indonesians are asking for the chance to make up their own minds.
Finally, former Fairfax China correspondent John Garnaut wrote about the arrest of Chinese lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, and why it matters for all of us:
China's 'rights protection' lawyers have long been the best barometers for measuring China's progress. What the best of them are saying and doing, and how they are being treated, is the most reliable measure of progress I know of. And there are none more important than the charismatic Hebei lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, whose clients include the artist Ai Weiwei.
I once asked Pu why he persisted in holding the system accountable to its own laws, given the enormous personal costs.
He told me many things, all eloquent and powerful, but the one I've thought about most often is this: he acted as he did so that he could hold his head up high up in front of his son. Pu's formal arrest on Friday – for doing his job — has implications not only for dissidents and NGOs but for everyone who deals with China at home and abroad.
Photo by Flickr user askpang.