Fool me once, shame on you, Fool me twice…

There is the old saying, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. As a former manager once told me, “I am quite happy for you to make mistakes; that means you’re being active and learning. But if you make the same mistake again, you have learnt nothing from the first”.

On a geopolitical level, the Western nations seem to have made mistakes again and again, and yet are constantly surprised and amazed at the predictable result. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the US and the UK found themselves again on the front lines of the Cold War. The Place, Afghanistan. The Enemy, Russia, and the Communist backed government of Afghanistan. In the 1980s, the Americans flooded Afghanistan with sophisticated weapons, including MANPAD systems, explosives, and small arms. Along with the arms came money. Millions of dollars were poured into the country through the ISI in Pakistan, all for the purpose of “liberating” the country. Americans such as Charlie Wilson and the Right Wing Christian movement pushed vigorously for increased support to the Afghan Mujahedeen.

Along with weapons and money can support in the form of a public image campaign. American and British movies, from Rambo to James Bond, all portrayed a heroic struggle by a simple yet courageous people against a brutal government.

Support came also, from all over the world. Arab and Muslim fighters flocked to Afghanistan, where they enlisted in the call to Jihad against the infidel Soviets. Along with the droves of fighters came a wealthy Saudi Arabian man who dreamed of using his talents, his money, his connections, and his whole life to advancing the cause of Islam. His name of Usama Bin Laden. Usama, and many others like him, found their true calling in life in the fires of the Afghan resistance against the Soviets. CIA and SAS units were eager to arm and train anybody who would fight against the Soviets. Along with these arms came valuable training in explosives, assassination, sophisticated weapons systems, and other black arts. These lessons were learnt all to well by the young Muslim recruits, who then used them to great effect against the Soviets.


Bin Laden in Afghanistan 1980s

The Americans were successful. Through their proxy armies, they had defeated the Soviet Union, turning Afghanistan into a Russian Vietnam. Indeed, the defeat, and the expense incurred, was instrumental in bringing down an increasingly weak USSR some years later.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Deputy Direction of the CIA Richard Kerr

But as the victory celebrations died down, warlords such as Hekmatyar, Massoud, and other individuals realized that they now had to govern a power vacuum. It is said that nature abhors a vacuum, but politics and power do so even more. The weapons and training which had driven out the Soviets now were turned on each other, as the warlords fell to fighting each other for power.

In this vacuum arose a new power. Hailing from the religious schools on the Afghan border with Pakistan, and fired with religious zeal from the Whabbist schools of thought in Saudi Arabia, the Taliban swept into Afghanistan from the east, capturing Kabul, and controlling most of the country except for the northern areas held by Massoud and the Northern Alliance.
Having no love for the West, the Taliban imposed a strict view of Sharia upon the whole country, plunging the country back into the Dark Ages.

Others, though, had a more globalist view of the Jihad they had just won. Men like Bin Laden, Khalim, Basayev, Khattab, and al-Zawahiri were veterans of this war, which imbued them with the confidence to take on the West. After all, they had defeated one Superpower. Why not another one? When Bin Laden formed Al Qaeda in the 1990s in response to what he saw as American aggression towards Muslims and a desecration of Islam, he had a large source of recruits to choose from. Men who had fought with him in Afghanistan found themselves with a set of skills which could be very easily turned against their former benefactors, the United States. The Jihadists built up their experience and skills in Africa, in Afghanistan in support of the Taliban, in Pakistan, in Chechnya, in Palestine, in the Balkans, and in the Philippines. The view of Bin Laden was to leverage the contacts he had made in Afghanistan into a worldwide network to bring the fight to the West. Bin Laden came full circle when he returned to Afghanistan with Al Qaeda. Safe in the country, he established training facilities, to which a new generation of aspiring young men who sought the glories of Jihad flocked.

The reason we have discussed this history is that it bears very serious lessons for American foreign policy today, which are being very quickly forgotten by the current Administration. The Neo Conservative idea under President Bush was that if America only removed dictatorial regimes from power in the Middle East, other regimes would fall like dominos, creating a wave of freedom across the region. America put this theory to the test in Iraq, with a far less than satisfactory result. Rather than embracing freedom and democracy and the American way, Iraqis first turned against the American invaders and then against each other. More than any place on earth, the Middle East cannot have a political vacuum present without some group attempting to fill it. In Iraq, the Americans soon found that they lacked both the support and the political know-how to even consider filling the political vacuum they had created with the destruction of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

As a result, Al Qaeda moved in force into Iraq, carrying on both attacks against American forces, and then against Shiite Muslims in the country. Iran responded by filling the power vacuum with Shiite supporters such as the Madhi Army. These two groups brought Iraq into the verge of Civil War, before the Sunni backed Al Qaeda was pushed out of the country.

America should have learned valuable lessons from both Afghanistan and Iraq. Regime change in the Middle East is often the prelude to anarchy, violence, and greater bloodshed. And dictatorial regimes can be seen as being far superior to the violence which follows their demise. American styled Democracy does not take root easily in the Middle East, as has been seen in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria, and Libya.

Instead, the current American strategy is still to support and fight for regime change. In the case of Libya, this was successful, and a military campaign ousted Gadhafi from power, leading to his death and the formation of a new government. Around the same time, Mubarak fell from power in Egypt, bringing in new “democratic” elections.

The Arab Spring was touted by pundits, activists, and neoconservatives as being an amazing example of “People Power” rising up against oppressive regimes and overcoming them through willpower and the might of the population. It was seen as being a new wave of freedom and democracy in the Middle East. Very few voices, in the days of Libya’s revolution, sought to criticize the movements in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Tunisia, Syria, and Yemen. After all, were not the governments in question corrupt, violent, and despotic? Isn’t the rule by the people the best kind of government?

American writers, bloggers, political scientists, and activists were not the only ones watching and rejoicing at the Arab Spring. Al Qaeda was watching events very carefully also. With the death of Usama Bin Laden, and on the run worldwide, Al Qaeda was in dire need of another safe haven, where they could regroup and plan their comeback. The Arab Spring gave them exactly this. It was a movement which posed serious threats to the secular, despotic governments who had so often waged war against them. In every country which has seen regime change, or attempted regime change, the Governments have waged an often brutal war against Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups. Libya, Egypt, and Syria had all sought to destroy their influence and power. And with these governments now crumbling, Al Qaeda saw the creation of more political vacuums. And as we have seen before, whenever there is a vacuum, the Jihadists are quick to try and take advantage of the opportunity.

In a four part series, we will discuss the impact of Al Qaeda and other extremist groups on the Arab Spring, their current successes in Libya, Syria, and Egypt, and the bleak future it poses for the region as they have seized power. Al Qaeda is back with a safe haven. It now has another battle to fight, it now has another source of recruits for their war, and another battle ground to test their skills in. And ironically, they are now fighting on the same side as an often well meaning but hopelessly ignorant America.



Border Security or Broarder Security Part 2

After discussing last weeks a very brief introduction to the concept of internal and external security, and the value of an immigration and customs service, we will turn our attention to the dangers facing Australia through a completely open border policy.

The year was 1990, and Abdul Benbrika was demanding entrance into Australia as a political refugee from Algeria. Claiming that he was facing persecution in his home country, and would be killed if he returned, Benbrika entered Australia illegally and dodged multiple attempts to remove him for up to five years. Finally marrying an Australia, Benbrika secured a permanent VISA to Australia, moving here permanently.

Benbrika began to teach in both Melbourne and Sydney at local Mosques, including the Brunswick Mosque in Melbourne. His teaching and preaching became more and more radical against Australia, especially following September 11. In the years following September 11, Benbrika began to form a network of radical elements in both Sydney and Melbourne with the express purpose of “killing a lot of Australians” to punish the country for entering Iraq.

He and his loyal disciples identified a number of targets including the Melbourne city rail network, the Grand Final, or the then Prime Minister John Howard. His group attempted to acquire weapons, and built explosive devices which they detonated in a test run while with an undercover police officer. Benbrika had a volunteer in his group for a suicide attack, and he talked earnestly about the beheadings by Al Qaeda in Iraq of American forces, and he stated that his group needed to learn from this.

Benbrika and his group were arrested before the attacks could occur, and were sentenced for what amounted to a slap on the wrist, with Benbrika possibly walking after a 6 year sentence.

Reports have indicated that Benbrika has not been the only illegal immigrant to seek refuge in Australia, who turned out later to be a supporter of violent extremism. During the years leading up to September 11, there was an influx of individuals with militant ties who flooded to Australia to seek protection from the autocratic regimes in their country, including countries such as Egypt and Algeria. Many of these individuals were given asylum in Australia.

The issue that has arisen is that, while autocratic, many of these regimes have been, and continue to carry out a war against Islamic extremists. Fleeing this war, the extremists have found refuge in a more hospitable location – where the people and the government have had a history of welcoming those less fortunate.

The process of security vetting for refugees entering Australia requires security assessments by ASIO (The Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation). As Australia’s primarily internal security agency, ASIO will provide a ruling on a refugee’s security suitability to enter Australia. These tests look at both the background of the person entering Australia, and the reason for their attempt. As the background of many refugees is either difficult to uncover and check, a lengthy time will often take place before a security assessment is given. This length of time, during which the refugee is detained, is what has caused the uproar from the pro refugee camp.

However, the question must be asked – “Do we err on the side of caution or humanity?” The refugees are not treated inhumanely while in detention. While they are not free to go, they have access to medical care, educational materials, housing, and conditions most likely better than what they fled from. This is not to say that the conditions are ideal, however in Australia they are held by a country which upholds Human Rights, will not torture them, and in which there is a large support for them.

ASIO security assessments must be conducted to ensure the security of the Australian people, and of the country itself. Extremist organisations, such as Al Qaeda, have long seen Australia as a target. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that such groups would seek to place operatives into Australia to carry out future attacks. Indeed, this has already been attempted, with known Al Qaeda senior operatives prevented from entering the country by ASIO. Political theory states that a state’s primarily function under the social contract theory is to provide a safe and secure environment for it’s citizens. To fully provide a safe and secure environment, a secure border must be maintained.

The Greens, including poster child Sarah Hanson Young, are calling strongly for a 30 day turnaround period for refugees entering Australia before it is referred to judicial review, and out of the hands of ASIO. Frankly, this requirement is unreasonable and impossible to reach, given the complexity of the background checking process required. Demanding an adequate security review of an unknown person in the same time that an average commercial invoice must be paid in shows an appalling ignorance of the situation and the threats facing Australia. ASIO does not devote full resources to processing refugees, nor can it. In addition to this task, ASIO is tasked with investigating internal threats to Australia, liaising with businesses to ensure their security, carrying out counter intelligence operations against Australia’s foreign competitors, and cultivating sources and leads from within immigrant communities and the general public to prevent terrorist attacks upon Australia.

If such a time frame were imposed, either one of two things would happen: ASIO would either rush through a security assessment, which may or may not be accurate, or they would as a matter of course deport any individual which had a potentially murky background. Thus, the entire purpose of this time frame would be defeated, with less refugees successfully entering the country.

The argument will be given by the pro refugee supporters that there is a minority of “boat people” entering the country, compared to other immigration channels, and that the majority of these are legitimate refugees. This I do not doubt, nor contest. It is not my belief that Australia is under siege by immigrants, nor does the thought of a diverse and multicultural country frighten me. I work for a foreign company, and before that worked in the office of a foreign government. I grew up in a foreign nation, and am proud to have studied with, worked with, dated, and been friends with a number of immigrants to this country. I am not some wild eyed Nationalist, terrified of the lack of national identity or “Australian values”.

However, the Australian government has a moral obligation, not only to help those in need, but to ensure a secure nation.

Another argument which supports the regulation of immigration is that of organised crime. Whatever way you want to look at it, the smugglers bringing refugees into Australia are not doing it out of the goodness of their heart. They are not humanitarians, and frankly do not do it for the refugees. They are paid, often quite well, for their services by those entering Australia illegally. This makes them an organised criminal element, and one which Australia is obligated and required to regulate and control. Suppose the cargo was different? Instead of smuggling in humans, what if they were to smuggle in heroin from Afghanistan? What if, instead of refugees, the smugglers were to bring in a boat of young girls for prostitution in Australia?  It does not matter to the smuggler, as long as he is paid. The smuggling network is one that has existed before “boat people”, but that has blossomed and increased dramatically, especially since the increasing support for refugees in Australia has begun. Australia cannot, and should not, support a criminal network which is operating illegally on our borders.

There is no simple solution to the “boat people” dilemma. The current situation is unsustainable, as there is no political will to take a decisive course of action. The current wait times do need to be decreased for legitimate refugees. And there have been abuses in detention, some of which could have been prevented.

But is the answer to either have a revolving door for illegal immigrants where they are processed directly into the country? Should they be given immediate temporary VISAS upon arrival and then released into the community while their application is processed (as is argued by some supporters)? The answer is, no! Such a course of action will make it almost impossible to maintain the whereabouts of illegal immigrants, and will drastically decrease Australia’s security, not only from terrorist elements, but from foreign agents, international criminals, and other undesirables.

Sitting in our ivory tower, on the sunny streets of Melbourne in a cafe sipping on a latte, it is very easy to condemn the Australian government for cruelty in mandatory detention. And in an ideal world, where every person was innocent, every person was good at heart, and every refugee was legitimate, this would be a correct denunciation. However, the world is not perfect. There is no perfect solution.

All sides and parties to this debate have to change their approach. The government must take a firm and decided stance on the issue, and cease to use the issue as a political football. The anti refugee party must concede that legitimate refugees entering Australia should have the right to asylum and protection. The pro refugee lobby needs to hang up the protest banners, stop demanding the impossible, and accept the reality of the situation. And the refugees would help their cause a lot more by not burning their quarters, rioting on Christmas Island, and giving the government reason to detain them further.

That something needs to be done is evident. What the answer will be is not in the scope of this article, nor does the author pretend to have a solution. However, I do believe that for the security of Australia, proper and complete security assessments must be completed before illegal immigrants can be released into Australia. And however long this would reasonably take should be the period of detention.