Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

A real 'war on terror' would put Australia's national interest first

By Mark Latham - posted Wednesday, 26 February 2003

The government's strategy for war in Iraq is the wrong way of conducting the war against terror. It repeats the worst mistakes of George Bush Snr's foreign policy, and it comes from a Prime Minister who is too weak to say no to the Americans.

The war against terror should be conducted against terrorists, not against the women and children of nation states. The best way of ensuring that weapons of mass destruction do not fall into the hands of terrorists is to rid the world of terrorists. This should have been America's strategy post September 11: to target, fight and eliminate the terrorists. But, instead, President Bush has squandered much of the international goodwill for his country by following a flawed strategy of regime change and nation-state war, all under the flawed banner of his `axis of evil'. This is the wrong strategy; both for the international community and for Australia. At a time when Osama bin Laden remains at large; al Qa'ida continues to operate in Pakistan and throughout the Middle East; the Bali bombers are yet to be brought to justice; and terrorist networks continue to grow in South-East Asia, George Bush and John Howard think the first priority is to wage war in Iraq. This is the wrong priority.

For all its might and its outrageous expense on military technology, the American war machine is geared up for just one purpose and one strategy: to wage war against nation states. It is yet to develop an effective approach for waging war against the terrorists themselves. Just as the United States was unaware and unprepared for the actual events of September 11, it is ill-equipped to deal with the very different security threat posed by terrorists.


An article in the September 2001 edition of Atlantic Monthly, written by a well regarded former CIA officer, Reuel Marc Gerecht, had this to say about the US capacity in counter-terrorism: "I would argue that America's counter-terrorism program in the Middle East and its environs is a myth." He quotes a former senior Near East Division operative who said:

"The CIA probably doesn't have a single truly qualified Arabic-speaking officer of Middle Eastern background who can play a believable Muslim fundamentalist who would volunteer to spend years of his life with shitty food and no women in the mountains of Afghanistan. For Christ's sake, most case officers live in the suburbs of Virginia. We don't do that kind of thing."

A younger case officer quoted in the article put it even more bluntly: "Operations that include diarrhoea as a way of life don't happen." That is the real truth of the American war machine when it comes to the operatives and the intelligence on the ground that are needed to combat terrorism, particularly in the Middle East. Gerecht concludes by saying: "Unless one of bin Laden's foot soldiers walks through the door of a U.S. consulate or embassy, the odds that a CIA counter-terrorist officer will ever see one are extremely poor."

This is the reality of the US capacity in this area. The Bush administration, of course, is reluctant to admit such shortcomings. Instead, it is using the blanket description, the slogan of `war against terror' to justify other aspects of its foreign policy agenda. I see action against Iraq as unfinished business from the early 1990s: It does not directly relate to September 11 in the United States or October 12 in Bali. In practice, it is a diversion from the real war against terror: the war that would target terrorists, not nation states. Even Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser to Presidents Ford and Bush Snr, has acknowledged this point, stating: "Any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, cost and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism."

This is a hard-headed, realistic assessment . Every dollar spent fighting and then occupying Iraq is a dollar that cannot be spent on attacking terrorist networks and improving Australia's domestic security. President Bush's foreign policy therefore looks more like American imperialism than a properly thought through and well resourced strategy to eliminate terrorists.

Bush himself is the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory. It is somewhat inappropriate to be preaching democratic values when he himself failed to win a democratic majority in the 2000 presidential election. His war with Iraq is more about making good his father's mistakes; about things that happened in Iraq and Kuwait in the early 1990s; and securing a domestic political advantage, than a rational assessment of the best way to defeat terrorism. Post-September 11, Bush needs to be seen to be acting, giving the American electorate a sense of revenge and puffed-up patriotism. If he cannot catch Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein is the next best thing for the American Republican Right.


For our country, none of this is in Australia's national interest. The government has just spent $15 million on advertising to warn Australians of the terrorist threat in this country. But if, as the government argues, our nation is under threat, then we should not be sending our best troops and equipment to the other side of the world. If terrorists were to take control of an international hotel in a major Australian city, where would we want our SAS and commando troops to be? If there were a terrorist incident on Sydney Harbour, our open harbour in the biggest city in Australia, where would we want our navy and other military capacity? The answer in both cases is here; looking after the Australian people, first and foremost.

After Bali, we must not allow ourselves the luxury of blindly following the Americans into Iraq, and placing the lives of young Australians in George Bush's hands. We should not be contributing to the horrors of war and the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent people when a better policy or strategy is available to the Australian government. This sentiment was perfectly expressed in a recent letter to the Sydney Morning Herald, an open letter to John Howard that read:

"Today you sent our son-in-law to war. He is a career officer in the Navy and joined to defend his country. He sailed on the Kanimbla from Garden Island, leaving his wife of 18 years and his two daughters. Will he be back to see his girls start the new school term? Will he be home for his wife's birthday in February? Will he be back at all? Do you really care? Do you even remember the name of the young SAS officer you sent to die in Afghanistan? He left behind a wife and baby to fend for themselves. The widow is the same age as your daughter. Think, John Howard. Just think. These are real people you are sacrificing."

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

This is an edited transcript of a speech to Parliament.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Mark Latham is the former Leader of the Opposition and former federal Labor Member for Werriwa (NSW).

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Mark Latham
Related Links
Australian Labor Party
Photo of Mark Latham
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy