This is the yearly issue of Politics and Culture produced from Australia, the fourth since the journal started. The content of this issue much as for our others reflects the closeness of the historical ties politically, economically, culturally – and militarily – between Australia, and the United States and Britain. These have been foregrounded by the coincidental presence of the Australian Prime Minister John Howard in the United States at the time of 9/11/2001, and in Britain at the time of the suicide bombings of the public transport system in London in early July 2005. The Prime Minister used both occasions to make statements about the military and other support that Australia would continue to offer to both countries. Our editorial last year talked of the ways in which the conservative Liberal-National government from the 1990s seemed to be reviving 1950s mentalities and mindsets, and the indications now seem stronger.
The London Sunday Times of July 9 reported:
“A framework has been devised between Britain, America and Australia in which [Britain] will take the frontline role in Afghanistan”, a senior defence source told the newspaper. “The aspiration is that the Australians will take over command of Multi-National Division South East”…
Soon after, some senior military men in Australia expressed some dismay that this should be projected given that the Australian army was quite incapable of handling this. In fact, the British are apparently planning to bring home many of the 8500 troops there within three months and most of the rest six months later (Simon Walters, zmag.org, 14 July 05). The US and Britain seem fairly desperate to get a lot of their troops out soon – a leaked memo published in the Christian Science Monitor of 11 July 2005, reported plans to reduce Coalition forces in Iraq to 66 000 by mid-2006. (These currently total 160,000 including 138 000 US troops.) Maybe it isn’t so much the 1950s that we are being led back to as a re-run of some of the spectacular events of the failed invasion of Turkey some 35 years even before that.
There may not be much of an Australian army to combat the forces of darkness around the globe, despite the hubris displayed by Howard. There seems to be even less of an Iraqi army. Why would there be, when the nation is occupied – not so much by foreign armies as by multinational companies and their mercenaries – so the only position is of collaborator. Patrick Cockburn quotes Mahmoud Ottnar as having commented that the Iraqi army was full of `”ghost battalions” in which officers pocket the pay of soldiers who never existed or have gone home. “I know of at least one unit which was meant to be 2200 but the real figure was only 300 men… the US talks about 150,000 Iraqis in the Security Forces but I doubt if there are more than 40 000.” (15 July 2005) Due to the rise of grassroots resistance this is not surprising – in Iraq civilians and police have died at the rate of more than 800 a month between last August and May this year.
Keeping the troops in Iraq costs the USA US$5bn a month, although ‘reconstructing’ the damage they have done has earned US$9.1bn for Dick Cheney’s former firm Halliburton already and there is a new contract for another $5bn on the way from the American government.
Everyday life in Iraq is extremely difficult, with dysfunctional hospitals and communications, rationed electricity – and oil, even – and widespread corruption. Saul Landau wrote on 14 July 2005:
in March 2003 George W Bush ordered the US military to break Iraq. The Us arsenal destroyed the electricity and water supply, damage sewage treatment and other vital sanitary facilities and pulverised bridges, other public places and thousands of homes. On May 1 2003 dressed in a jump suit, Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln and announced “Mission accomplished.” His critics including myself laughed at such braggadocio. We misunderstood him. He had accomplished the standard post World War II US military mission. He broke another country… (z mag 14 July 2005)
The same view is expressed by Hani, a young Iraqi woman in her twenties: ‘They came to take they did not come to give. And now people are attacking each other and there is a struggle inside. It’s getting worse because you can’t repair what is broken inside.'(Provencher)
While the G8 was meeting discussing poverty and climate change -both things arguably centrally connected to the operations of global capitalism, another forum was going on almost unreported in the mainstream media. John Pilger quotes from Arundhati Roy’s statement at the Istanbul World Tribunal into the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the United States, Britain, Australia and others.
“We are here to examine a vast spectrum of evidence that has been deliberately marginalised and suppressed, its legality, the role of international institutions and major corporations in the occupation, the role of the media, the impact of weapons such as depleted uranium munitions, napalm and cluster bombs, the use and legitimising of torture…This Tribunal is an attempt to correct the record, to document the history of the war not from the point of view of the victors but of the temporarily anguished.” (http://www.zmag.org)
Arundhati Roy has historically researched what Churchill said in 1937:
I do not agree that a dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.
In 1969 then it was not too hard for Golda Meir to say: “Palestinians do not exist.”
Palestine like Iraq was once a secular bulwark in the Middle East. But just as Hamas has taken over from the PLO, so have fundamentalist currents triumphed over a large degree of freedom from religious coercion for women in pre-war Iraq.
Australia is also of course very much part of Asia, and is currently working on whether John Howard’s earlier opposition to signing a Treaty of Amity and Co-Operation with the members of ASEAN can be overcome in the interests of accessing a market of 500 million people with a combined output of $850bn (and notably the Chinese demand for uranium). The Treaty outlaws pre-emptive attacks on neighbouring countries. Howard “initially refused to sign the non-aggression pact because he said it was a relic of another era and would conflict with Australia’s other treaty obligations” – guess to whom (Australian 26 July 2005).
And meanwhile Condoleezza Rice has refused to attend the late July ASEAN Regional Forum in Laos in what looks like an American downgrading of relations with Asia (other than the current American participation in the resumption of talks about North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme on terms a little less dogmatic than insisting that North Korea – along with Iran, and Iraq a few years ago, was “the axis of evil”).
Australian foreign policy and alliances tied to the other side of the world have of course in the wake of the recent London bombings led to calls for much more stringent security, including the prospect of a national ID card, and greater powers for security forces. During the last phase of the Troubles, the IRA came close to blowing up the Tory Cabinet of Margaret Thatcher at Brighton, and damaging 10 Downing Street with a missile. Various Prevention of Terrorism Acts did nothing to prevent this, but how further measures are to be introduced, including asking Universities to report research applicants they suspect are linked to terrorism. In the USA, the Patriot Act was rushed through in 2001, although the 1998 anti-terorist legislation offered ample powers. These have since 2001 mainly been used to intimidate individuals, notably Attorney Lynne Stewart this year. This is also beginning to happen in Australia which lacks such draconian laws, with a student at Monash University (Australian, white and a Muslim convert) studying terrorism being interviewed by the Federal Police. The Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee has said they will not countenance government interference with academic work and its CEO John Mullarvey says, ‘The same goes for imposition of security in Universities: we are not in a police state.’ However, John Howard is reported in the same article as commenting: ‘Our legal systems are very similar and we intend to look very carefully at what the British do and if there is something in that for Australia then we will be very happy to pick it up’ (Australian 27 July 2005, 33).
Meanwhile in Iraq life remains a daily terror of struggle for survival, let alone the ability to rebuild and reconstruct their lives, for much of the population.