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Monday message board (on Tuesday)

November 21st, 2006

I missed putting up the Monday Message Board yesterday, but better late than never. As usual, civilised discussion and absolutely no coarse language, please.

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  1. Steve
    November 21st, 2006 at 08:49 | #1

    Why isn’t John Howard subject to the same level of ire and public outcry over Iraq as Tony Blair and George Bush?

    Can I blame the Labor Party?

    How much money has Australia spent on the Iraq War?

  2. Pseudonym (econwit)
    November 21st, 2006 at 09:18 | #2

    Something for Social-Democrats to ponder.

    “Beazley’s economics are not up to scratch”

    http://www.smh.com.au/news/business/beazleys-economics-are-not-up-to-scratch/2006/11/19/1163871271671.html?page=3

    Gittens “Verdict overall: get real.”

  3. November 21st, 2006 at 09:19 | #3

    Steve,

    You could ask the same question about Howard on a lot of issues. I think it is partly a form of personality cult sustained by his lack of any superiority posture. He certainly takes strong decisions and argues his position but does not openly try and dominate the debate. He mostly lets others argue the case and often manages to look like he is above the politics. Most of the public don’t follow the detail of debate carefully anyway and only notice it when people fall down in a public way (like getting Roves name wrong) or when major decisions are made.

    Howard argued the war in mostly narrow terms to do with supporting allies. That is certainly the argument that he publicly laboured the most. Bush and Blair made grand postures about liberating the world. Howard just said we should help the Americans which is a goal we have achieved.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  4. brian
    November 21st, 2006 at 09:37 | #4

    The absence of casualties is the determining factor.
    If there had been Australian troop losses,as was the case with Vietnam in the late 1960′ies
    then there would be a very different tone to the debate..such as it is!
    Nevertheless,Howard hangs by this single thread.
    If lives are lost there will be a vast change in public attitudes.
    As to cost one writer I read ,said it would be enough to give every home in Australia a free water-tank…now that would be a sensible policy !!

  5. Hal9000
    November 21st, 2006 at 09:56 | #5

    The verdict is in on the Saddam trial…

    http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2006/11/20/iraq14589.htm

    … if it’s justice, Jim, it’s not as we know it.

  6. Steve
    November 21st, 2006 at 10:26 | #6

    THere’s about 7.5 million homes in Australia.

    A water tank is maybe $3,000 so that would be $22.5 billion.

    Have we spent that much on Iraq?

    The 06-07 budget papers that I just looked up
    http://www.budget.gov.au/2006-07/bp2/html/bp2_expense-04.htm

    say that the Govt will spend another $392.7 million over the next three years on Iraq.

    Based on that, I’m figuring maybe $1 billion all up?

  7. Katz
    November 21st, 2006 at 11:46 | #7

    “Howard argued the war in mostly narrow terms to do with supporting allies. That is certainly the argument that he publicly laboured the most. Bush and Blair made grand postures about liberating the world. Howard just said we should help the Americans which is a goal we have achieved.”

    I think there is a lot of truth in this.

    American and British citizens were sold a package on Iraq that promised at least amelioration of the living conditions of Iraqis, and more expansively a whole new world order. Quite patently, nothing of the sort eventuated.

    Howard, on the other hand, has been quite agnostic about these promises. Instead, he has played the “international mateship” card. Howard’s implied claim is that Australians are absolved of any moral responsibility for the fiasco because it wasn’t of Australia’s making.

    This claim is utterly spurious, of course. But Howard has made a career of absolving people of their complicity in misdeeds. This is called “feeling relaxed and comfortable.”

    And thanks to Australia’s size, location and resource wealth, Australians will probably escape punishment for Howard’s small-minded bastardry.

    Lucky us.

  8. James Farrell
    November 21st, 2006 at 12:47 | #8

    Katz

    The ‘international mateship card’ wants a bit of unpacking.

    I assume by this you mean more than just some abstract duty to help our mates. That would be to undersestimate the importance of the alliance in the national psyche, and at the same time leave Howard’s motivation unexplained. So let’s be clear: Howard reckons, probably shrewdly, that Australians are scared of being invaded at some stage, and expect the US to defend us; to this end we expect our governments to earn credit with the Americans when the opportunity arises. We gain nothing from agnonising over whether the war was right or advanced the Iraqis’ freedom and prosperity.

  9. jquiggin
    November 21st, 2006 at 12:55 | #9

    Econwit, thanks for your link. As you imply, Gittins gives an excellent social-democratic critique of Beazley’s cosmetic variants on neoliberalism. Social Democrats should indeed ponder how Labor reached this point.

  10. Katz
    November 21st, 2006 at 12:59 | #10

    “So let’s be clear: Howard reckons, probably shrewdly, that Australians are scared of being invaded at some stage, and expect the US to defend us; to this end we expect our governments to earn credit with the Americans when the opportunity arises.”

    But did Howard, or anyone else in his government, say anything like this?

    I agree that this “insurance policy” approach to relations with the US drives Lib foreign policy thinking.

    And indeed this policy did drive Australian thinking at the time of the decision to send ground troops to Vietnam way back in 1965.

    But as far as I know the policy was never articulated in any public pronouncement to the Australian people. Certainly, the idea had much currency, but what was the connection between what hte government was thinking and what the Australian people convinced themselves to believe?

    “We gain nothing from agnonising over whether the war was right or advanced the Iraqis’ freedom and prosperity.”

    Be that as it may, millions of Americans and Britons are doing exactly that. Should Australians instead agonise about hooking up with these wimps?

  11. November 21st, 2006 at 13:52 | #11

    Instead, he has played the “international mateship� card.

    He has hinted that this is his new ground very recently. Only. It used to be denied.

    For the last 3 years he was very clear about why Australia invaded Iraq.

    Iraq was a dangerous state armed with WMD in clear violation of UN resolutions. It was a threat to us and our allies especially given feared links with Global Terrorists.

    Australians have not let him off on the basis that deep down we really appreciate that he has tucked us safely under Uncle Sam’s wing. Australians have let him off his dirty war because most Australians think that it is not their business to worry about such affairs. And because Iraq probably had it coming to them. And because they protested in 2003 and feel they have done their bit. And that it’s all history now anyway. And that given the way Iraq has turned out, they have lost any sympathy for Iraqis – an emotion which has been over-whelmed by a powerful and general revulsion for the whole tragic place.

    Australians cannot make the link b/w the state the place is in now and the original US invasion. They lack both the information and the political and historical intelligence.

    Don’t over-estimate the Australian public, please.

  12. Katz
    November 21st, 2006 at 14:24 | #12

    WBB, I don’t think any of your explanations for Howard’s immunity from criticism contradict Terje’s initial point.

    “Australians have let him off his dirty war because most Australians think that it is not their business to worry about such affairs.”

    This is probably the case only because Australia has sustained so few casualties. Nevertheless, as matters now stand, you are probably correct.

    “And because Iraq probably had it coming to them.”

    Yes. Australians had difficulty in distinguishing between Iraqis as queue-jumpers and potential terrorists and Iraqis as worthy objects of benevolence. Many Australians seem to be capable of believing these two stereotypes simultaneously.

    “And because they protested in 2003 and feel they have done their bit.”

    Yes, it is extraordinary how quickly this sentiment subsided. Many Australians who protested wimply shrugged their shoulders and wandered away.

    “And that it’s all history now anyway.”

    Howard has played the “let’s move on” card brilliantly.

    “And that given the way Iraq has turned out, they have lost any sympathy for Iraqis – an emotion which has been over-whelmed by a powerful and general revulsion for the whole tragic place.”

    This one comes close to suggesting that we’re in in for our mates.

    In general, I read Terje’s comment to suggest that after the WMD pretext was dispensed with, Howard was never challenged to explain the commitment in reasoned terms at all.

    So your comment and Terje’s comment complement and overlap each other.

  13. David Allen
    November 21st, 2006 at 14:29 | #13

    The Age-Online. Note the linkages
    Headline: “Nuclear report lays ambitious plans”
    Sub: “Beazley bags nuclear energy”
    Your say: “Bomber to bow out?”
    Vote: “time to go?”

    So, am to conclude that nuclear is good because Beazley bags it but he’s going so that doesn’t count? If I was Beazley I’d be rope-able about this.

  14. O6
    November 21st, 2006 at 14:33 | #14

    Changing the subject a litte, what about Ziggy?
    At between 20 to 50 per cent more expensive than conventional power, Dr Switkowski says nuclear energy would only be competitive in Australia if there were a recognised cost for greenhouse gas emissions.
    (from the ABC)
    Aren’t wind and solar coming towards this sort of cost differential, so why nuclear in preference?

  15. November 21st, 2006 at 16:56 | #15

    Nuclear can do baseload reliably. Nuclear electricity can be supplied on a despatch basis. Nuclear energy does not depend on secondary storage solutions.

  16. November 21st, 2006 at 17:18 | #16

    #4 Brian, I don’t think it was the losses in the Vietnam war that turned the debate, it was the use of conscripts that revealed the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the administration.

    Still, the opponents of the war never had a decent reason to turn South Vietnam over to communism.

  17. Katz
    November 21st, 2006 at 17:35 | #17

    Rafe, don’t forget that the most important opponents of the Vietnam War in 1968 had been the major war hawks and backers of the war in 1967.

    Those hawks, beginning with MacNamara, and including Clark Clifford, came to a latterday decision that the war was unwinnable, just as Kissinger has done recently in regard to Iraq.

    The point is, of course, that none of them had a decent plan to prevent South Vietnam from going communist, hich it would have done anyway without major assistance from the North Vietnamese, had the US decided not to intervene in 1965.

  18. gordon
    November 21st, 2006 at 17:41 | #18

    The draft Switkowski report “Uranium Mining, Processing and Nuclear Energy – Opportunities for Australia?” is available here. They say:
    “The Taskforce invites feedback on its draft report by 12 December 2006. A final report will be completed by the end of 2006.”

  19. still working it out
    November 21st, 2006 at 20:09 | #19

    There is a significant section of the population that really do feel that when it comes to international relations Australia is effectively a subsidiary of America. For them, Washington made a clear decision and that was good enough. In lining up with the US Howard was simply implementing common sense. The lead up to the Iraq war was a very divisive event with no room to be an innocent bystander. The US said you were either with them or against them, and the anti-US forces basically said the same thing. The idea of taking what would have been and essentially still is an anti-US position was simply incomprehensible to a large part of the Australian public (and elite).

    Since the war started Howard has very smartly kept the pro-war BS to a minimum. He has talked about democracy etc, but minimally and instead successfully left a very clear impression in people’s minds that the war was about supporting an ally. Since nobody disagrees with this alliance it is hard to attack him. He has avoided hyping the war and is consequently not stuck in extreme positions that he would have to defend or walk back from.

    If Downer was Prime Minister then there would be a problem. The guy is too dumb to keep his mouth shut. I suspect Australians would recognise he had swallowed the kool-aid and would have lost trust in his decision making.

    The anti-war crowd have sub-conciously decided (probably correctly) that Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war will be decided in Washington and have outsourced the job of stopping it to the Americans themselves.

  20. November 21st, 2006 at 22:33 | #20

    Still working out why, if Australians were against the war before it started, they are now in favor of it because we are rooting for our Big Mate. They are not in favor of it. They just don’t give it a moment’s thought. It’s got nowt to do with us. They reckon.

    Australians were once weakly but actively against the invasion, but once it happened, they simply lost interest. It comes down to casualties I realise, but it shows you can get away with an awful lot when you only have the Australian public to worry about.

    Is a war crime a war crime if nobody notices it?

  21. November 22nd, 2006 at 06:09 | #21

    #17 Thanks Katz, I won’t pursue the matter of winning the war, where we have a clear-cut difference of opinion, but I will put the question – does anyone today think it was a good thing for Vietnam, North and South, to go communist?

    How many people who supported the other side at that time have realised their mistake and come clean about it? Can anyone name Australian names? There are some in the US.

  22. gandhi
    November 22nd, 2006 at 06:23 | #22

    Did anyone read Michael Kinsley in Slate:

    “Milton Friedman was wrong, and the other famous economist who died this year, John Kenneth Galbraith, was right: The free market in corporate shares doesn’t produce well-run companies…

    Either the stock market is a fraud on the public, or these deals that dominate the business pages are a fraud on the public. Which is it?”

  23. jquiggin
    November 22nd, 2006 at 07:02 | #23

    On #21, this is the kind of reasoning that gave us the Iraq war. For the great majority of war opponents the relevant question isn’t “Was it a good thing for Vietnam to go communist?” it’s “Was it a good thing for the Vietnam war to end, regardless of who won?” or more precisely “Was it a good thing for our participation in the Vietnam war to end, regardless of who won?” and the answer clearly is Yes.

    On #22, I’ve only read this briefly, but I think Kinsley is claiming too much.

  24. Sinclair Davidson
    November 22nd, 2006 at 07:13 | #24

    John, you left this link at the ALS
    http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2006/11/21/friedman-hayek-and-the-epigones/

    but it hasn’t come through to your blog. Is it lost?

  25. Katz
    November 22nd, 2006 at 07:45 | #25

    For most opponents of US and Australian commitment in Vietnam, the question wasn’t whether the rise of communism in Vietnam was “a good thing”, the question was whether stopping it was possible. There were still other opponents of Western involvement who believed that stopping the rise of communism was possible, but who questioned the economic, financial, manpower and even moral costs of achieving that outcome.

    So, Rafe, your conflation of opponents of US and Australian involvement in Vietnam with supporters of communism is ahistorical and spurious.

    As JQ mentioned above, this “for us, or against us” mentality is productive of some very poor decision-making.

    BTW, it is interesting to note that Tony Blair has now decided that Iraq really isn’t the “the central front in the war against terrorism” after all. The lucky winner of that accolade is *the envelope please* AFGHANISTAN!!

  26. November 22nd, 2006 at 07:53 | #26

    I was wondering the same thing Sinc.

    I think Terje has the point nailed with why Howard managed to dodge the mud.

    Rafe, I have a counter-question for you on Vietnam. How would a non-communist Vietnam have helped America and the western world? Or do you believe foreign policy should be all about philanthropy at the taxpayers expense? And since we’re talking about hypotheticals, since the western world opposed the Vietnamese overthrow of Pol Pot (who kills 30% of his country’s population in a few years), who would have done that if not communist vietnam?

  27. November 22nd, 2006 at 08:21 | #27

    As I see it the “for us or against us” mentality is exactly what JQ fosters in the AGW debate with the use of the “denialists” tag.

  28. jquiggin
    November 22nd, 2006 at 08:30 | #28

    Sinc and John, I put this post up, then decided it was a bit bad-tempered and took it down for editing. I’ll put it up again when it’s fixed.

  29. November 22nd, 2006 at 08:53 | #29

    Coincidence?

    Election over, gas prices up again:

    If you were a little suspicious of the way in which gasoline prices just happened to dive just before this month’s midterm elections, this bit of news won’t exactly put your mind at ease: After dropping 84 cents between Aug. 11 and Nov. 3, gas prices are up five cents in the first Lundberg Survey released after the Nov. 7 election.

    Trilby Lundberg tells CNN that the reversal in the 12-week pre-election slide shows that the market has “soaked up” a “mini-glut” of crude oil from August, causing a “normalization” of supply and demand.

    Here we go again. Oh, yeah, and all that talk of Iraq “withdrawal” has somehow morphed into sending more troops. What do we actually vote for?

  30. November 22nd, 2006 at 09:13 | #30

    Terje,

    Bush and Blair made grand postures about liberating the world. Howard just said we should help the Americans which is a goal we have achieved.

    That is simply not true, and I am surprised it has not been challenged earlier. Howard made the same foolish claims about WMDs, then “spreading Democracy”, then “Defeating the terrorists”. He only recently fell back on the “help the Yanks” position.

    As Czech-born writer Milan Kundera once wrote, forgetfulness is both a blessing and a curse.

  31. Katz
    November 22nd, 2006 at 10:27 | #31

    Howard’s most important statement on Australian motives before the invasion is here:

    http://www.pm.gov.au/news/speeches/speech74.html

    It was an address to the National Press Club. As such it is very much the public face of Howard’s motives. Thus, the “insurance policy” motive is not mentioned, as indeed it wasn’t during the Vietnam War under similar public circumstances. However, subsequent revelations have indicated just how important it was as a motive back then.

    The remarkable feature of this speech is the utter absence of any promise on Australia’s part to “spread democracy”. There is much talk about the need for pre-emptive action rather than containment. Howard’s argument is that containment was as far as the West could go against the Soviet Union in the light of the threat of nuclear war. However, circumstances allow a more aggressive approach to Saddam.

    Howard therefore presents a very pragmatic argument:

    ‘As I said, ladies and gentlemen, at the beginning of my address, this is a difficult and confronting issue. There is a temptation, as some have argued, Australia should do is to sit on the sidelines, to be a spectator, to do very little either diplomatically or militarily, to leave the heavy lifting to others, to assume that we’ll somehow or other be okay in the equation and that in many respects would be quite an appealing approach. … I don’t think this is an issue that Australia can simply be a spectator on. I don’t believe sitting on the sidelines is either good for Australia nor do I believe it has ever really been the Australian way.

    ‘The world in which terrorism is a threat is not a world that any of us can escape. We haven’t escaped it and there’s always a worry that we won’t escape it in the future. But I have the strongest possible belief that the world must confront the twin evils of the spread of weapons of mass destruction to rogue States and the danger of those would be to me and to my Government the ultimate nightmare. It is a new and sobering reality.’

    Howard thus talks about the threat of WMDs in the wrong hands. He talks about defeating the terrorists before they have more fearsome weapons. And most of all he positions Australia in a subsidiary but not subservient role.

    Never, however, does he consider that the resolve of the major partners doing the bulk of the “heavy lifting” will falter. I guess he assumed that token Australian assistance would steel their resolve.

    Silly assumption, but the token nature of the assistance shelters Howard from most of the opprobrium currently suffered by Bush and Blair.

  32. Ben the Renegade
    November 22nd, 2006 at 12:00 | #32

    O.K, so this is pretty radical. The following poem is taken from a song published in 1999 (yes 1999!), by a band named “Rage Against the Machine”. It’s a cynical look at the way news media can be used as a tool to shape public opinion, the incidental role war can play as ‘entertainment’ to some, and the Orwellian society in which many in the West are beginning to live. This is then juxtaposed with the reality faced by Iraqis everyday.

    There has been much debate recently as to whether artists have been doing enough to protest against the war, in comparison with the epic movements of the 60′s and 70′s against wars like Vietnam. Sadly, this band has wrongly been given the label ‘pro-terrorist’ by the “with us or against” subscribers, including former New York mayor Rudolf Guliani.

    Ironically, following the September 11th attacks, ‘Clear Channel’ created a list of “songs with questionable lyrics” that included all RATM songs because of their radical lyrics, and as a result it never received much radio play in the U.S.A.

    The movie ran through me,
    The glamour subdued me,
    The tabloid untied me,
    I’m empty please fill me

    Mister anchor assure me,
    That Baghdad is burning,
    Your voice it is so soothing,
    That cunning mantra of killing

    I need you, my witness,
    To dress this up so bloodless,
    To numb me, and purge me now
    Of thoughts of blaming you

    Yes the car is our wheelchair,
    My witness your coughing,
    Oily silence mocks the legless,
    Those who travel now in coffins

    On the corner,
    The jury’s sleepless,
    We found your weakness,
    And it’s right outside your door

    Now testify,
    It’s right outside your door

    With precision, you feed me,
    My witness I’m hungry,
    Your temple, it calms me
    So I can carry on

    My slaving, sweating the skin right off my bones,
    On a bed of fire I’m choking on the smoke that fills my home,
    The wrecking ball is rushing,
    Witness your blushing,
    The pipeline is gushing,
    While here we lie in tombs

    While on the corner,
    The jury’s sleepless,
    We found your weakness,
    And it’s right outside your door

    Now testify,
    It’s right outside your door

    Mass graves for the pump and the price is set,
    And the price is set

    Who controls the past, controls the future,
    Who controls the present, controls the past,
    Who controls the past, controls the future,
    Who controls the present now?

    It’s right outside your door,
    Now testify,
    Testify,
    The war is right outside your door

  33. gordon
    November 23rd, 2006 at 10:15 | #33

    The Israeli “Peace Now” organisation has published a reportindicating that Israeli settlements occupy a lot of privately-owned Palestinian land. In its summary of the report, The Independent says: “Almost 40 per cent of land used by Israel for its settlements in the occupied West Bank is the private property of Palestinians, the Israeli organisation Peace Now said yesterday on the basis of leaked official maps and other data.

    Contrary to official claims that the land is state-owned and that private property is only seized temporarily for security reasons, the leak shows that privately owned Palestinian land has been repeatedly used to build and expand settlements.

    The potential embarrassment to Israel is all the greater because it suggests that the use of private Palestinian land is especially prevalent in Jewish settlements which successive Israeli governments have made clear they are determined to keep”…

  34. Mike H
    November 23rd, 2006 at 20:14 | #34

    Nice piece by Larry Johnson at the Coffee House on the Iraq war:

    http://www.tpmcafe.com/blog/coffeehouse/2006/nov/21/have_the_shia_won_the_civil_war

    I think Johnson has called it quite correctly. Iran and Syria have played the Americans of a break. Now how is our Winnie going to play this one as it unfolds. Still have to hand it to him, knows how to play the crowd loved his hand on the heart work at Long Tan earlier this week, Gallipoli a few years back. Does the impersonation of the late Big Winnie to a tee! Now if he would just tug on a cheroot and knock a brandy or too back I’d believe him. Time Beazley took some cricket lessons.

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