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
"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
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
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."
This is an edited transcript of a speech to Parliament.