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An interesting comparison

June 13th, 2004

In view of the full court press being applied by the US Administration with respect to Mark Latham’s promise to pull Australian troops out of Iraq by Christmas, it’s interesting to note that the Dutch government is not subject to similar pressure to “stay the course”, even though it has just announced a pullout date of March 15, 2005, less than 90 days after Latham’s. This is an extension of a previous commitment that expires on June 30, but the government, part of the Coalition of the Willing, sounds more like Latham than Howard.

Dutch troops will leave Iraq in March 2005 as the Dutch government will not renew their mandate after an eight-month extension, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said Friday.

“We are linking our stay to the formation of a new government in Iraq,” Mr. Balkenende told a news conference. “Eight months and that’s that …In extraordinary circumstances the mandate could be extended for another 10 days or so after March 15, but in principle the troops will leave on that date”

Meanwhile, the Dutch government has lost ground to the left in EU elections while Blair’s Labor government has lost ground to everybody finishing a dismal third in local elections.

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  1. Harry Clarke
    June 13th, 2004 at 16:17 | #1

    I assume that as a Labor supporter John you are being put in the uncomfortable position of having to defend the indefensible. Labor had an argument worth considering (though I think wrong) against going into Iraq and most of the us have strong views against the hideous abuses that unsupervised US troops engaged in while in Iraqi jails. But with moves toward the formation of a democratic government in Iraq and with opposition from pro-Sadaam anti-democratic loyalists in Iraq how does it help the situation for Latham to preannounce a withdrawal by Xmas. The word ‘preannounce’ is crucial. Who but the terrorists will gain comfort from such moves?

    How will this commitment by Latham help the people of Iraq? Who apart from a bunch of anti-democratic, terrorist killers will it help?

    The new Iraqi government have asked us to stay as have the Americans. The UN resiolution over the past week has legitimised the US effort in seeking a resolution in Iraq. Our numerical contribution as a fighting force is numerically small but of course the politics of us remaining until effective self-government is achieved in Iraq are pre-eminent and important.

    I assume the Dutch have made their exit less vocally than Latham’s ‘before Xmas’ policy.

    The Americans will not destroy the alliance we have with them on the basis of Labor’s poorly-conceived moves but nor will they forget an ill-timed retreat from a commitment that had been entered into by a democratically-elected Australian Government at a time where commitment and resolution were the difficult though sensible policy choices.

  2. John Quiggin
    June 13th, 2004 at 16:29 | #2

    Harry, it’s clear that opposition to the presence of US forces in Iraq is not confined to “pro-Saddam, anti-democratic loyalists”. Opinion polls suggest that the majority of Iraqis want US forces out (overwhelmingly so, if you don’t count the Kurds).

    The best policy is early elections, and an early end to the occupation. If an elected government asked for troops to stay, things might be different, but, looking at the position of people like Sistani and the even greater hostility among the Sunni, that seems most unlikely.

    Finally, if you think the US troops in Abu Ghraib were “unsupervised” you should follow the links in the post above.

  3. Harry Clarke
    June 13th, 2004 at 19:12 | #3

    In the last couple of days two members of the new Iraqi government have been assassinated. A call for early elections is a bit hopeful isn’t it? There is a need at least for an interim occupation until the situation stabilises and the provisional government is in a position to take over key administrative tasks (defence/ policing) from the Coalition.

    You may be right on the opinion poll evidence (its hard to imagine how sensible opinion poll information can be obtained in Iraq today) but I cannot see advantage for the people of Iraq in a withdrawal of troops now. The winners from withdrawal would be those reluctant to accept the judgement of the democratic process. The winners from genuine free elections would be those groups with support.

    Moreover a respected US ally pre-announcing withdrawal now sends out exactly bthe wrong signals to those seeking to thwart the democratic process.

    Mr Latham should take advantage of the UN resolution and unambiguously (and without much loss of face) abandon this ill-advised policy.

    I think evidence on the complicity of central command in the Abu Grahib prison episodes is still coming in. I wasn’t trying to minimise the
    impact of these shameful deeds. They were criminal acts and counterproductive from the viewpoint of US aims in Iraq.

  4. Brian Bahnisch
    June 13th, 2004 at 22:52 | #4

    I found this article by Phyllis Bennis interesting, particularly where she states that: “United Nations special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, after the interim government put itself into office, stated that there should be negotiations with the armed opposition, which he said includes “people who are not terrorists, who are respectable, genuine Iraqi patriots.”

    She clearly believes that the membership of the interim government was cooked up between Bremer and co and the Governing Council.

    She believes that the UN role amounted to a ‘bluewash’.

    I heard a radio analysis the other day (BBC, I think) that said the Kurds were very close to a walkout, because they had not been given the ministries they were promised and were told they could never have the presidency or the prime ministership. They were afraid of Shia dominance and the prospect of a swing towards sharia law.

    The Shiites OTOH were unhappy because their demographic dominance was not properly represented.

    Sounds a mess to me.

    Harry, I understood that Latham’s stated reason for withdrawal was that our troops are thinly spread and are better reserved for activities closer to home.

  5. June 14th, 2004 at 03:32 | #5

    Harry, it’s ludicrous to suggest that the good Professor has adopted a knee-jerk pro-Latham position on Australia’s role in Iraq. He has regularly modified his opinion in response to changing circumstances, and has done so openly on his blog — including admitting that he was wrong on a number of issues. Although Prof Quiggin is a Labor supporter, I think it would be difficult to argue that he blindly follows the party line.

  6. Harry Clarke
    June 14th, 2004 at 10:01 | #6

    Brian, It seems to me that Latham and the Labor Party oppose our intervention in Iraq — they have said this repeatedly and this is the basis for their current policy. My point was that even if they were right on this now is not the time to announce a withdrawal of troops because I assume, the Labor Party too are uncomfortable with the prospects of a return to authoritarian rule or even perhaps worse, civil war, in Iraq.

    And I agree with you given the factional divisions in Iraq its a ‘mess’. But the solution to this ‘mess’ is not to withdraw to let them ‘fight it out’. Again we have a responsibility to help sort it out and the UN has asked us to do this.

    Albert Langer’s artcle in The Age this morning ‘Latham v reality: the looming crisis’ sorts it out nicely. The objective in Iraq should be to come up with a government that is as representative as any in the Middle East.

    The UN has requested ‘member states and international and regional morganisations to contribute assistance to the multinational force, including military forces as agreed with the Government of Iraq, to help meet the needs of the Iraqi people for security and stability….’

    Langer accurately describes Latham’s policy as ‘responding to a UN request by stabbing Iraqi democrats in the back’.

    Robert, John was saying ‘big deal’ the Dutch are withdrawing so what’s the issue with Australia doing the same. Maybe John’s view isn’t ‘knee-jerk’. To claim the latter anyway doesn’t prove anything and inessential to the point I was trying to make so I withdraw the implication.

  7. Harry Clarke
    June 14th, 2004 at 10:43 | #7

    The reference to the Langer piece on Latham and Iraq is here.

  8. Warbo
    June 14th, 2004 at 10:51 | #8

    I’m generally a Labor supporter and I bitterly opposed our involvement in the invasion, but I do have misgivings about Latham’s stated policy. I can’t imagine that the presence or absence of Australian troops in Iraq right now would make the slightest difference to anyone but themselves and the Australian civilians they’re assigned to, but Latham has set himself up as an easy target for the Libs (“cutting and runnning” etc). In other words, it looks to this nervous old nellie like a tactical political mistake.

    If that’s so, and assuming Latham still wants, quite reasonably, to differentiate himself from Howard on Iraq, couldn’t he promise to bring our wonderful, brave and true service men and women home by Christmas but at the same time increase the number of civilian advisers or the amount of money we’re sending to Iraq, thus nullifying the “cutting and running” attack?

  9. June 14th, 2004 at 11:01 | #9

    Given British Labor’s come third to Green and Leftist parties, maybe its time Australia voted in a green government for a couple to terms and repair some of the mess that has become of our commitment to environmental policies.

    The Green parties also tend to offer a breath of fresh air in terms of the way we deal with the middle east problem.

    If we could only find a serious green party in the US…

  10. gordon
    June 14th, 2004 at 11:46 | #10

    Given that Latham has now said that the “withdrawal” would not include the frigate or the Orions or the embassy guard, is there any withdrawal still worth talking about? It seems to me like 99% of a backdown in the face of US Govt. opposition.

    If Latham wants to differentiate himself from Howard on Iraq, the simplest way is to demand more in payment for our mercenaries. We should demand at least, say, half-a-dozen oil wells and renegotiation of the FTA.

  11. June 14th, 2004 at 12:10 | #11

    Warbo’s right in that any electoral problem with the withdrawal for the ALP can be dealt with by a more complete foreign policy which shows us as proposers of solutions in other theatres and independent of the US.

    Rudd is also saying that the embassy guards stay, along with the naval and air personnel based out of Iraq, so the ALP is really suggesting the removal of Australians serving alongside the US forces like Major O’Kane. And presumably our mysterious SAS.

    They are obviously not under our control; the Americans are involved in torturing prisoners, bulldozing homes and failing to treat wounded civilians. I don’t want this done with the support of our army and I doubt that even Howard would actually defend it in Parliament.

    I wonder to what extent the Dutch, and the ALP is projecting the future of Iraq down these two alternatives:

    1. the situation settles down, with an improving security situation and Bush desperate to show success before the election by significant troop withdrawals. In that case, Latham’s case is proved because our lads come home as well.

    2. the situation continues to deteriorate and we have the “second Vietnam” scenario. In this case we should go home soon before we are really seen as ratting on an ally.

    This is a crude description, of course, and the whole game has much more finesse. But if the analysis is the latter, then the ALP has to say it is going to get out; they can’t keep quiet and just dump it on the electorate after winning.

    And if the ALP had not put its position, the government would be at them continually to define themselves – quite rightly.

  12. Mark Bahnisch
    June 14th, 2004 at 12:39 | #12

    Chui, the US might have a serious Green Party were it not for Nader’s ego. The electoral system is generally also much more unfriendly to anyone but the Republicans and Demos – aside from first past the post and an indirect state based election for Pres (the Electoral College), most states give automatic ballot slots to Demos and Republicans but make any third party or independent candidate jump multiple hurdles (in some cases only possible with large amounts of money to spend – ie 5000 voters in each district to sign a petition) to even get on the ballot. Green Party candidates have done well in some local elections.

  13. Stewart Kelly
    June 14th, 2004 at 19:28 | #13

    The biggest barrier to a ‘serious Green Party’ in the US is their policies. Last time I looked it was pretty standard socialist stuff: democratisation of the workplace, moving means of production into the hands of the worker etc.

  14. June 15th, 2004 at 00:04 | #14

    Harry, delaying elections until “stability” is achieved is just a way of defering them indefnitely. The only chance of getting stability is through an Iraqi government that actually has a popular mandate, as well as real power.

    Elections should have been held a year ago – there was less violence then than there is now, for one thing.

  15. Observa
    June 15th, 2004 at 10:42 | #15

    The plain truth is that pulling our troops out before scheduled elections in Jan is cutting and running. For those of us who supported this war, we were well aware that it meant a minimum 2 yr commitment and could well be longer. We had a historical WW11 Marshall Plan commitment as a guide in this. For those of you who now have attention deficit, I would ask the simple question. Do you think ALL COW troops should pull out by Xmas? If your answer is no, then you know what Latham’s policy should be now, unless of course Latham believes we have more pressing obligations in Darfur or similar.

  16. Andrew
    June 15th, 2004 at 14:26 | #16

    Stewart – even socialists get to vote in the US, so baldly stating that socialist policies is the problem is not getting us anywhere.

    Elucidate.

  17. June 15th, 2004 at 18:33 | #17

    No disrespect intended to Pr Q. but the argument about how long Coalition troops should stay in Iraq is no longer academic. The Coalition is in a race against time against the Islamicists, who are attempting to sabotage the establishment of civil rule in Iraq.
    The insurgents strategy is to disrupt the new Iraqi state process of civil governance, utility functioning and foreign relations. A key insurgents tactic is to drive foreign security forces out during the political limbo period, between the time that the US army pulls out and and the time that the Iraqi army forms up. This is the best time for a takeover by sundry proto-fundamentalists and retro-fascists, who will then be free to propagate terrorism or proliferate WMDs.
    They are banking on the fact that the US army will pull out from a combination of US popular casualty fatigue and Iraqi national irritation. These feelings will only be strengthened by Coalition defectoions, whether they be by NGO’s, private contractors or foreign militaries.
    Right now the more agressive insurgents, the Sadrites and the Zarqawites, are feeling the squeeze from US army assaults. This article [via Tim Blair] shows that the battle is finely poised and near a decisivie moment:

    “The space of movement is starting to get smaller,” it said. “The grip is starting to be tightened on the holy warriors’ necks and, with the spread of soldiers and police, the future is becoming frightening.”
    The statement says the militant movement in Iraq is racing against time to form battalions that can take control of the country “four months before the formation of the promised Iraqi government, hoping to spoil their plan.”
    If the militants fail to take over Iraq, “we will have to leave for another land to uphold the (Islamic) banner, or until God chooses us as martyrs,” the statement says.

    The Coalition is within sight of military prevalence, and with it, political dominance. It is vital that the ADF, with bi-partisan support, stay the course in Iraq to:
    validate the sacrifices in blood and treasure made in regime changing Iraq;
    promote democracy in the Middle East;
    indicate that we are not fair weather members of the AUS/US alliance.
    To give up now, to cut and run at this critical stage of the battle, would be tantamount to handing Iraq, and its trillion dollars worth of oil, over to the likes of the people who decapitated Daniel Pearl and Nicholas Berg.

  18. Harry Clarke
    June 15th, 2004 at 20:08 | #18

    I agree one hundred per cent with Jack S. This is precisely the wrong time to be talking of withdrawing from Iraq since it is during this transitional phase that the need for coalition support will be strongest.

    And to those commentators who are worried about the effects of withdrawing on Labor’s election prospects can I say this attitude seems morally questionable to say the least. The main losers from threatened withdrawals will be the people of Iraq if we abandon them to the terrorists.

    Haven’t the Iraqis been through enough? Give them the chance to become members of a stable (if imperfect) democracy.

    The propaganda value of an Australian withdrawal is huge. Australia as a nation will be left with blood on its hands if the terrorists regain power partially as a consequence of us cutting and running.

    Jack is right. This is not an academic point.

  19. observa
    June 16th, 2004 at 00:23 | #19

    Harry and Jack have spelled out pretty well what the stakes are now in Iraq. Latham has a small window of opportunity to reverse Labor’s stance. He could do it personally and be seen to be the decision-maker, similar to Howard’s decision on politician’s super. He could take the stance that Labor opposed the war, but reluctantly is stuck with staying the course now. He could then go in hard against the FTA with the US, using the line that Australia shouldn’t be rushing into this like Iraq. The FTA could ultimately be sacrificed for political expediency, whereas our stand in Iraq cannot.

  20. observa
    June 16th, 2004 at 00:38 | #20

    Actually, when you think about it, a politically savvy way for Latham to implement this change of stance, would be to fly to the US to confer with John Kerry, snubbing Washington and Bush. He could do this with some sense of urgency/secrecy to attract a certain amount of media speculation. He could then be seen to be taking a similar reluctant stance on Iraq, after serious consideration, upon his return.

  21. June 19th, 2004 at 09:08 | #21

    Jack Strocchi
    your post is based on a purported letter written by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Jordanian based extremist group (who have carried out several well publicised executions in Iraq).
    How about bit of reality here, this non Iraq group would have almost no support base in Iraq and probably has a membership of dozens, not the tens or hundreds of thousands needed to be involved in a power grab.
    You then go on to confuse this group with some of the large militia groups in Iraq (such as the Sadrists) that have the potential to be drawn into a the political process, something that is happening at this very moment.

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