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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

The cat is out of the bag « Previous | |Next »
February 11, 2003

I missed this article by Paul Sheehan when it was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald. It is an important piece in both a negative and positive sense.

Negatively this text works within the conventional terms of the debate: between Howard's position of we have to go it alone with the US and its allies and Crean's we will go to war with the UN mandate. What Sheehan says is that the majority of Australians who oppose the Bush Administration's war should not congratulate ourselves about our moral superiority.

"All those offering a variety of peaceful, patient, reasonable and bloodless options should at least have the honesty to acknowledge that if Saddam Hussein retains power in this stand-off with George Bush, the anti-war movement will have delivered a de facto victory for a psychotic, genocidal tyranny. And not for the first time."

Paul, only a minority of those Australians who oppose the Bush Administration's war are, as you put it, 'moral virgins in this debate who pronounce themselves "against war", and who rail against American arrogance' and avert their gaze from the horrors of the Iraqi regime. The denigration of "prudent, peace-loving people who are against military interventions and American imperialism"---they have blood of the Iraqi victims of Saddam Hussein's repression on their hands----is unwarrented.

Why not? Well, there is a third way that trangresses the narrow limits of the public debate. It is vigilent containment of Iraq under a UN mandate because the Iraqi regime is not a substantive threat to Australia. It is vigilant containment to keep Saddam Hussein in a Box. It has its advocates in Australia There may be other ways, Mr Howard.

And the positive bit? Its the cat that was let out of the bag---Indonesia has been targeted by the Howard Government as a militant Islamic state hostile to Australia and may need to be taken out with the help of powerful friends. This has been gestured to in public debate. eg in Laurie Brereton's interesting Shroud over Guernica speech in the Iraq debate in federal parlaiment. Brereton says:

"Australian involvement in a longer-term US-occupation of Iraq has the potential to cause significant international and regional problems for us. Adverse reactions will likely follow in both the Middle East and South East Asia."

This 'regional problem' is what Sheehan starts to spell out. He says:

'Don't think the Prime Minister is not caught by this dilemma. He knows his political capital is leaking away. As one of his closest advisers told me this week: "The PM is losing sleep over this. He knows this policy doesn't have the feathers to fly with the public. But he thinks it's the right thing to do. He's thinking long-term. If one day we ever have to face a militant Indonesia, we've only got one ally who can do the job."'

Sheehan then adds:

'As if on cue, Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Hassan Wirajuda, speaking to the ABC on Tuesday, warned: "You know, it's very easy for the masses in the Islamic world to conclude that this war against Iraq is, in the end, a war against Muslims."'

For the Howard Government it is a clash of civilizations.

In the light of that insight into the Australian Government's geopolitics we should treat Howar'ds claim thathe US has a very strong case with a grain of salt. Kim Beazley put his finger on it: the strategy of the Howard Government in our region is a military one when it should be a political one.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:19 AM | | Comments (2)


I'm glad you pointed these statements out. It is v worrying when people start to think in terms of possible future enemies. It's a reversion to yellow-peril thinking. Given you either have to live with others or face the consequences of a militarist type response a la Washington, the prospects of short term improvement in relations with our neighbours is not good. Howard's personal instincts are atavistic and fearful.

I concur. Interesting how Beazley's comments haven't really been picked up and discussed. Or have I missed the commentary in trhe press?