My favourite computer game, Civilisation III, allows its players to win
in many different ways. Players taking control of a civilisation at the
dawn of time can elect to build it up over the centuries, develop science
and culture and remain at peace with the other civilisations, or they get
what they want through conquest. As for myself, I am never happy unless I
am attacking something and there is no better fun than ripping through the
border defences of a previously peaceful civilisation.
Those who know my preference for mayhem, at least where it is safely
confined to the computer, may well not be surprised to hear that –
before the Bombing in Bali – I was in favour of the Americans invading
Iraq, and saw no objection to Australia lending minor forces to the
Since the bombing my personal stance on the issue has hardened.
I do realise that I am now in reality-space (as we gamers say) where
people who are killed leave blood on the carpet and angry relatives, and
not in game space. I also realise that public opinion in Australia, at
least to judge from the opinion polls taken before the bombing, was
largely running against such an invasion, partly because no-one could see
any pressing need to invade Iraq.
Now, following the bombing, Australians may be mad enough to want to
get even, but they may still be puzzling over who or what to get even
with. Should we follow the US to Iraq? For that matter why are the
Americans going to Iraq?
Why indeed. Before the Bali Bombing comments were being passed in the
media to the effect that America wanted to invade Iraq as a way to
"extend its hegemony" or to play at being world policeman –
all comments grossly unfair to Americans in general and President Bush in
Before September 11 America had been showing a marked distaste for
military intervention anywhere. If it meant body bags coming back from
places they had never heard of then politicians were not interested.
Vietnam killed much of the American enthusiasm for military adventures and
events like the 1983 bombing in Beirut which killed more than 230 marines
snuffed out most of the rest.
With the notable exception of Gulf War, the general feeling was that it
was better to let foreigners to kill each other. Another good reason to
stay away, it seemed, was that American judgment in intervening in foreign
conflicts varied somewhere between indifferent and disastrous. This
reluctance to become involved meant that by the time Kosovo came along in
1999 American politicians were reduced to trying to force the issue by air
Not only had the Americans become reluctant to be involved in foreign
conflicts in general, but by the time of September 11 arguably they had
mostly forgotten all about the Middle and Far-East in particular – apart
from the Israel-Palestine conflict which had been going on in various
forms for decades. Americans especially had no reason at all to think
about Afghanistan. Although their secret services had messed around in the
area during the Cold War, mostly because the Russians were there, they had
long withdrawn. It was the Russians, after all, who invaded and did the
bulk of the "foreign" damage to the country.
Then a religious fanatic with a big grudge and lots of money – a
dangerous combination – engineered the destruction of the Twin Towers.
The initial US response was reasonably measured in that the coalition it
led has knocked aside the Taliban with ease, despite dire warnings by
military commentators, and has been of some help in restoring the
benighted country. So what is the next step in the war against terrorism?
Most of the September 11 terrorists, like Osama Bin Laden, came from
Saudi Arabia. However, it would be far more trouble than it is worth to
replace the Saudis, ghastly though they are. In any case there are already
American troops in the country. Similarly, invasion of other countries
implicated in helping the Taliban at one point or another, mostly covertly
– namely Iran and Pakistan – is out of the question, not least because
both are showing some signs of reform. Pakistan in particular has been
trying to shake off its endemic, shocking, official corruption while Iran
has been at least less hostile. Another problem is that there is simply no
excuse for military force against either country.
That leaves Iraq, and it would be difficult to think of a better place
to start in a War Against Terrorism – the one that America decided to
have after September 11 – than to remove that rightly despised Iraqi
thug Saddam Hussein. Of course there is no more reason to remove him now
than at any other time since the Gulf War. Most of the recent public
discussion amounts to the US and Britain building a case from what was
already widely known. But they are building a case to undertake a
particular action in the War Against Terror and their arguments should be
seen in that light. An added, unspoken reason for attacking Iraq is that
there will be comparatively little fallout in either the Western or even
Islamic worlds. No-one will shed tears over Hussein's demise.
Many of the letters to the editor in the Australia media have expressed
concern over what effect an invasion will have on the Iraqi people. But
the UN sanctions have already killed more ordinary Iraqi people than any
number of invasions. If Hussein is deposed – as he is likely to be very
easily – then the sanctions can be lifted, in the knowledge the imported
goods will not be used to build weapons of mass destruction. The ordinary
Iraqi people can start to live again.
Where should Australia stand in all this? Well, like it or not,
Australia has been pushed into the front line of the War Against Terror by
an almost random act of terror. Like the September 11 attack the bombing
does not seem to be linked to anything – Australia was considering
joining the US in attacking Iraq before the bombing, but public opinion
was shifting markedly against it. In fact, it is difficult to avoid the
conclusion that the bombing was an act of pure hatred against Western
Civilisation as such. Australian citizens happened to be in the way.
Perhaps we did not want it, as a nation, but the Bali Bombing has given us
sufficient reason to enlist in the US side in the War Against Terror. Our
one regret about any action against Iraq is that it will be the last-easy
military action of that war.
All the other actions will be diplomatic, financial – perhaps
combined with a modicum of force. Other operations may even be covert. And
it will take a long time.