13 March 2007

Baghdad Syndrome

There were many reasons why US and other allied forces invaded Iraq in 2003. The only one that remains valid is that Saddam Hussein was a nasty man/genocidal killer/psychpath and that his people should have the chance to govern themselves without the capricious terror that underpinned Saddam's rule. This is the Christopher Hitchens line, the reason why all those ex-Marxists find themselves comforted by the kindness of strangers in the US Republican and Australian Liberal Parties.

All the rest of it, the WMDs and all that, has fallen away. It was all rubbish, Cheney and all the rest of them who put it about knew it was rubbish, a pretext to get others to act when the real reasons for acting weren't strong enough to motivate others to come through.

This isn't a rant about Halliburton and what the late Molly Ivins called "the awl bidness". This is about the failure of those who enabled the situation in Iraq to desert those who misled them into an untenable situation.

If someone lies to you to get you to do something, and you find out about the lie, you should - for your own self-respect - stop doing whatever you were misled into, and abandon both the situation and the liar who dropped you into it in the first place.

The phenomenon whereby victims end up identifying with and defending those who have coerced them into an untenable situation, and end up attacking those who seek to rescue them, is known as Stockholm Syndrome. In reading this article, and others like it about Australian, UK and US politics, it would seem that a generation faction cohort brigade bunch large number of politicians have succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to Iraq.

Bush, Cheney et al. lied to get troops into Iraq. As soon as the non-existance of the WMDs were discovered, once Saddam was found and detained - once the US Congress went Democratic, that should have been it. Straight out. Bush and Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld, Blair and Howard on trial, what-did-you-know-and-when-did-you-know-it, testimonies from mothers, widow(er)s, maimed veterans. Going to war is serious business and lying in order to procure one is a massive crime against the state - it really is a form of treason.

Failing to acknowledge that you were lied to in voting for war, and to condemn that lie, shows a sorry case of Stockholm syndrome in regard to Baghdad. Surely the healthy response is to admit that you were lied to, disavow any responsibility and turn on those who put you up to it. What's stopping them?

Australian politicians did business with Saddam's Iraq because they were a major market for one of our major exports, wheat. Now the Americans have elbowed us out of that market, what are we defending by keeping forces there?

  • The US alliance? When a sizeable proportion of the US population is dead against Iraq, having an ally in the same position is hardly a break. Aussies left Vietnam in 1972 and while the hawks in the Nixon Administration might have been less than impressed (including a young Dick Cheney), so what?

  • The poor set-upon Iraqi people? It's not clear that they are doing as much as they can to make their society peaceful and prosperous, and without such a commitment Australian troops can't do much. As it stands, Australians are only guarding Japanese troops rather than contributing meaningfully to the welfare of Iraq - as already indicated, we're there because we're there.

  • Standing strong on western values? As if. There's more than enough to do within five hours' flying time from Australia, including education and getting serious about habeas corpus, for a middle-ranking power such as us. Air traffic controllers aren't going to be doing much evangelism about western culture to descendants of Hammurabi.

It's stunning that the Republicans have made the Democrats out to be timid pacifists:

  • Democrats led America through two world wars and made the running in Korea, and ramped up the war in Vietnam to a half-million-troops peak.

  • Republicans led America to stalemate in Korea, botched democracy in Iran, botched Vietnam, and put up the shutters against Latin America. Yeah, they were there when Communism fell apart but they didn't do much good with that, either.

What is stunning is that the Democrats think they have to look tough by ramping up their commitment to a war that can't be won. US Senator Joe Lieberman is in a similar position to Australian Prime Minister John Howard, in that he cannot back down on committing troops to Iraq without his credibility suffering irreperable damage; both are old men and cannot turn back now.

Senator Hillary Clinton is not necessarily stuck fast - her supporters are keen to the point of embarrassment to forgive her, if only she'll ask. But she has a tin ear for that as well. Like George Bush I she'll only win if her opponent is absolutely unelectable; surely her supporters will come to realise that. If you're going to become the change you want to see, then turning your back on the cashed-up, tightly-programmed, control-freak candidate has to be the way forward for Democrats in 2008. Hillary Clinton's supporters want her to be a bold point of difference from Bush, but she doesn't; and her wishes must be respected if her position can't. She's not going to change.

Senators John McCain and Chuck Hagel were brave men in Vietnam; less so in Washington. When Senator John Kerry likened the hopelessness of Iraq to that of Vietnam, Bush demanded an apology - and got one.

The reason why Senator Obama and Opposition Leader Rudd enjoy such high poll ratings is their perceived freedom to concentrate on terrorism without being distracted by Iraq. Let's hope that perception has a sounder basis than the WMD.

06 March 2007

A bird in the hand, and other cliches

After reading this article, the biggest scandal I can see is the tangle of cliches and the descent of a once-respected journalist into Koutsoukis-dom:

  • "real-world land" (you can see it from Canberra, can you Steve?)

  • "And after failing to land a blow ... the Government isn't about to let go" (Boxers don't grip each other when landing blows, Steve)

  • "As the ALP's peak organisational body met in the Sussex St head office of the NSW Labor machine, the Liberal Party federal executive was discussing election tactics 300km away, in R.G. Menzies House in Canberra." (and you thought the ALP and the Liberal Party would discuss tactics in the same room?)

  • "Rudd's loss of grace" (this is no small thing for a committed Christian like Rudd. Having met with a committed felon doesn't strip away redemption from the Lord God, whatever impact it may have had with the press gallery)

  • "Howard and his senior team are hoping the fallout from Burke will have a more lasting impact" (yes, and if not? Howard, Costello and Downer may well be able to smell blood, but is that blood Rudd's? Analysis please Steve. In this paragraph alone Steve compares members of the government to riders, hard men and baying hounds)

  • "Rudd had been mainly sure-footed since defeating Kim Beazley on December 4 in the Caucus ballot." (right, but we're talking about events pre-dating that, aren't we?

  • "But the Prime Minister is banking on voters backing his experience (the Government celebrated 11 years in power yesterday) when he calls the election later this year. Central to his campaign is undermining Rudd's credentials for national leadership" (not reinforcing his record as one of achievement, one with a future? Just because this is the strategy, does that mean it's a sound one?)

  • "It has been the Coalition who has been on the defensive in recent weeks, as Labor targeted Howard over Iraq, interest rates and nuclear power." (so they're just the Coalition now? Just a bit of moral equivalence, tit for tat? I thought they were the government, and that Labor was holding them to account, answerable to Parliament and all that)

  • "But cheapjack populism only goes so far" (eleven years and counting, Steve)

  • "The shadow of the Panama hat grows wider" (any new revelations Steve? Do tell)
  • "Rest assured, though, the L-plates are being removed from their containers." (do you think that treating Rudd and Latham the same is a sound strategy? Really? What are the ramifications if it isn't, Steve?)

It's interesting that conservative commentators like Lewis and Gerard Joseph Henderson have only started referring to the leader of the Opposition as "St Kevin" after, and not before or during, his early honeymoon as Labor leader.

It's interesting that the lawyer of choice for Perth spivs in the early '90s, Julie Bishop, has kept very, very quiet, and managed to rise through Perth political circles without ever meeting Burke or Grill. If Bishop's opposite number, Stephen Smith, isn't busy with the research on Bishop then he's more useless a politician than I think he is. Until further notice, let us praise the sole remaining Cabinet minister from anywhere west of Adelaide: hosanna in the highest to St Julie.

The original St Kevin was famed for his modesty and patience, qualities that inspired poetry but not found much in Australian politicians (of all people, Gerard Joseph Henderson has no excuse for being ignorant of this). Having met with a convicted felon some time ago is the only bird-in-the-hand that Howard has to go on in the way of attacks on Rudd.

If the polls show anything less than a double-digit decline for Rudd and the ALP, all the ebullience and baying that Lewis describes (and reflects) will have been for nothing. If you walk a thousand roads you're bound to tread in some shit. Beazley visited Burke in prison, and he portrayed it as sticking by his mates. Rudd has supped with the devil of ambition, took a long spoon and stood up to the media until they ran out of questions: what if it ends up humanising this antiseptic man (Rudd, I mean)? Since when has the Australian public voted for saints, Gerard? Really.

Howard has to assume that Rudd's patience will give out and that public preceptions of the government's record remain sound enough to build momentum for credible policies going forward. Rudd has to keep his nerve and keep plugging away at Howard's record, rendering it best a nostalgia trip that can be safely left behind. What will come of St Kevin's nestlings, and where will they fly? Where will they nest? These are questions that can't be answered now and journalists do themselves no favours by hyping their projections.

The blinkered media pack do readers a disservice by their double failure, both to put this story into its proper perspective and to investigate other stories. This is the sort of thing that would help bury any perception that the fastidious Rudd cuts corners on the way to the top, and would serve to blunt continuing attacks. After AWB, if Downer and Howard aren't modest enough to shut up then they should be ignored. Cliches and mixed metaphors are signs of sloppy thinking, and Steve Lewis can take no comfort in claiming that all his colleagues are equally giddy over this non-story.