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The US must work with its allies for genuine improvements in Iraq

By Greg Barns - posted Sunday, 15 September 2002

In the world of George W Bush it’s all so simple when it comes to Iraq - you invade the place, take out the bad guys, install one of your own, and then close the door and move on to the next target of your rage. Oh, and while you are busy installing a new leadership team in Baghdad provide them with false hope that they will receive regular buckets of money from you to rebuild the nation.

And in the world of prominent commentator and best-selling author the New York Times' Thomas L Freidman, Iraq is worth invading if it brings about "regime change and democratisation". Friedman argues that the yardstick of US success in Iraq will be if it results in those in the Middle East he calls "undeterables" - those who relish in acts like those that took place on 11 September.

Both views are flawed.


At the same time that the Bush Administration was continuing with its build-up to an invasion of Iraq President Bush vetoed a US$5.1 billion aid bill from Congress that included US$174 million for Afghanistan. This is despite the desperate need for funds to reconstruct this war-ravaged country that is the grip of a drought and to which 1.5 million refugees have returned.

And last week it was reported that Bush Administration officials are preparing to fund an US$80 million road-repair program in Afghanistan by cutting a disaster relief program for that nation by US$40 million.

This at a time when Afghan President Karzai is warning the US that al-Qaeda and Taliban forces are increasing their activities outside the capital Kabul.

So why should we expect any different from President Bush when it comes to Iraq? This administration lacks the magnanimity of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations - the architects of the Marshall Plan that reconstructed post -World War II Europe.

And what of Mr Freidman's cultural change argument? It misses the vital point – oil!

The US imports between 2 and 3 million barrels of oil a day from the Middle East. This figure has risen from 1.8 million in 1991 and shows no sign of decreasing. In fact, the 112 billion barrels of oil reserves that Iraq possesses focuses the mind very clearly in favour of putting a friendly regime in place in Baghdad.


But lets say that Mr Freidman's 'hearts and minds' strategy to inculcate democracy in the Middle East worked over a period of years and in the case of Iraq it resulted in throwing up a democratically elected leader who sought to drive a very hard bargain with the US for access to those oil reserves. Would this please a US administration that has at the heart of its economy a petrol guzzling culture? One suspects not.

And if you want evidence of the oil-beats-democracy thesis you need look no further than Iraq's neighbour Iran. President Khatami is introducing reforms to curtail the extraordinary powers of the Council of Guardians that represents the greatest impediment to democracy in that country. Where's President Bush on this one? Nowhere to be found - in fact, Iran is in his 'axis of evil.'

A war on Iraq, and in places like it, will only make sense when the US as the leader of the developed world, works with its allies to genuinely reform its own outlook and ends its hypocrisy and cant - on current indications, that’s a long way off.

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About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

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