Friday, September 29, 2006

the Howard mantra - don't blame us

can't fool all the people all the time

John Howard has expressed an interest in reading the recently declassified 30 page report on the impact of the Iraq invasion upon 'the war on terror'. Apparently even he himself was unconvinced by his own dismissive remarks about the then-classified report only a few days before.

I must admit that I experienced a near-apoplectic seizure when hearing of Howard's all-too-typical dismissiveness of what appears to be a comprehensive assessment culled from all of the leading national intelligence agencies in the US, on the basis of nothing more than his will-to-believe-otherwise. Howard, though, is a brilliant populist, and he has quickly realised that his initial reaction had a air of head-in-the-sand arrogance which needed to be amended.

Of course he couldn't help but add, after some 'consideration', a while later, that these were the some of the same people who provided false advice about WMDs before the invasion.

Blame-shifting has been a very common feature of Howard's incumbency. It's an established fact that the Bush administration, keen to go after Saddam Hussein even before the September 11 attacks, was very selective and indeed manipulative in its dealings with the intelligence community regarding WMDs in Iraq and the threat that Iraq posed to America. Both these issues – the push to invade Iraq regardless, and the inability of the US administration to hear what it didn’t want to hear re WMDs before the invasion, are well documented in Seymour Hersh’s book Chain of Command. See, in particular, chapter 4 ‘The Iraq Hawks’ and Chapter 5 ‘Who Lied to Whom?’. When the highly-respected director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed Elbaradei, pointed out that some of the information re WMDs presented to the UN by then Secretary of State Colin Powell was fake, US Vice-President Dick Cheney not only went into complete denial mode, but viciously attacked the messenger. Nobody was going to be allowed to stop the US juggernaut. This was three days before the invasion began.

To return, though to the Howard tactics. I can’t help but notice a pattern. Avoid responsibility, shift the blame onto others whenever possible, and present yourself and your government as the well-intentioned dupe of the unscrupulous or merely incompetent. Take at least three issues – the Iraq war, the AWB scandal, and the difficulties of the East Timorese government.

As to the Iraq war, Howard clearly prefers not to talk about it at all, there seems to be an unwritten policy of never bringing the subject up if it can be avoided. It’s obviously an embarrassment and a mess. If it can’t be avoided, there are plenty of people to blame – the intelligence community for leading us into it, ‘terrorists’ and ‘insurgents’, those vague but incredibly useful labels, for keeping us there. Don’t expect, though, to hear Howard say again that the world has been made a safer place by the Iraqi invasion. I suspect his spin doctors will tell him to quietly drop that one.

The AWB scandal speaks for itself. Of course Howard was as shocked as we all have been to learn of the AWB’s self-serving duplicity, and it’s surely only co-incidental that the government has a strong interest in not being tainted by any knowledge of the AWB’s behaviour, and this of course had nothing to do with the fact that various government ministers ‘overlooked’ countless warnings, from such diverse sources as Australian grain farmers and US government and UN representatives, about AWB practices. Didn’t the sheer volume of suspicions alert them? No, they all sing from the same song-sheet, we were just too confident in the uprightness and fair-dealing of a company we were all proud of. But they duped us and let us down.

As to The ET situation, some months ago I read this report, referred to in an earlier post that more or less captures my view on this issue. I was appalled to hear Howard’s near-contemptuous remarks about the ET government’s difficulties during the Alkatiri crisis, and his willingness to blame that government for financial and security problems not entirely of its own making. The hardships faced by that government were and still are enormous, far beyond anything Howard and his cronies have had to face. The above-mentioned report, written just as the first ET government was being formed, outlines what the Australian government could and should do to help. It’s not an unrealistic document in terms of expenditure and commitment, but needless to say, the advice has been largely ignored. Easier just to blame the victim – we did all that for them, and still they can’t look after themselves. Another version of the Howard mantra.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

in the name of those who suffer

The BBC's Matt Frei's brief characterisation and personal history of Bush junior in his piece 'Top Gun - Bush rises to the challenge' has helped me to understand him better without admiring him any the more. It argues that, dim-witted and incurious though Bush is, he's not a puppet manipulated by the neocons. Though of course Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Blair and others need to be brought to justice, the major culprit is Bush himself, as far as the invasion of Iraq is concerned.

The reported civilian death count as a result of the invasion of Iraq stands at around 45000, according to Iraq Body Count. The rate of deaths is increasing, though the self-interested regimes involved in the invasion are falling over each other to deny any responsibility for the carnage. And of course the sectarian violence now tearing the country apart makes the blame game slightly more difficult to play.

The figure quoted above is conservative - in fact the IBC website has come under heavy attack for the conservativism of its accounting - but it's a reliable minimum figure. A study published in The Lancet estimated 100,000 deaths around the period of the invasion, but that was highly controversial and I won't rely on it. We all know that the most powerful and destructive military on earth refuses to keep tabs on the number of people it kills, and the same goes for the British military and its government, but it's worth noting that Blair confidently claimed on the eve of invasion that Saddam killed more Iraqis per year than the invading troops would kill during the conflict, however long it lasted. It was a piece of pure rhetoric, with no evidence to back it up.

So how does the 45000 civilians killed in the last three and a half years compare to Saddam's death toll? Blair, in his defence, claimed that Saddam was responsible for 300,000 deaths. The actual number is a matter of much debate, but it is certainly true that in the years leading up to the invasion the numbers of deaths, as reported by Amnesty International, was considerably reduced - to 'scores' in 2001 and 2002, down from 'hundreds' in 2000 - making his dictatorship, at invasion time, no better or worse than many others around the globe. Contrast Suharto, also responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his own citizens, yet treated as a hero by western, particularly American, leaders in the sixties and seventies, never brought to account (in fact the Americans clandestinely but substantially supported his campaign of mass murder), and at the end of his dictatorship fawned upon as a lovable patriarch by his nervous neighbours and by journalists of Greg Sheridan's ilk.

As human rights watch declared: 'before taking the substantial risk to life that is inherent in any war, mass slaughter should be taking place or imminent. That was not the case in Saddam Hussein's Iraq in March 2003.'

The invasion of Iraq was not undertaken on humanitarian grounds. The pretext was WMD and claims about terrorism. These latter claims have increased as the WMD pretext has been exposed, but it's abundantly clear that the invasion of Iraq became a focus for anti-western extremists. There was no terrorist threat from Iraq before the invasion. Since the invasion, the humanitarian argument has been used continually by Blair, and to a lesser extent by Howard. It should be noted that invasions of foreign countries, historically, have never been undertaken for humanitarian reasons. The world just doesn't work that way.

Whatever the reasons for it, we're very far from having survived the consequences of this intervention.

This post was largely inspired and assisted by the reading of this article by John Sloboda.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

the Iraq quagmire again

Richard Clarke - controversial figure

I've sobered up a bit now - need to be careful, I could find myself arrested as a potential tourist myself.

Still, I'll go on occupying dangerous ground for a while. Happen to be reading something most relevant, The battle for Iraq, a collection of BBC journalism on this deadly campaign. It takes the situation up to the end of May 2003, six months before the capture of Saddam, but a couple of weeks after Bush declared victory.

In Fergal Keane's chapter, 'The road to war', we're given important indications of Bush's intentions and attitudes to Iraq well before September 11. In late 1999, as a Presidential hopeful, Bush said this in response to a question about Saddam. 'No one had envisioned Saddam, at least that point in history, no one envisioned him still standing - it's time to finish the task.' Never mind the moronic syntax, it's only the last words that matter. A year later, during a debate with competitor Al Gore, he was at it again. After responding to the moderator's question with a sharp attack on Saddam and a promise to assist his opponents (a ragtag bunch to say the least) in every possible way, he went on to say this: 'If I found in any way, shape or form that he was developing weapons of mass destruction, I'd take him out - I'm surprised he's still there. I think a lot of other people are as well.'

So even before Bush became President, this war was on his mind, and the excuse for the war was already in place. The language clearly indicates, to me at least, that WMD was a secondary consideration. Taking out Saddam was the main game.

In the recent flood of docos and dramas about September 11, one individual stood out as the most credible critic of the current administration, and that was the former counter-terrorism heavyweight, Richard Clarke. On more than one occasion I heard him speak of a post-September 11 meeting at which Rumsfeld spoke eagerly about launching an attack on Iraq, even though it was abundantly clear that Iraq had no involvement. Clarke recalled Rumsfeld saying that attacking Afghanistan was all very well, but there weren't enough 'targets' there. If this is true, what does it say about Rumsfeld's indifference to human suffering and, indeed, to the basic values we should expect a person in his position to uphold?

The wily Rumsfeld responds to this criticism at the end of this interview, so you can make your own mind up. It's clear from it that he was interested in a strike upon Iraq, and his reason for this - to protect American surveillance aircraft - just seems woefully inadequate and hypocritical, especially when you consider operation desert fox and the long-term harassment of Iraq that had been going on. He also argues that Clarke's claim - that the invasion of Iraq greatly undermined the war on terror - is simply false, claiming that the hunt for Osama and the hunting down of terrorists in Iraq are both being carried out with the utmost vigour and without compromise. He of course fails to address the point (and he isn't probed on it) that the invasion of Iraq itself created what he would call terrorists and what others would call freedom fighters, not only in Iraq but in neighbouring countries, and in Moslem nations around the globe. The anti-Americanism in the region is all about American interference in these nations, but clearly concern about the creation of this hatred is secondary to the US securing and further exploiting its own interests in the region, as far as this regime is concerned. Later administrations can sort out the mess.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

a bit of a spit

not all naive ...

The recent inundation of stuff on September 11 - I actually watched a lot of it this time - has me reflecting on America's unilaterally declared war on terrorism (which might well be renamed the war on tourism after Beazley's recent remarks), so ably supported by us and the poms.

I recall that the anti-war side was, from the start, arguing that the September 11 attacks were criminal acts and that it was a matter more for the police than for the military. I was always sympathetic to this view, eclipsed as it has been since the war rhetoric and the war activities have stepped up. At the same time I was always realistic enough to realize that this would never wash with such a belligerent US administration, and with a general public as generally naive, IMHO, as the American public is. Not to mention the sense of national humiliation. Look at what the Romans did to Carthage for daring to threaten it, via Hannibal, at its very heart. I don't say this as a joke; the urge towards retributive punishment - someone must pay and pay dearly - is one of the strongest of human forces (this has been amply confirmed in experimental psychology - see for example, the work of Jonathon Baron and others).

Still, it's never too late. Had the 'this is essentially a criminal matter' argument won out (never a possibility, I admit), airport and other security would still have been tightened, new and sometimes draconian laws could still have been introduced, with the justification that a new type of criminal element was emerging, and information-sharing between various national police and security forces would have been improved. On the other hand, the invasion of Iraq might never have occurred, for no non-corrupt criminal investigation would ever have found a link between the Iraqi regime and September 11. The hunt for Osama would have been much more of a focus with more resources devoted to it without the distraction of the massive military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

More importantly, the operation would have targeted individuals - the responsible individuals, rather than targeting anyone with a current gripe against America, as this so-called war against terrorism - 'you are either with us or with the terrorists' - seems to be doing with such unconscionable relish. The criminal approach simplifies the issues, to a degree which is obviously unacceptable to this US administration, which has done more to foster worldwide hatred of everything America stands for than any other American administration in history. And history will undoubtedly testify to the damage this administration has done.

Keeping the matter in the field of criminality would have been the best move, psychologically, too, for war immediately legitimises your opponent, but this particular administration was far too dim-witted, or testosterone-driven (is there a difference?) to consider such possibilities.

The effect of transforming a criminal operation into a war has had tragic consequences, has resulted in the unnecessary deaths of countless innocents, a horrific toll far beyond the comprehension and sensitivities of the imbeciles of Washington and Downing Street. However, imbecility should be no excuse before the law. These imbeciles should be brought to justice for the carnage they have visited on ordinary people in the name of some vague and undoubtedly self-serving goal. I scream this out in the name of the voiceless - how dare you destroy these lives for power-political reasons dressed in a bogus humanitarianism. How dare you manipulate the aggressive enthusiasm of young, uneducated soldiers, encouraging their natural out-group mentality to turn them into thoughtless killers. How dare you turn the patriotic pride of a nation into something evil. You will reap everything you sow. You will exploit their oilfields, you will extract your billions, and you will get what you deserve. For these terrorists have one thing in common - and it sure isn't a hatred of Western democracy - a concept which isn't even a blip on the edge of their radar. It's a hatred of just the kind of adventure being engaged in in Iraq. A hatred of exploitation and ravagement, a hatred of Western arrogance, corruption and greed. And how are we going to counter that hatred? By pummeling them into submission?

US forces out? As soon as is practicable, I'd say. America would be better off acting at a distance. They might just win a bit more trust that way.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

on silly statements, tetchy yanks and the Iraqi dead

The head of the federal police Mike Keelty has, it seems to me, received something of a dream run from the Oz media and I'd like to see that come to an end. Keelty was reported on the ABC as having claimed thatAustralia had become a safer place since the September 11 attacks, 'for you only have to look at the way people are prepared to report suspicious behaviour these days'.

Admittedly this would've been a truncated account of his remarks, but they run along familiar lines - we're more aware of the danger we're in, ergo we're safer.

I don't think so. After all, there comes a time when you can no longer ignore the danger signs - they're piling up as fast as the Iraqi dead. The idea that a future attack could involve nuclear weapons isn't too far-fetched.

I generally avoid the 9/11 commemoration hooha - after all, what does November 9 mean to me? I did find myself sucked into last night's program 'The Path to 9/11' though - a quite intriguing and critical American 2 part series, the first part of which I missed. It was apparently based on the 9/11 commission report, and has offended just about everyone in Yankeeland. The yanks are easily offended at the best of times of course, so it's worth reading the reviews of this one to get an idea of their national pressure sores and blind spots. I've little idea of the accuracy of it all of course, but really, all the talk of lawsuits and so on is such a wank. It's just a version of events, and surely no intelligent person would take it as literally true. Besides, so much will have been written and dramatised about this tragic but over-rated event (compare, for example, the current bload-soaked situation in Iraq) over the next few years that this one will be just another point on the spectrum. Of course, those responsible may have to face the consequences if they portray real people as saying or doing things counter to the spirit of what they really did say or do. All in all, though, I found it convincing enough in its overall muddledness. The portayal of Mahsoud, though, as a heroic, almost Christ-like pro-American, was an obvious piece of simplistic romanticism. I've no doubt that the real Mahsoud was far too smart to put too much trust in the Americans. He was an Afghani, after all.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

makes the head spin

Have been reading Galileo's Finger: ten great ideas in science, and have slowed right down towards the end - the last two chapters being on special and general relativity (great idea: spacetime is curved by matter) and arithmetic (great idea: if arithmetic is consistent then it is incomplete). My abstraction antennae in these fields have been blunted by time and lots of concrete.

The idea of the author (chemistry professor and science wizz Peter Atkins) is that the early chapters, properly understood, will prepare the ground for the increasingly abstract later ones. Maybe I haven't understood the early chapters as completely as I should have, but I've always had these problems, probably conceptual, when reading about spacetime, multi-dimensionality and almost anything with equations in it. Not that I don't take anything from these readings - I at least understand why the dodgy lynchpin of Euclidian geometry, the parallel postulate, is blown away by the idea that space is curved. However, Atkins' attempts to illustrate and pin down the properties of hypercubes and such are largely lost on me.

I usually get bogged down by simple consequences, and how intriguing they are - for example, gravitation and kids. One of the interesting things to observe about kids learning to throw a ball to you for the first time is that they aim it straight at you, believing - not particularly consciously of course, but very sensibly - that it will travel in a straight line in the direction of the force they've imparted until it reaches you. That the ball immediately starts to fall to earth because of the gravitational force acting on it is something that has to be learned, and it is quite counter-intuitive, something that adults don't notice because we so habitually compensate for gravitational effects, not only for the fact of the effect but, of course, for its degree. Learning to throw properly is really learning about how gravity works. Even learning to walk is essentially about gravity, and this can be extended to just about every physical activity on the micro-environment of our planet. It's just fascinating to think and dream on.


pavlov's cat