Cut and run ?
There’s been a lot of discussion in the comments threads over my (implicit) endorsement of Latham’s view that Australia should pull ground troops out of Iraq by Christmas. This is a reversal of my earlier “we broke it, we own it” view, and therefore requires some explanation. My change of heart has arisen for two main reasons.
First, facts on the ground. For a variety of reasons, the occupation is deeply unpopular among Iraqis and this unpopularity extends to any government installed by the Americans. The Interim Governing Council was pretty thoroughly discredited within a short time of being appointed. The new interim government has some things going for it, such as the international recognition implied by the UN resolution, but the reality that US advisors are calling the shots will emerge pretty quickly. Three months would be an optimistic estimate of the likely honeymoon. From what I’ve read that would also be the minimum time needed to hold an election (perhaps with an imperfect electoral roll) and generate a government that would have some more durable legitimacy. I expect such a government would not support continued occupation, at least on present terms, but if it did, there would be time for Latham to reconsider the policy. There’s no reason why we should accede to US wishes to defer elections into 2005 in the futile hope that better results would be obtained in this way.
Second, the illegality of the original war has been compounded by the Administrations willingness to tear up international conventions on torture. It’s clear by now that responsibility for torture goes all the way to the top and that the most horrifying examples, such as setting vicious dogs onto naked prisoners, threatening (and perhaps actually torturing) children in order to extract co-operation from their parents, and so on, were part of a set of policies approved at high levels. Despite initial denials, for example, it’s now been admitted that Sanchez approved the use of dogs. Of course, since thousands of Iraqis have been through the US detention system, and have been released to tell their story to family and friends, the policy has helped to inflame hatred of the occupation. But even if it was effective, it’s something we should have no part of. Nothing short of wholesale resignations and criminal prosecutions of senior military and civilian officials could justify our continued involvement with this occupation.
As this discussion implies, I’d prefer a direct confrontation with the Administration, backed up with the threat of an immediate withdrawal (and. conversely, a willingness to see things through under better conditions). But no Australian government is ever going to do anything like that.