Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Bad habits die hard in Australia and Syria



What do the Liberal leadership spill and the Syrian War have in common? I would suggest that both demonstrate how force of habit, like any other force built up over a long period of time, is very difficult to stop, even when the results are plainly self destructive.

Supporters of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad protest the US-led coalition attack in Syria, on 14 April 14 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly battled to explain why it was necessary to oust Malcolm Turnbull — sending his party's poll ratings off a great height in the process — with a variety of answers culminating in an exhortation to his opposite number in the Opposition to 'get over it'.

Of course, Parliament is of its nature a place for political point scoring rather than reasoned reflection and any number of other explanations might have legitimately been proffered: poor poll ratings, incompetence or a lack of a legislative agenda. Nevertheless (as even Christopher Pyne has noted), the fact is that the shifting sands which chart the motions of the coup culture which has taken hold in Australian politics are not really susceptible to rational explanation.

The pattern has been set and Labor and Liberal have both axed their heads as the polls blow. While Labor at least instituted some protective measures after the last rounds of bloodletting, it cannot be doubted that the lure of short term retention of jobs and perks — and the political opportunities which every new coup gives the Opposition of the day — concentrates minds in Canberra much more than the long term damage which the process inflicts on the body politic.

Meanwhile, issues corroding the very bedrock of what it means to be a society go unaddressed, including Indigenous-police relations, the appalling statistics of violence against women, the bipartisan cruelty to asylum seekers and the ongoing failures resulting from the attempt to do the NDIS as a rush job on the cheap.

But what has all this to do with Syria? Well, it is not hard to trace similar counterproductive forces of habit here too. Western policy began — and stayed — with the mantra 'Assad must go' even though it was painfully clear from the start that the beneficiaries of such a policy would not be some mythical 'moderate opposition' but rather the Saudi-backed militant groups such as Al Qaeda who were held responsible for the 'War on Terror' in the first place.

As a result of a series of disastrous miscalculations by the US and its allies, a vanilla-flavoured regime change operation (along the lines of those in Libya and Iraq) has turned into an international free for all involving at least (in alphabetical order) Australia, Britain, China, Egypt, France, Holland, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab, Emirates and the United States, not to mention militia such as various foreign Islamist forces (from as far afield as China and Chechnya), Kurdish groups, the Popular Mobilisation Forces in Iraq and Iraqi and Lebanese Hezbollah. Now even Germany, despite its post-War pacifist constitution and significant internal opposition, has threatened to join in.


"Unlike Australia, where only its people suffer from the political merry-go-round, kneejerk repetition of previous regime-changing habits is likely to get a lot of people killed around the world."


One would have thought that this level of escalation would have given rational minds pause for thought before upping the ante again — especially with the Syrian government on the verge of a final defeat of its opponents on the battlefield.

As with Australian leadership spills, however, kicking this particular self-destructive habit of seeking tailor made regime changes to ease US relations in the Middle East does not promise to be easy. Despite the obvious failures in Iraq, Libya and Yemen and the knock-on weakening of Western diplomacy which they have caused in the Iran and North Korea files, the west seems again to have turned to petrol as its fire retardant of choice in Syria.

Notwithstanding the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons having certified that Syria has destroyed its chemical weapons stockpile (aboard a US warship, yet!), the claims of a pending chemical attack keep being made as a justification for yet more and deeper US military involvement. Indeed, we are now being told that the US may not even wait for such an excuse before attacking government forces.

While all this could be dismissed as the usual great power hypocrisy when there is money to be made and 'regimes' to be 'changed', the situation now is much more dangerous. Unlike Australia, where only its people suffer from the political merry-go-round, kneejerk repetition of previous regime-changing habits is likely to get a lot of people killed around the world.

This is because not one, but six powers armed with nuclear weapons are active in the Syrian theatre (the US, UK, France, Russia, Israel and, more remotely, China). A number of former US intelligence officers have written an open memorandum to President Trump which chillingly states that 'We do not want you to be surprised when the Russians start firing their missiles. The prospect of direct Russian-US hostilities in Syria is at an all-time high. We are not sure you realise that.'

Bad habits can be self-destructive, but they can take a lot of people down with them as well.



Justin GlynFr Justin Glyn SJ has a licentiate in canon law from St Paul University in Ottawa. Before entering the Society he practised law in South Africa and New Zealand and has a PhD in administrative and international law.


Main image: Supporters of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad protest the US-led coalition attack in Syria, on 14 April 14 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Justin Glyn, Liberal Party, Malcolm Turnbull, Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison, Syria, Russia



submit a comment

Existing comments

A timely and factually correct warning from Justin Glyn SJ. I hope Australian intel agencies read this and advise the government responsibility. So important now to deescalate tension, Australia should speak wisely or hold its peace. Tony Kevin.

Tony Kevin | 18 September 2018  

Politicians and other power-brokers in society have their perspectives on key events and influences that shape their country's fortunes. And then there are the citizens with only(!) their voting power. In a number of nations, citizens do not possess even that power. However, the fundamental national stories of people can never be disregarded by those in power. Oppressed peoples will always find a way. It doesn't always seem that this is possible and yet identities are forged, often painstakingly and with great loss.

Pam | 18 September 2018  

You are quite right to point out the danger of our continued support for US foreign policies. Nuclear war is not discriminatory.

Annette Brownlie | 19 September 2018  

These are very wise words by Justin Glyn. Tony Abbott wanted to get us involved in the Syrian conflict sometime ago. For some time now, we have been told by much of the the main stream western media that this conflict is a civil war, however, this is a very simplistic analysis. Amongst the long list of nations already involved it must be realised that the US and its usual hanger-ons), Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel and Qatar have been foreign terrorist organisations to bring about regime change in Syria, If this was to happen, Syria could become a very harsh Islamic state instead of being a secular one. This would certainly be a tragedy for many of the minority groups in the country. Surely; it would be preferable for all the terrorist groups to be defeated first and then the Syrians could determine their own political future without outside interference.

Andrew Andy) Alcock | 26 September 2018  

Similar Articles

The present history of Greek religious tension

  • Gillian Bouras
  • 11 September 2018

The Venetians came to power in this part of the world after the fourth crusade, during which Constantinople was sacked: this episode is still spoken bitterly of in Greece. The Venetians made many attempts to suppress Orthodoxy, so that prejudice lingers.