Tony Abbott sliding us backwards into war with Iraq

Last week the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, promised careful and cautious consideration of any request that Australia join with America and other allies in any new form of intervention, humanitarian or otherwise, in Iraq. It now appears that even before this statement, the national security committee of Cabinet had agreed to raise the level of its support from using RAAF transport aircraft to supply food and resources to beleaguered Yazidis, Christians and others at Mount Sinjar. It is also sending aircraft  with arms and munitions for anti Islamic-State forces, including Kurds. Mr Abbott seems to regard this as a humanitarian mission and only a slight increase on what we have been doing. He may honestly believe that our measures are interim, and do not thoroughly commit Australia before the head and heart searching he has promised, but we are already in the unhappy position of making the further steps inevitable, whether they are sensible or not. They may not be wise at all.

Mr Abbott is not alone in this. One reason he is jumping the gun is that allies are too. On Friday, President Barak Obama briefed journalists that the US had yet to determine its strategy, and, obviously its tactics. Some interpreted this as a general lack of resolve, but it seems clear that the US means (or wants, or hopes) to do something, not least after the specific outrage visited on a US journalist. And, certainly, we all - probably most of the world, even those not contemplating joining the action - want IS to stop murdering and persecuting everyone, even moderate Sunnis, not of its brand of jidadist fanaticism.

Australia has already joined in coalition efforts to help refugees around Mount Sinjar - undoubtedly a humanitarian mission appropriate for our resources and inclinations. It is, however, hard to characterise air-supplies of weapons, munitions and items of war as humanitarian, even if it were wise, or were likely to stop IS. Actually, IS is largely armed with US-supplied  weapons, arms, tanks, trucks and missiles abandoned by Iraqi soldiers in headlong flight, often without firing a shot, from far inferior forces. There's a good chance, absent any signs of restored resolve in the Iraqi Army and government, that bringing more weapons in will end up resupplying IS.

Supplies will be going to Kurdish militias, rather than the sad and pathetic armed forces of Iraq. The Kurds, operating autonomously have little loyalty to Baghdad. They are fighting with IS, but on their own account, not Iraq's. Perhaps the aspirations of Kurds for an independent nation deserve our support (regardless of how Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq feel about it). But that is not a decision to be made incidentally simply as a consequence of looking for anyone ready to take IS on.

Only recently the US set preconditions for an intervention involving a credible and effective government in Baghdad. They have yet to be met. The current crisis results from misgovernment, discrimination, corruption and venality by Baghdad. If politicians and generals in Washington (or in London or Canberra) still think that Iraq can be "managed" without taking account of the temper of the people, it becomes even more clear that they have learned nothing from their misadventures there over the past 100 years.

Even more complicating is the fast developing crisis in eastern Ukraine, where separatist forces, with or without direct Russian assistance, are clearly on the march west. European leaders are again wringing their hands, threatening deeper sanctions, and warning that the risk of all-out war with Russia is very real. If Obama lacks a coherent strategy for Iraq, or for Iraq and Syria, he is hardly doing better on Ukraine, or on more general Russian imperialism, adventurism and threats to the peace. Ukraine and Iraq are barely 1200 kilometres apart. The risk of one crisis being enveloped by the other - or of major players allowing themselves to be distracted by one crisis while things go to hell with the other - is very real. Even if Australia favours bold action, in either crisis or both, it should be very cautious and deliberate about how it commits itself. Saturday's escalation of our involvement wasn't.