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March 29, 2004

The politics of right

OK, well, this is the subject I've been trying to avoid - partly because I'm not convinced I'm right, and partly because new information comes to light about it regularly. But now I think it's time I made my position clear on a very important issue, which is being debated at many levels in Australian society. Writing this down will also help me clarify my thinking on the matter.

The short summary of my position is this: I think helping the US administration to invade Iraq was a bad idea but now that we're in there we should stay until Iraq looks like it might genuinely become and remain a stable democracy. That might take a lot longer than the people in charge are publicly acknowledging.

This argument is going to take a few posts. I'll start with the reasons I opposed the war and work up to why I think the whole world should now get behind the efforts to rebuild Iraq.

First, I had several school mates who served in the Australian Navy in the first Gulf War and I opposed that for ... more naive, idealistic reasons. I wrote a song about that, Maniac, which will be published here soon. I also had two grandfathers who served in the two World Wars. But I abhor anything to do with human beings killing each other and destroying each others' hard-won developments. That belief was cemented by my experience on the Kokoda Trail, scene of some of Australia's finest military moments and a sphere my maternal grandfather used to tell me about.

I never bought the post-September 11 claims that Iraq was linked to that event or that Saddam Hussein had anyting to do with supporting al Qa'ida. When I was searching for material for On line Opinion's Issues Brief I learned that Osama bin Laden called Saddam Hussein "Apostate" which is about the worst thing a fundamentalist religious nutcase can call anyone (in his eyes). However, I also agree with Graham Young's point, that the issues of the Middle East and terrorism are inextricably linked. Particularly in terms of finding a solution.

I also found it difficult to understand how Hussein could possibly have any significant Weapons of Mass Destruction after years of sanctions and inspections. The bottom line of the inspectors' reports was not that they thought there were WMDs there but that they could not *account for* WMDs that they had known were there earlier on. That's a significant but subtle difference that was enough for me (and the majority of the UN Security Council) to believe that any threat Saddam's regime posed could be countered by a UN-led inspections team and there was no justification for invasion.

However, there were very good reasons for removing Saddam that had nothing to do with WMDs. He was, without doubt, one of the most brutal and despicable depots in human history. Not only he but all of his henchmen had perpetrated the most unspeakable acts of barabrity imaginable - the world is a better place without him. There was also a certain amount of doubt about his capacity to harm people outside Iraq that, as in Owen McShane's analogy, could be easily and premanently resolved with some "exploratory sugery".

But setting such a precedent was so dangerous that even the desperados leading the charge into Iraq couldn't publicly acknowledge it. This, of course, left me, and much of the thinking of the Left (whether they acknowledged it or not), on the horns of a dilemma. Plenty of good reasons to invade and plenty of reasons not to ... how to decide?

In the end, I opposed the US-led initiative because I did not believe that this action would, in the long run, improve the lot of the People of the Middle East. Although there was no doubt about their military and economic strength, I did not (and still don't) think the US was culturally equipped to rebuild Iraq as a lone outpost of Western-friendly values in the Middle East. The evidence to the contrary is, to date, mixed, at best.

There is some evidence that things are improving in the eyes of the locals, and plenty of evidence that supplies/infrastrucure, etc are being restored, but the long-term viability of a democratic Iraqi state is clouded by the continued harassment of militant (whether domestic or imported, it doesn't matter) and the intricacies of inter-denominational Islamic politics; Sunni vs Shi'ite (not to mention the Kurds). There is no doubt that the residents resent the US involvement, which is not surprising. I'd hate it, too.

Al Qa'ida will continue to make Iraq a troublespot for their own ends long after the Interim Council have ceded power to the locals under some negotiated Constitution.

Posted by Huge at March 29, 2004 9:10 PM

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