The result of Western intervention in the Middle East has been the creation of battle hardened terrorist groups wealthier and more dangerous than ever before.
A new book by internationally acclaimed Australian-born terror expert David Kilcullen, Blood Year: The Failures of the War on Terror, released this week, slams President George Bush’s invasion of Iraq as a diabolical mistake. But the author is no more complimentary towards President Barack Obama, who, he says has mistaken brave talk for effective action and
increased the terror threat worldwide. Tens of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives have been wasted.
As Mr Kilcullen puts it so eloquently, Western countries now face severely reduced international credibility and a larger, more unified, capable, experienced and savage enemy in a far less stable world.
The terror threat has metastasized across the Middle East, and both al-Qaída and Islamic State are back in the game everywhere, including in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Syria, Somalia and Yemen.
The biggest question from an Australian standpoint is: how did we get involved in this mess?
Mr Kilcullen told The New Daily: “It was a mad f...ing idea to go into Iraq in the first place. It is an American screwup, but we are all participants. There’s plenty of blame to go around.”
He said back in 2002, while working at Army Headquarters, he received a background briefing on the invasion of Iraq with a group including a very senior politician, presumably Prime Minister John Howard, although Mr Kilcullen refuses to confirm his identity.
“I thought, ‘I will never get the chance to ask this again’. So I asked, ‘why are we doing it?’ This person said: ‘You are asking the wrong question. The Americans are invading, should we be in it or not?”
But by failing to urge caution and encourage broader approaches to the disaster of Iraq, Australia proved a very poor ally indeed.
Mr Kilcullen, who now lives in the US but is in Australia this week for lectures and interviews, is unique among commentators for his insider knowledge, both as a former military officer and as a counterterror adviser at the highest reaches of the American government, including as Chief Strategist at the US State Department.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott made national security his signature tune, but Kilcullen says politicians of all stripes have an interest in exploiting terror to attack opponents in the trench warfare that passes for political process. “You may as well criticise a dog for barking,” he says. “Politicians manipulate public opinion. It is what it is. All sides are trying to spin up the terror threat.”
Kilcullen says one of the reasons he wrote Blood Year was to force a rethink: “What are we trying to protect?”
Ways to defeat Islamic State being rolled out in the West, including Australia, involve pre-emptively detaining people on the suspicion they may be planning to commit a crime, mass surveillance and treating all Muslims as a threat. “We are destroying society to save it,” he says. “There is a real risk of that happening.”
Some parts of Blood Year are deeply shocking, including the extreme barbarity perpetrated by all sides in a collapsing Iraq. It records, for instance, how, under the noses of Coalition forces, commercial kidnapping gangs auctioned off terrified children for slaughter in a makeshift night market. “A whole underground industry grew up around the making of sectarian snuff videos… like any drug, blood-lust demands progressively bigger hits to satisfy its addicts.”
Blood Year contains a very apt quote from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”
Of the war fatigue that has settled on Australia, even as increasing numbers of bombs paid for by Australian taxpayers rain down on the Middle East, Mr Kilcullen, puts it down to the length of the conflict. He expects “this enormous slow-motion train wreck” to last at least another five years.
Mr Kilcullen is the first to argue that America, and Australia, should never have invaded Iraq in the first place. Now that intervention has spawned the escalating threat of Islamic State the questions have changed. “What is the end game?” he asks.
Islamic State believe they are key agents in a coming Apocalypse, and many, including Mr Kilcullen, fear that 2016 may prove to be a escalating disaster far worse than anything that has gone before.