As Prime Minister Tony Abbott oversees Australia's deployment of troops to Iraq from his temporary office in the Garma Knowledge Centre on the Gulkula plateau, politicians and observers are looking for the right frame to describe the military operation. The Labor Party has fallen into line behind the government, accepting Abbott's assertions that the mission against the Islamic State is unlike others in the Middle East and that while this mission is essentially humanitarian, there's also a national security component: if allowed to expand, the Islamic State would inevitably pose a threat to Australia. Mark Kenny reports in the Fairfax press that "sources close to" Abbott insist that he's acting on a clear moral sense of duty, which flows from the simple characterisation of the Islamic State as "evil". This perhaps explains his eagerness to involve Australia, which has been much quicker off the mark than Britain.
The Greens and others, on the other hand, worry that Australia's eagerness looks too much like its traditional deference to its "great and powerful friends". Christine Milne yesterday pointed to the lack of a time-frame or even clearly-defined objectives to Australia's mission, and raised the concern that Australia's involvement will only encourage the radicalisation of disaffected and alienated young Muslims. Although Abbott and ASIO's outgoing Director-General of Security David Irvine have denied any such correlation, ASIO's own report to parliament in 2012-13 acknowledged that Australia's military operations in the Middle East do raise the risk of domestic terrorism.
In Washington, journalist Paul McGeough points out that the US-led mission lacks clarity. Those urging military action in the US, Britain and Australia are particularly animated by the potential dangers posed by "returning Jihadists", but those governments are rarely asked to quantify that threat in any way. Meanwhile there appears disagreement on either side of the Pacific as to whether the mission should even be described as a "war".