Just as US soldiers and National Guards who’ve completed their tours in Iraq are being conscripted by stop-loss orders, recalls and the like, then sent back for a second round, Australia has received new orders. The New Europeans (Spain, Poland, Netherlands and so on) are all pulling out, and its up to us to fill the gap.
Of course, there’s no mention of the US in Howard’s announcement. Supposedly, this is a response to personal requests from the British and Japanese Prime Ministers. Older readers will recall that exactly the same farce was played out with our commitment of troops to Vietnam. Anyone who believes the government’s line might reflect on what kind of response Blair and Koizumi would get if they requested from Howard something the Bush Administration didn’t like, such as ratification of Kyoto.
There’s no strategy here, just hanging on and hoping things will change for the better. There’s no sign so far that the presence of 150 000 troops has done any good. The insurgency/resistance/terrorists are far more numerous now than they were a year ago. They gain legitimacy when they attack foreign occupiers, and lose it when they attack fellow-Iraqis. I hope that the new Iraqi government, when it emerges, will maintain its campaign commitment (watered down at the last minute) to demand a schedule for withdrawal, but if it doesn’t, Australia and Britain should be pushing the US to set one.
Tthe decision raises some other big issues for Australia that don’t seem to have been considered. In particular, there’s the possibility of war with Iran. Have we received assurances either that there won’t be any US military action against Iran or that, if there is, Iraq won’t be used as a base? To ask this question is to answer it.