Friday, October 22, 2004

The strategic cost of imperial hubris

Rising oil prices, the ongoing conflict in Iraq and the increasing threat of terrorism are consequences of what the Flood Report described as insufficient consideration given to “the strategic cost implications for Australia, issues involved in post-Saddam Iraq and the impact of military action on the safety of Australia and Australians.”

Such important strategic considerations are certainly the ultimate responsibility of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. If John Howard is so “strong on national security”, why did he consistently ignore all warnings and refuse to consider the likely consequences of invading Iraq? Did his commitment to Bush prevail over his duty to Australia?

On numerous occasions before the invasion, journalists asked the Prime Minister if he would commit Australian troops to war in Iraq without UN authority. Howard dismissed these questions as entirely hypothetical. That seemed to typify Howard’s attitude throughout the whole affair, willful indifference and blind obstinacy.

According to informed sources, intelligence officials from the Office of National Assessments warned Howard, prior to the invasion, that war in Iraq would enflame extremism and increase terrorist recruitment. But when Howard gave a televised national address to announce we were at war, he assured Australians that “far from our action in Iraq increasing the terrorist threat, it will make it less likely that a terrorist attack will be carried out against Australia.”

When Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty, warned that Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war had increased the threat of terrorism, he was accused of “comforting the enemy” by Foreign Minister Downer. Prime Minister Howard reprimanded the Police Chief for making a “blunder” and demanded that he revise his statements.

More recently, Dennis Richardson, head of the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), told reporters that the “Iraq war has provided al Qa`ida with propaganda and recruitment opportunities”, that the occupation of Iraq was now being used as a “justification and rationalisation for terrorism” and that it had “added to the number of terror groups and lead to further linkages between them”. He also said that Australia's involvement in the Iraq war had “increased the risk to Australian interests overseas”.

Now the impenitent Prime Minister points out that “it’s easy to be wise after the event”, which is quite true. But does that mean he found it difficult to be wise before the event? Was it really so hard to envisage the death and destruction, the chaos and conflict that would result from an unprovoked attack on Iraq? I don't think so.

It was obvious that such an attack on Iraq would destabilize the entire region, enflame anti-western sentiment, inspire jihad, spread violence and mayhem, jeopardize oil supplies, undermine the Western alliance, give impetus to the Sino-Russian accord and compromise the authority and credibility of the United States, the UN Security Council and the statutes of International Law.

I personally wrote dozens of letters to government and opposition members and newspapers, raising these concerns and calling attention to the likely repercussions. For example, on March 11, 2003, I sent an email to the Foreign Minister accusing him of “reckless disregard for the consequences of armed aggression” and “actively promoting terrorism by condoning the use of violence for political purposes.”

“Your support for war will undermine our national security and expose Australians to further terrorism by inciting enemies and provoking retaliation. You are pursuing a political agenda that is economically irresponsible, legally dubious, morally corrupt and profoundly destructive.” These seemed to me, reasonable apprehensions.

Like so many others, my letters were completely ignored by those who claim to represent us. Now they want us to believe they had no idea it would turn out like this. Well I’m not convinced, I suspect they know what they’re doing and would prefer we didn’t. I think they want to control Iraq’s oil and tender its economy to US corporations.

But this mad grab for wealth and power is failing miserably, the occupiers are tied down and stretched thin, the resistance is lethal, widespread and gathering strength. Iraq has become a vast training ground for Islamic jihadists, with funding and support pouring in from Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan.

The occupiers have no exit strategy, they are entangled in a conflict of their own making with no way out, every day the cost in life and treasure mounts with little to show in return. So I ask you, where is the strategic gain in destabilizing the Persian Gulf region, which supplies 25% of the world's oil?

Who benefits from record high oil prices? Big oil producing countries like Russia, Saudia Arabia and Iran. The oil majors, Texan oil men and pipeline companies like Halliburton. But what about the economy, what about agriculture and the transport sector, what about the humble consumer?

Who benefits from the global war on terror? The Pentagon, private military corporations and arms manufacturers like MPRI, Lockheed Martin and the Carlyle Group. And of course, the intelligence and security establishment. But what about Afghan hill tribes, Iraqi farmers or Colombian peasants?

Howard is devoted to the Bush White House, which represents the interests of big oil and the weapons industry. These people profit from conflict and instability. They are clearly a threat to humanity and should be dealt with accordingly.

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