Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pointedly refused to rule out Australian participation in a United States-led war on Iran. Shadow foreign affairs minister Penny Wong has also remained insistently equivocal when pressed to disavow any such military alliance.
Morrison and Wong have condemned Iran as the “leading state sponsor of terror” that has worked to “destabilise” the Greater Middle East. This is the familiar idiom of the US foreign policy establishment as it makes its case for the latest imperial excursion.
It is supposedly in our name that Morrison would send Australians to kill and die in Iran. A war there would almost certainly result in a catastrophe that would compound and eclipse the regional destabilisation caused by the US and Australia during the invasion of Iraq and the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
Morrison and Wong’s response to alleged Iranian provocations exemplifies a consensus long enshrined at the heart of Australia’s post-war foreign policy: wherever possible, and whenever asked, Australia must reflexively subordinate itself to US power in return for occasional benedictions.
These frequently take the form of defence pacts, a number of which non-reciprocally oblige Australia to defend the US should it be attacked.
We should accept nothing less than an unambiguous refusal by the government to take part in any military coalition against Iran.
Role in war on Yemen
If US President Donald Trump or Morrison want to contribute to regional stability in the Middle East and impede terror being conducted on a scale Iran could only envy, they need simply end their support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Besides being a major sponsor of Islamic terrorism in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, alongside the United Arab Emirates, has involved the systematic violation of humanitarian and war law.
The United Nations and Human Rights Watch have noted that in conducting a campaign of maximum brutality against Yemen’s population, the Saudis and UAE have targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure — major war crimes.
In addition, the destruction of Yemen’s agricultural and fishing capacity and the excessive blockade likely amount to collective punishment and the use of starvation as a weapon of war.
Besides the tens of thousands of deaths due to the armed conflict, it has recently been estimated that as many as 80,000 children may have starved to death.
The US, Canada, France and Britain are the major suppliers of the arsenal being used to conduct this program of state terror.
The Morrison government has expressed ambitions to aggressively expand Australia’s defence exports. Notwithstanding former defence minister Chris Pyne’s efforts to suppress this information, one of Australia’s major recent clients is the UAE, to which Australian companies are contracted to sell remotely operable weapons systems, among other things.
Australia’s contribution to the Emirati war effort does not end at arms sales. Successive Coalition governments have also cleared ex-Australian Defence Force personnel to work as military contractors — mercenaries — for the UAE.
The most prominent of these is Michael Hindmarsh, an ex-SAS officer who is now the uniformed commander of the UAE’s Presidential Guard, a group directly accused of war crimes in Yemen.
If we look a little closer at the history of US-Iranian relations, the US emerges unambiguously as the aggressor.
Since before 2015, Iran has pivoted to support legal and multinational frameworks of the so-called “rules-based” international order.
The signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — the Iran nuclear deal — was a genuine step forward for peace and stability in the region. Iran was relieved of increasingly untenable sanctions and, in return, accepted an unprecedented regime of international inspections to ensure its nuclear program was compliant.
But, under Trump, Iran faces a US government populated by incorrigible hawks whose bloodlust concerning Iran stretches back decades in some cases. They are motivated neither by the Islamic Republic’s authoritarianism nor by its alleged support for terror.
Iran complied in recent years with international law and the terms of the deal. It is the US that has engaged in a cycle of pathological antagonism, unilaterally pulling out of the deal and re-applying sanctions.
The US has independently continued its long-standing flagrant disdain for the institutions of liberal internationalism, with Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton threatening to prosecute officials at the International Criminal Court (ICC) who dare investigate the US for war crimes in Afghanistan. This is not new.
In 2002, the US passed what is often called the Hague Invasion Act, allowing the president to use any means necessary, including military force, to prevent the ICC from detaining any US or allied personnel accused of war crimes.
Having undermined one of the best chances for regional stability, Trump has now used attacks on tankers in the Strait of Hormuz — attributed without evidence to Iran — to justify increasingly threatening brinkmanship.
B-52 bombers and battleships have been sent to patrol the Persian Gulf and plans have been drawn up for a ground invasion of Iran.
Even if Iran is responsible for the tanker attacks, in the context of repeated US provocations, these are understandable attempts to exercise some degree of deterrence against the erratic and bellicose conduct of history’s most powerful empire.
In any case, the suggestion that Iran poses any military threat to the West or its allies can only be a calculated lie. Reports have repeatedly affirmed that Iran is vastly outgunned and outspent by the US’s Middle Eastern allies alone: the Gulf Coalition of the US’s allies outspends Iran by at least 10:1 — to say nothing of the US’s notorious military expenditure.
If the Coalition government has its way, some nontrivial proportion of these petrodollars will flow into Australian coffers, in exchange for weapons systems.
Iranian suspicion of the US, and any attempt to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent against aggression, are completely rational responses.
Since the early 1950s, the US has intervened directly in the affairs of Iran, resulting in many of the most nightmarish chapters of its recent history. The Middle East has long been recognised by the US as an arena of critical importance, conferring immense power on whichever nation or nations exert control over its natural resources.
Since the 1950s, Iran has been one of the nations that, in exercising its national sovereignty, has threatened US designs on the region.
In 1953, Iran attempted to nationalise its oil industry. The CIA and MI6 jointly orchestrated a coup against then-Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh’s democratically-elected government, installing the Shah who presided autocratically over a torture regime until his overthrow in 1979.
We should also remember that in the late 1980s, during the twilight years of the Iran-Iraq war, the US supplied its then-client Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with military intelligence that it knew would be used in gas attacks.
Hussein went on to perpetrate multiple gassings of Iranian troops and Iraqi Kurds. As a generous patron, the US instructed its diplomats to lie, blaming the gassing of the Kurds on Iran.
US agitation for war with Iran should be seen in this context. Trump is being advised by officials whose motivations are an ideological impulse to constrain national autonomy whenever its free exercise threatens the projection of US power.
There is no reason to accept the usual platitudes about supporting “stability” and “opposing terror”.
The war that some US officials want with Iran would be illegal without a UN Security Council resolution and, more to the point, would constitute an act of aggression against a nation that has been openly trying to pursue a détente with its rivals.
Australia has no business participating in any US military coalition against Iran.
We must insist that the government and opposition refuse to engage in yet another imperial slaughter on distant shores.
[Hector Ramage is an activist with Sydney Stop the War Coalition.]