War in Iraq – 2008

Sometimes you can have a thought after a long time spent pondering the range of issues and perspectives surrounding whatever was your original problem or issue.

Sometimes you can have a thought almost as an independently created thing of its own – with (seemingly) no starting problem or issue – somehow the thought is “just there” whereas a moment ago neither it nor any obvious triggers for it, were.

And sometimes your thought just pops into your head a as a “paradigm moment”, where you see a completely different way of looking at what has become the mundane. Not as a blinding flash of understanding that must obviously lead down some newly pre-determined watershed pathway but more as a newly discovered door that has just a hint of exciting possibilities about it.

Verbosity and mysterious objectives aside, i can share with you my new thought because that way someone can point out who has already thought it before – or written about or spoke about it at some forum or another which i am not aware of. And that would be a good thing because it will prove that there is nothing new and that the world does already contain the seeds of the long term sustainability of the human race through the independent thoughts of we however-many billion sharers of Lucy’s genetic bequests.

My thought is about the “War in Iraq”. To be specific, the current (2008) version of the ongoing conflict in the country currently called Iraq. More specifically it is a thought about Australia’s involvement in this war. More specifically specific, i am thought-ing about the “Academic” approach to Australia’s involvement in this war and the plethora of papers, articles and books either directly or indirectly referencing the rights and wrongs of it.

My pen is in hand after putting down the book, “4 Classic Quarterly Essays on Australian Politics”…

STOP THE PRESS – i have an idea…

i just had a thought… if you are interested, it is set out in a bit more detail here…

Now, back to the task at hand… i was referencing this article in the said book (which i won’t do now because it is not my job to do so and i am way too inexperienced for the task, hehehe…) called “Breach of Trust”, when this previously referred to thought popped into my head. 

You see the article (essay) is a beautifully written piece questioning Australia’s involvement in the War in Iraq. i was following the logic quite nicely, enjoying the writer’s prose and style (while filing away for future pondering my areas of disagreement or lack of understanding) as Mr Gaita expressed consternation at the lack of morality displayed by Mr Howard as Australia’s Prime Minister responsible for orchestrating Australia’s involvement. While enjoying all of this it occurred to me that i hadn’t read a good article on “The War” that sufficiently addressed the issue from a “benefit-of-the-doubt” point of view.

As Australian’s (and a good deal of the article that i have read so far talks about what it may or may not mean to infer or cause to be done when you act as, “an Australian”) it is my guess that (more than most other nationalities – another gross generalisation by me but what-the-heck, i am writing this for me) Australians are apt to give a bloke / sheila the benefit-of-the-doubt.

If that is so, why has so little been written that gives Little Johnny a bit of credence as a person with some type of ability (regardless of integrity or morality assumptions) and consider what may have driven Australia’s involvement by driving the process from Little Johnny’s possible point of view?

Now, you could argue that this is Little Johnny’s task and obligation… but that would ignore the obvious – everything he writes will be torn to pieces and examined in detail for untruths or inconsistencies and (possibly more importantly) as a legally-trained fellow, Mr Howard would know that you never argue all your points – just the ones that you are being asked to address at any given point of time.

No, the role of considering possible justifications is the role of the finger pointer. If you are going to stand up there and say “not good enough”, you should have taken at least a moment to think through your own position/ bias/ perspective to see why you are objecting and pointing your finger in the first place…  And part of that should involve asking yourself what might be the issues/ ideology/ history/ objectives driving the person at the end of your finger.

So why have i not read any articles that are anti Mr Little Johnny Howard’s actions that have allowed a reasonable space to this position? (ignoring the obvious that i am simply not widely read enough or some similar aspect of self-doubt).

i would have thought that being “Australian” in thoughts and deeds and actions in an area as multi-faceted as foreign policy would involve a consideration of more than one aspect of morality.

To further the point, is it possible that LJ (for the sake of my poor writing hand i am using the abbreviation for Little Johnny) can be morally corrupt and misleading in one or more aspects of this (global) issue yet still be acting in a completely “Australian” way? (understanding the tautology behind using “completely Australian” when allowing for potentially “un-Australian” components).

Weirdly enough, i think that you can. In fact, i think that it is quite within Australia’s assumed form of “Australianism” that we do. It involves acceptance of a basic schism that divides humanity through the practical implementation of what any individual or group may consider “right” (or moral or just).

That implementation is going to be on the basis of two processes (or a mixture of these) – doing what is right or going what it takes to obtain the right outcome.

Incredibly simplistic but not a bad way of looking at the world.

It is the fundamental philosophical dilemma – what is right and what is wrong? Would it be right to do wrong for the right outcome? And then we have the mathematical approach to philosophy – trying to do what is right for a higher number than what that same thing is wrong for – or aiming at the highest end right outcomes (or the least wrong outcomes).

And after all these seemingly pointless points, here is the guts of what i am asking. “Is it right for Australia to continue to act a part in the War in Iraq?” If yes – in what capacity? If no – what will we do? Nothing at all? No logistics support? No co-operation (even non-military) that could have a military outcome somehow, somewhere?

How about humanitarianism? (a rather lengthy and satisfying “ism” word to write by hand). If we are not going to be involved in our token war effort (insert appropriate screeches and shouts of horror at my selection of the word “token”) then what obligations (if any) does that put upon us or do we voluntarily assume in terms of repatriation for our token effort and immoral war activities – especially in light of the basic humanitarian issues involved wherever there is a war?

So i guess my point must be that there appears to be an awful lot of hand wringing on assumed guilt and very little broad-based discussion on a massively multi-faceted global issue.

Most of the debate appears to centre upon the rights or wrongs of the global oil issue or the rights or wrongs of the reasons for starting the war but i confess to an eventual outlook that the bulk of debate is childish or little minded. That it is mostly finger pointing rather than constructive.

And this from a fellow who considers himself to spend most of the time in the “doing what is right” camp as opposed to the “doing what it takes for the right outcome” camp (and i will simply give an annoyed response to any attempts to sound-byte that statement by tinkering with the political implications of the word “right”).

Which leads quite nicely into the core of another (seemingly unrelated) issue that i think does impact on this debate – and that is the issue of “depth”. This is not an academically researched and vigorously stress-tested concept but simply my attempting to use a word to balance the nasty that i am seeking to identify.

That nasty is “tokenism” and Depth (using the childish capital letters to help reference my use of the term) is its counter-balance. Here is a hastily scribbled attempt at an eg.

“This war is wrong – and if it is wrong then our (Australia’s) involvement is wrong.”

“But there must be reasons.”

“But we were lied to – there were no weapons of mass destruction.”

“But Saddam Hussein was still a danger internationally.”

“He wasn’t supporting terror any more or less than most other Arab countries or figures of power.”

“America only used that as an excuse for gaining access to Iraq’s oil reserves.”

“Saddam was Iraq adn through him the Middle-East was destabilised. Maybe stabilise Iraq and there is just a bit more stability in the area?”

“Why not stabilise Palestinian/Israeli relations instead? It would have a larger and longer-lasting impact. George Bush just wanted to finish the job that his father did not finish.”

And so on…

On the basis of this kind of discussion Australia’s involvement is wrong because there were no weapons of mass destruction. LJ gave up Australia’s right to act independently and all the “wrong” reasons that led to the war in Iraq from a U.S. perspective now applied to Australia.

If the U.S. involvement is shown to be wrong then Australia’s involvement is wrong.

And so it goes.

i don’t see it that way. Here is a list of “what i think”, without any attempt at order or justification…

  • George Bush did not know how to react to the World Trade Centre bombing and so launched his “War on Terror” – an unwinnable war with no objective, no enemy that could be identified and no measurable outcomes that could forecast its eventual end (either as a victory or a defeat).
  • Saddam Hussein was a danger to Arabs of greater practical impact than the U.S. could dream of being. He was head of a Government that was ruthless to people in its own country, and in effect, operated as a group of groups run by one dominant entity. He presided over a war with Iran that left huge numbers of Arabs dead or maimed and helped to build the differences between Arabs rather than the common heritages, ideologies and values.
  • Governments in the UK, Australia (and maybe others but i am not as aware of the position in other countries) leapt on the chance to be seen to be doing something against a common enemy (the terrorists out there).
  • Fear and hysteria were fed through politics and media. The horror of the World Trade Centre and the lack of acceptance of independent thought restrained any open, honest and logical debate on the issues at hand globally.
  • The Australian Government (and all commentators) lost an opportunity when Bush declared that you are either “for or agin us” in his best take on a cowboy reaction to galvanising public opinion on his war on terror. At this point Australian politicians and commentators could (should) have said “yes, we are for you and if we can help in an area that we agree on then we will – but we don’t agree on everything and just because we don’t do what you want it does not follow that we are “agin” you… that is a pretty ugly flow of words but some more lucid diplomat could write it in a way that sounded good from LJ’s lips and palatable to a lost political cowboy.
  • That even if it appeared that the war was providing all the wrong outcomes then it was up to Australia as a political ally and contributor to stand up and say so – and to put forward outcomes that were more desirable or activities that were more likely to get those better outcomes.
  • There has been too much side-stepping around religious and “tribal” issues. Iraq is a country that is split down any number of factions and there needs to be far more rigorous public debate and provision of information on just how these factions stand and how they interact. Otherwise participants in this war are simply line-runners in a civil war. And from the Peloponnesian War to the French, English and American Civil Wars show us that they are often the most brutal and perverted conflicts.
  • The U.S. (especially) appears to measure this war often on an economical basis. If it is truly this costly (and i totally doubt this as it seems to me that costs are included that would be normal operational costs of maintaining the military anyway) then surely it is more cost-efficient to spend more money on simply boosting the standard of living of the Iraqi people? Ensuring basic society functioning? Google tells me that Iraq only has 27.5 million or so people in it. The amounts of money being spent on military issues suggest that even a small percentage of it addressed towards communication with Iraqi people and improving the lives of the locals could have a high impact.

Again, it is easier to point the finger and say “this is wrong” than it is to say “this is wrong because…” followed by “and these are ways it could be better”.


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