What I’ve been reading

National Insecurity: The Howard Government’s Betrayal of Australia by Weiss, Thurbon and Mathews, which follows up their earlier book How to Kill A Country, an attack on the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

The hyperbolic titles of these books are not to my taste (though they may help to sell books). The books themselves are less strident than the titles would suggest, and raise issues that should be debated more. Weiss, Thurbon and Mathews take a left-nationalist perspective on Australia’s relationship with the United States, seeing the Liberal party and the Howard government in particular as representing a segment of the capitalist class that benefits from an alliance with US Republicans at the expense of Australia as a whole including workers, domestically-focused business and Australians in general considered as citizens of a putatively independent country.

Before examining this claim, I think it’s worth making some factual points that ought to be common ground to most of us

First, since World War II, Australia has followed the US line in foreign policy more closely than any other country (maybe there are some unimportant statelets who’ve been closer, but I’m not aware of them).

Second, the Liberal party has generally favoured an more complete identification of Australian and US interests than Labor

Third, among Liberal governments, the Howard government has gone further than any other in this respect[1}

Fourth, the Howard government has, since 2000, aligned itself strongly with the Republican Party and the Bush Administration, and explicitly against the Democratic Party.
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Groundhog day

While looking back at whether Iraq was “all about oil“, I thought it might be a good idea to check on the US reconstruction program, and found the State Department report for April 2007. The lead items are electricity generating capacity and oil output, which used to be followed eagerly by those in the blogosphere arguing that the MSM were ignoring “Good News from Iraq”. As Tim Lambert and Jim Henley pointed out a couple of years ago, the same good news kept getting announced over and over again, but the prewar levels (average electricity output of 4300 MW, availability of 11 hours per day, oil output 2.5 million barrels per day (MBPD)) were never surpassed.

We don’t hear quite so much about good news from Iraq these days. The original good news blogger Arthur Chrenkoff shut up shop a while ago. Winds of Change picked up the baton, but seems to have given up. Google finds this site with three entries this year, none containing any actual good news, and this quasi-official site, apparently produced by the Defense Department, and mainly reproducing press releases. It’s not clear whether press releases containing bad news are excluded or whether no such releases are issued.

So, I’ll pick up the ball and summarise the news in the State Department’s report. At this stage, 99 per cent of the US money has been committed, and 87 per cent has been spent, so there’s no more where that came from. Adding “new”, “restored” and “maintained” generating capacity, we get a total of 4373MW, which, assuming 80 per cent uptime, would correspond to average output of around 3500MW. Oil shows a capacity of 2.7MBPD and output of 1.9MBPD. (Table is over the fold). Then there’s the usual schools and hospitals, but these days both schools and hospitals in Iraq are very dangerous places to attend.

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Weekend reflections

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

All about oil ? – repost

The government has got itself into an awful mess over whether, and in what sense, the Iraq venture is a “war for oil’. Brendan Nelson says it is, Peter Costello says it isn’t, and John Howard is equivocal. I thought I’d dig out my thoughts on the topic from April 2003, which are over the fold. There are a couple of minor errors (for example, the US managed to get UN approval for the occupation) but I don’t think they affect the analysis much.

In particular, the first point in my explanation – that the (supposed) right of the US and its allies to run the affairs of a distant part of the world is based on the (supposed) strategic centrality of oil – is, pretty clearly, the claim being made by Nelson and partially endorsed by Howard.
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Stealth correction at the journal of record

Glen Greenwald took a few bites out the latest NYTimes transcription, by White House stenographer Michael Gordon, of Administration/military talking points in the campaign for war against Iran, made by Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, now US military spokesman in Iraq and previously, (not reported) Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iraq. So somebody at the Gray Lady apparently decided that the piece might be improved by a mininal amount of actual reporting, such as the fact that the claims in question have been repeatedly denied by the Iranian government (with backing, although this is not mentioned, from a large number of independent analysts).

What’s interesting to me is that these changes are not noted. But if the journal of record had attributed the remarks to the wrong general or mis-stated the spokesman’s position, the error would surely have been noted with a correction. A blogger who made a change like this in response to justified criticism would get accused, rightly, of a stealth correction. Shouldn’t the New York Times be held to at least as high a standard?

Close to home

The arrest of a doctor in at the Gold Coast Hospital, accused of being connected to the failed terror attacks in London and Glasgow, brings international terrorism a lot closer to home than it has ever been before for me. Of course, it’s front page news, and the fact that most of the (alleged) participants in these attacks were doctors is pretty disturbing. Not surprisingly, the hospital’s switchboard was jammed with calls.

Still, my impression is that most people here are taking it in their stride. The risk of being caught up in a terror attack is part of the background of modern life, along with other largely random risks like hit-and-run drivers and street thugs, to name just two. At a policy level, of course, these problems are very different, and require different responses. But as far as day to day life is concerned, it’s mainly a matter of getting on with it.

Update “Alleged” turns out to be the operative word. The case against the Brisbane doctor apparently turns on the fact that when police tried to interview him about his links to one of the British accused, they found him at the airport with a one-way ticket to India. But it appears he was going there to join his wife who had gone home a week or so earlier after having a baby.