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Time to pull out

March 26th, 2004

In a recent comments thread, Derrida Derider asks about views on Latham’s proposal to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq. Like DD, I’ve been an advocate of the “you broke it, you own it” view, that, having invaded Iraq, the members of the Coalition had an obligation to stay and restore order. However, in the light of US plans to maintain the status of an occupying power indefinitely, I think the time has come to pull out, unless some more legitimate basis for the presence of our troops can be fashioned.

The central requirement is that the Coalition forces in Iraq (including US forces) would be answerable to some combination of an Iraqi government and the United Nations. Since I see no prospect that the US would even contemplate such a possibility, I think it’s time for our troops to leave.

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  1. observa
    March 26th, 2004 at 20:56 | #1

    Does a commitment to Iraq until the installation of an elected govt really mean indefinitely? If the elected govt asked the occupiers to leave and they don’t, then I think this statement holds water. It may be fair to say, that until democratic elections, a go or stay edict, by the interim appointed authority, lacks any really solid legitimacy. This would also be true if such edicts were to be given to a UN occupier that had appointed the authority.

    This fuzziness of legitimacy, is what the COW needs to clear up, although I think it’s a practical impossibility. In legal terms, there appears to be little precedent, to be guided by. I guess it raises the bigger question, as to whether the Iraqi interim authority is ‘legitimate’ or, not until such time as a democratic govt is elected. We should all be aware of John’s dilemma here and why he feels the need to cut and run. IF he(or the UN) recognise the responsibility of the US to stay the course until democracy, it has ramifications for the legitimacy of all non-democratic govts. This democrat has seen the light and now, and more than ever, believes, we must stay the course until democracy, or at least until a UN prepared to implement this, does.

    I did raise this democratic UN legitimacy issue on John’s Monday Message Board and noone took it up. You have to now. It’s basically the question-Should a Saddam(in power) have the same vote in the UN as a Blair? This question goes to the very heart of UN legitimacy. John has sensed the danger of an absolute legitimacy. Is he an absolute democrat? What about you lot?

  2. observa
    March 27th, 2004 at 08:19 | #2

    In the cold light of morn, my comments above are somewhat disingenuos toward John. John of course holds the high moral ground, for opposing intervention in Iraq, on WMD grounds, which he correctly perceived as not being there, or at the very least not being the threat the COW govts purported them to be, at the time.

    I realize now, my comments should more correctly be addressed to Jimmy the Greek, who I was chatting with at knock off time yesterday. With the split between Latham and Howard on troop withdrawal, I asked Jimmy what he thought Australia should be doing on this point. Now Jimmy was a mild pro-war man and I anticipated he would take the stance, that some anti-war people have now, that we have an obligation to stay the course, until a democratic govt is elected. To my surprise, he said we should bring them home in June with the handover to the Iraqi Provisional Authority. His view was, we have done our bit and it’s up to other countries, or the UN to do it after that. We shouldn’t be concerned that we are being seen as afraid of terrorists, because other countries know, Australia has never been afraid to do its bit around the world. Essentially, we have been lucky to date with no troop casualties and now it’s time to pull out and leave it to others, (whoever they may be as I thought of the Spanish) As far as Jimmy was concened, Australia had more right to pull out than the Spanish, because we had been there right from the start, in the most danger. Now with the Spanish, Latham, Jimmy and the good professor all taking the same line, the pro-war observa, was feeling somewhat besieged. Where was the truth in all of these stances now?

    The observa could always defer to the superior wisdom of the UN, in these matters, but he has raised serious reservations about that body’s legitimacy. To understand that, you only have to imagine a 3 state world, where Australia is one state with 2/3 of the worlds population, with the other 1/3 evenly divided between a Mugabe and a Saddam regime. Bob Carr and Steve Bracks have some problem with this scenario of late, it seems. For me, the current makeup of the UN, means I may sometimes have to defer to coalitions of the willing and the morally justified. In Iraq I was prepared to do just that.

    As far as Iraq goes, I was personally not one to believe solely in the WMD reasoning. For me it was also very much the beacon of light reasoning. However, if my allies, used largely the WMD argument, for what I perceived at the time was an over-reliance on the KISS principle, then I must rightly be lambasted with them, for that. However, many of these critics now accept the need to take the Poles stance in Iraq now. Unlike us, the Spanish I should note, are free to pull out of Iraq for their own security reasons. They were never engaged in the ‘original sin’, if that’s what we were guilty of. The fact that they have been engaged in any humanitarian rebuilding work in Iraq, is a credit to them and we should all be grateful for it. I would strongly suggest to Jimmy, Latham and John that we have no such luxury. We are Poles now because of our democratic govt’s prior choice. We have to stay the course until a democratic handover.

    In proposing this stance as the only choice Australians have, I should point out that if you believe in democracy, you have to accept its rights as well as its responsibilities. Simply put, democracies must inherit the sins of the past. If you don’t believe that, you believe that Liberal govts can wash their hands of responsibility for petrol sniffing deaths and youth suicides in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara lands. After all, self determination was a Labor project, so they can fix it when they get re-elected next time. This reasoning is as bankrupt as believing we should have reinstalled Saddam, Uday and Qsay, the moment we discovered there was no threat from WMD.

    As a sometimes flawed, but committed democrat, I urge Latham, Jimmy, John and others to reconsider their stance. Australians should all be Poles now. I note this morning that Iraq’s Barzin is calling on you too.

  3. gordon
    March 27th, 2004 at 09:46 | #3

    Pull Australian troops out as fast as humanly possible. The only reason they were sent was to placate the US Govt., and very little good it has done us. Australia has not been given an oil well to call its own, and has been thoroughly dudded in the free trade agreement. There is no point in trying to “be friends” with the US Govt. They offer no rewards. At least in the eighteenth century a country which offered its soldiers as mercenaries (as the Prussians often did) got paid.

  4. March 27th, 2004 at 15:34 | #4

    DONT LET THE DEMOCRATIC PERFECT BE THE ENEMY OF THE CIVIC GOOD
    Pr Q shifts the goal posts on what constitutes an acceptable political settlement in Iraq:

    The central requirement is that the Coalition forces in Iraq (including US forces) would be answerable to some combination of an Iraqi government and the United Nations. Since I see no prospect that the US would even contemplate such a possibility, I think it’s time for our troops to leave.

    A little while back, Pr Q was arguing that the central substantive defect of the Gulf War was that it misdirected military effort against terrorism, and/or encouraged terrorist uprisings.
    That is certainly the case, but its too late to cry about spilt milk.
    Now Pr Q says that the central substantive defect of the Iraqi Peace is the US’s failure to provide a fully worked out, socially-inclusive and time-constrained committment (Road Map) to a legitimate Iraq government (defined as one with:
    UN supervision
    Iraqi civic representation
    The fallacy in Pr Q’s construction is evident once made explicit, which is to assume that the Iraqi war is over. The Iraqi war is clearly not over so long as a significant fraction of the Baghdad Suunis reject the Basra Shiite majority. The continuing efforts of fundamentalists to stir up sectarian conflict and residual Baathists to reimpose fascism is an existence proof that this problem remains.

    Until that moment comes, either through exhaustive war (including ethnic cleansing) or inclusive peace, the Iraqi state will continue to be perilous and parlous condition. Any kind of Allied withdrawal prior to that time would leave the field open for “the worst to get to the top”. The most aggressive Alpha males would use brute force to impose secular fascist, or sectarian fundamentalist, rule. This would be adverse to the moral valency of Iraqi civil society and would also pose another grave strategic threat to Western interests.

    An analogy is the prolonged occupation of Germany and Japan after WWII, which lasted almost a decade. THis occcurred in the absence of a fascist insurgency, a detailed road map to democracy and with out the compication of a global terrorist movement. Yet no one now says that Eisenhower and MacArthur did a bad job.

    Futhermore, a pull-out from Iraq now will be interpreted as a reward to Al Quaeda’s terrorist actions, independent of whether or not the Iraq war was a good idea or poorly executed. Al Quaeda do not do exit polls, a withdrawal from Iraq would be interpreted as a victory for Al Quaeda, not a movement towards the still-tenuous goal of Iraq democracy. (and a premature US pull-out would imperil the fledgling democracy in any case).

  5. Blair Fairman
    March 27th, 2004 at 17:05 | #5

    Rightly or wrongly, Spain’s move to withdraw troops from Iraq is seen as a reaction by some as a reaction to the Madrid bombings.

    Likewise, if the ALP was to change policy after some new terrorist attack on Australia (or our interests) the same people would then suggest it was a reaction to the terrorist attacks, therefore caving into the terrorists.

    By making a choice now, when we have not been attacked, the ALP should avoid being accused of reacting to terrorists. Surely waiting for an attack would a far worst policy. Therefore, I think Latham actually got the timing right, even if I am unsure of the choice.

  6. March 27th, 2004 at 17:07 | #6

    “no one now says that Eisenhower and MacArthur did a bad job”? Wow.

    They made the best of a bad job, but nobody would claim they did a good job – that probably wasn’t humanly possible (and they can’t take credit for the human capital advantages they had to work with, either – just for not wasting them, which is actually quite a compliment considering).

    Any appearance of a good job is an artefact of who wrote the histories – the very groups created and/or nurtured by the process.

  7. John Quiggin
    March 27th, 2004 at 17:35 | #7

    Assuming effort was reallocated from Iraq to Afghanistan/Pakistan, Al Qaeda wouldn’t have much time for celebrations – they’d be too busy digging more tunnels.

  8. March 27th, 2004 at 19:00 | #8

    Again Pr Q misses the point

    Assuming effort was reallocated from Iraq to Afghanistan/Pakistan, Al Qaeda wouldn’t have much time for celebrations – they’d be too busy digging more tunnels.

    Assuming effort was reallocated from Iraq to Afghanistan, Al Quaeda would not need to build any more tunnels, they would be too busy whooping it up, exploiting the anarchy unloosed by a premature withdrawal from Iraq.

    An Allied withdrawal would create a jackpot of 100 billion barrels of oil for the worlds itinerant Islamacists to converge upone. Think Afghanistan in the eighties, but turbo-charged the fundamentalist ideology and terrorist methods with unlimited oil revenue.

    The Left wants to make the same mistake as the Right, turning the Gulf Security crisis into an opportunity to settle political scores with ideological enemies. Its not about punishing the US, or trying to play catch up in Afghanistan, its about preventing Iraq from turning from a tactical error into a strategic catastrophe.

  9. March 27th, 2004 at 19:01 | #9

    Again Pr Q misses the point

    Assuming effort was reallocated from Iraq to Afghanistan/Pakistan, Al Qaeda wouldn’t have much time for celebrations – they’d be too busy digging more tunnels.

    Assuming effort was reallocated from Iraq to Afghanistan, Al Quaeda would not need to build any more tunnels, they would be too busy whooping it up, exploiting the anarchy unloosed by a premature withdrawal from Iraq.

    An Allied withdrawal would create a jackpot of 100 billion barrels of oil for the worlds itinerant Islamacists to converge upone. Think Afghanistan in the eighties, but turbo-charged the fundamentalist ideology and terrorist methods with unlimited oil revenue.

    The Left is flirting with the same mistake made by the Right, turning the Gulf Security crisis into an opportunity to settle political scores with ideological enemies. Its not about punishing the US et al, or trying to play catch up in Afghanistan, its about preventing Iraq from turning from a tactical error into a strategic catastrophe.

  10. March 27th, 2004 at 19:07 | #10

    Split the country in three.

  11. James Farrell
    March 27th, 2004 at 20:33 | #11

    There is a pretty strong moral obligation to stay in Iraq and help fix the place up. A change of government would not remove that obligation. Overriding reasons to withdraw would be: (1) the prognosis is hopeless and any Australian deaths would be a quixotic waste of life; (2) the Americans are imposing a strategy that is both counterproductive and in breach of promises they made when inviting us to join the COW (it only took me 20 seconds to figure out this one).

    Either of these overriding reasons would need to be stated very explicitly and argued convincingly. It bothers me a lot that Latham hasn’t done this: it looks awfully like populist politics. If Acronyma from Adelaide is right, it may work this time, but it’s a very worrying sign. And I suspect Downer is right that Latham didn’t consult very widely. If he makes a habit of this kind of manoeuvre he will soon lose the authority and credibility he has managed – to the surprise of most of us – to build up so far.

  12. eric bloodaxe
    March 28th, 2004 at 00:33 | #12

    What gives you the right to determine what system the Iraqis or anyone else, should use to govern themselves. Would you like the UN to say that the present system in Oz is not democratic and force you into a system which they thought better?

  13. observa
    March 28th, 2004 at 06:47 | #13

    Well Eric, I should add that Jimmy the Greek also thought that pulling out of Iraq in June, might allow Iraqis to engage in a civil war, similar to Greece after WWII. He seemed to adhere to the view that a country hasn’t ‘earned its stripes’, without this mandatory process. Being a born and bred Australian, I don’t adhere to that view, but to be fair to Jimmy he saw civil war in Greece as a necessary evil to eschew Communism for democracy, in his birthplace. I doubt that the Left in Australia would share that noble aim, but it would be more comfortable with the civil war bit in Iraq. That’s why it prefers to cut and run with an interim, appointed Iraqi authority rather than a democratic govt of Iraqi’s choice. Normally the Left would scream ‘puppet govt’ for any such US(really Coalition of the Willing) appointed govt, but the prospect of leaving Iraq half done and civil war ensuing, is too tantalising for this. ‘We told you so!’if it eventuates. You see, if the US leaves behind a democratic Iraqi state and civil war ensues, that stance is not so attractive anymore.

    Eric, what gives the COW in Iraq the right to leave Iraq with a democratic govt? Simply because they believe in democracy themselves, as does the UN up to a point(remember how nations vote in the UN Eric, despite a national gerrymander and lack of voting in many member countries?)If you don’t believe in that Eric, you may as well put Saddam and Co back in power, after not finding WMD, say oops and pull out. In the Left’s blind opposition to the US, it would not surprise me if it were to advocate this. In the meantime, leaving Iraq with a puppet govt, will do them very nicely.

  14. March 28th, 2004 at 10:14 | #14

    Observa, democracy has three weak points, points of incompleteness. One is that it does not legitimise – it can only transmit, not create, legitimacy.

    So we don’t get anywhere by claiming anything on the back of implementing democracy. There is no such thing as democratic legitimacy. And yes, there would have been a better result over time if the Saddam Hussein dynasty had come to be accepted as legitimate by the locals, in a generation or two, since it would have co-evolved into less oppressiveness. That option is not available to an unaccepted democracy, or to a appointment of some new or reinstalled strong man without the rough edges rubbed off. The split it in three approach seems least worst, provided only that each of the parts is handled in a way suited to its circumstances. (I’ll write more on this later if anyone asks.)

  15. observa
    March 30th, 2004 at 00:28 | #15

    P.M.L.
    Fire away, I’m anyone.

  16. April 3rd, 2004 at 19:44 | #16

    OK, you asked for it.

    The easiest place to start was how they should have ended the war, stipulating that they were going to have one.

    US history has misled them into seeking complete victories, since at least their civil war, so they went for taking over all of Iraq; they would have been better off leaving Saddam Hussein with a rump state and ensuring he was kept within limits by a controlling resident – old fashioned colonialism. Then they would have had co-operation in setting up the north and south on a new basis, not biting off more than they could chew, and the centre would have remained contained (this matches the historical division, e.g. under the Turks). Incidentally, colonialism was largely a response to disorder and/or tyranny – not mere greedy aggrandisement. The USA, being unable to accept that, is reinventing empire while in a process of denial.

    But a rump state is not what happened. Still, a separate north and south would make sense, so let’s see how before considering the rest.

    The south around Basra is able to be handled the way the USA currently wishes to handle all of Iraq; that is both because of popular sentiment (and the way it is more unified) and the fact that it is all so much more manageable in size and accessible logistically. That would leave a Shiite republic, and the quicker the less chance of an alignment with Iran.

    The north (around Mosul) is largely Kurdish, and de facto autonomous, but needs a more definite basis than that. It’s this that makes a single Iraq impractical, by the way. What is wrong with just going ahead, formalising it? Other minorities, lack of institutional history, and surrounding countries with ethnic minority problems. There is a standard solution from 19th century Europe: gradually bring the area to independence, while allowing time for minorities to exchange themselves slowly, with compensation (i.e. not ethnic cleansing but with the same desirable parts as exchange of minorities). Doing it fast is what makes trouble, but it works if you do it slowly with an “optant” system to grandfather out remnants. That lets Syria, Turkey and Iran use a Kurdistan to eliminate their own Kurdish problems rather than inflame them, and it ensures that the Kurds don’t oppress the Armenians, Turcomans, Arabs, Yezidis and what not (they were worse on the Armenians than the Turks, nearly a century ago). It will take around a generation.

    That leaves the centre. That cannot now be a rump state, but a puppet state under a strong man should be created; he should be a Shiite, so as to need outside support. Outside interference should be confined to restoring his dynasty whenever it falls over, and never mind if the current dynast lasts. That will gradually exhaust resistance with no great cost to outsiders, and over generations it can be evolved into constitutional monarchy with democratic substance as well as form, but it has to start without local support – since what the locals now want is precisely what we need to wean them off. And this is why it was a mistake to eliminate the old regime, and the kings before them, since that just resets the clock to needing a new, fresh, unsoftened dynasty. Be damned to wanting democracy, you have to work with what you have and it is logically impossible to have democracy when the people don’t want it anyway. You have to grow it in, and what will take Kurdistan one generation will take three around Baghdad. The USA should never have destabilised the British settlement in the 1950s – they made today’s world order.

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