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May 27, 2004

Iraq: fogging the distinctions

Despite a big speech recently the imperial presidency is not travelling well:

It is becoming harder and harder for Bush to make the case that the war in Iraq has made America safer.

It is easy to understand why the imperial presidency is not travellling well after the Abu Ghraib photos. Even Newsweek has become critical of the few bad apples rhetoric from the White House. It recognized that fear and humiliation were used to break prisoners' resistance to interrogation, that the army privates had been taught the techniques of torture, and that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft had signed off on a secret system of detention and interrogation that opened the door to such methods.

The rhetoric of the imperial presidency does not match the reality. For instance, the rhetoric of handing over sovereignty to Iraq does not mean that Iraq becomes a democracy, or that it have free elections, or that the new Irag government tells the Americans to go. Sovereignty does not mean the Iraqi people are free as a nation to decide their own fate. No way.

It means something different. It means a client regime. And Australia will go along talking the fog to blur the distinction between occupation and sovereignty. It accepts the scenario of the client regime that acts in US interests to help the US exert its hegemony over the Persian Gulf region through military control. That hegemony needs to defend the dependency of the industrialised world on Gulf oil.

There will be lots of fog on this, just like there has been on the use of terror in the Abu Ghraib prison. Australia knew. It kept quiet and denied all responsibility. We knew nothing and had no involvement. The reality was otherwise. Is the public emotion one of shame at Australia's complicity and denial?

So Iraq is starting to hurt John Howard and his government's standing in the electorate is begining to slide. This slide is more noticeable with Bush and Blair. Their publics are souring on the war and its prosecution. The defence of it begins to look like a circling of the wagons.
I missed listening to the House of Representatives yesterday as I was on the road. Looking at the newspapers this morning I detect the signs of desperation in the ranks of the Government about those photos. Howard thundered away about there being

"...absolutely no suggestion whatsoever that Australian soldiers or other military personnel serving in or around Iraq have been involved in any way in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners which we have seen portrayed in the media. Defence has publicly stated that no Australian Defence Force member witnessed any mistreatment of detainees".

Nobody is saying that. The complicity is not about involvement in, or witnessing the torture. It is about the Government being told about it, staying silent, and going along with the practice.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at May 27, 2004 10:01 AM

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I saw a bit of Parl't with the sound down the other night and it was instructive. Howard can't make his face relax any more and so we are deprived of that trademark mad chipmunk grin, all teeth and pop-eyes, along with the calm, wise, sober, solemn JH we've grown to tolerate. His face now runs the gamut from apprehension to outright fear and it's not a pretty sight. It reminds me of opp front bench in the 90s when Keating was feeling predatory.

But this time the predator isn't haranguing or ridiculing them.. he's just sitting there, looking at them coolly, appraisingly, occasionally amusedly, but always appearing to have their measure. 'Appearing' being the operative word.

Howard has his precepts (expedience, spin, fealty to capital and power) and his record (GST was to be the centrepiece, Iraq forever now) to keep him company, along with the prospect of more surgical strikes on his honesty in the election run up.

Latham has his precepts (the ladder of opportunity, more independence in fo-po, education as social glue and economic driver) and no record to speak of so far in Govt., plus the prospect of an electio against a PM who smellls fouler by the day.

Is it any wonder he looks confident and Howard looks worried? He can't get complacent though.. who knows what's around the corner or what use Howard would be willing to put it to?

Part of the JH demeanour now I think expresses a dawning understanding that he's blown his chance at a pass mark from history, let alone the laurels he was after not so long ago. An exit last term would have left him in safe if fairly unexciting territory, but he's now eternally linked to the disaster of Iraq and this ugly rash of US imperialism.

And in his dotage he'll rail at them as 'black armband' historians and some serious bespectacled academic called something like Shuttlecock will reconstruct the Howard years as a golden age of tolerance, relaxation and alertness.

Posted by: Glenn Condell at May 30, 2004 11:36 AM

The body language is very instructive isn't it.Howard's body language says that he is fighting for his political life.It's trench warfare.Soon it will be hand-to hand combat.

But the ALP is not travelling that well. I saw Nelson crucify Macklin on higher education.

She took the punches but Nelson has effectively neutralized that issue showing how mean they are in finding the money to rollback increased fees.(a miserable $15 million instead of a more realistic $300-400m.

And Julia Gillard is not making that much headway against Abbott on health. Last time I saw her do her big performance in Parliament (March) it was a personal attack on Abbott's character with few arrows directed at policy.It was all politics and no health.

And Kelvin Thompson lets Kemp get away with bloody murder. Shocking.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at May 30, 2004 12:23 PM

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