Mr LATHAM (Werriwa) (12.30 p.m.)
February 5th, 2003 HANSARD p.26
I am opposed to the government's strategy for war in Iraq because it is the wrong way of conducting the war against terror. I am opposed to the government's strategy because it repeats the worst mistakes of George Bush's foreign policy. I am opposed to the government's strategy because it comes from a Prime Minister who is too weak to say no to the Americans.
I believe that the war against terror should be conducted against terrorists, not the women and children of nation states. The best way of ensuring that weapons of mass destruction do not fall into the hands of terrorists is to rid the world of terrorists. This should have been America's strategy post September 11: to target, fight and eliminate the terrorists. But, instead, President Bush has squandered much of the international goodwill for his country by following a flawed strategy of regime change and nationstate war, all under the flawed banner of his 'axis of evil'. This is the wrong strategy; it is the wrong strategy for the international community and it is the wrong strategy for Australia. At a time when Osama bin Laden remains at large, at a time when al-Qaeda continues to operate in Pakistan and throughout the Middle East, at a time when the Bali bombers are yet to be brought to justice, at a time when terrorist networks continue to grow in South-East Asia, George Bush and John Howard think the first priority-their first priority-is to wage war in Iraq. It is the wrong priority. It is the wrong strategy for our country.
For all its might and power and for all its outrageous expense and military technology, the American war machine is geared up for just one purpose: wars with nation states. In effect, it is a one-trick pony. This is a powerful war machine but it has only one strategy: to wage war against nation states. It is yet to develop an effective strategy for waging war against the terrorists themselves. Just as the United States was unaware and unprepared for September 11, it is ill-equipped to deal with the very different threat posed by terrorists.
Let me quote from an article published in the Atlantic Monthly magazine in September 2001. It is an article written by a former CIA officer, Reuel Marc Gerecht- someone well regarded; certainly well regarded enough to be published in the Atlantic Monthly. This is what he had to say about the US capacity in counter-terrorism: I would argue that America's counterterrorism program in the Middle East and its environs is a myth.
He then goes on to quote a former senior Near East Division operative who said: The CIA probably doesn't have a single truly qualified Arabic-speaking officer of Middle Eastern background who can play a believable Muslim fundamentalist who would volunteer to spend years of his life with shitty food and no women in the mountains of Afghanistan. For Christ's sake, most case officers live in the suburbs of Virginia.
We don't do that kind of thing.
Gerecht then goes on to quote a younger case officer, who put it more bluntly: Operations that include diarrhea as a way of life don't happen.
That is the real truth of the American war machine when it comes to the operatives and the intelligence on the ground that is needed to combat terrorism, particularly in the Middle East. Gerecht concludes his comments by saying: Unless one of bin Ladin's foot soldiers walks through the door of a U.S. consulate or embassy, the odds that a CIA counterterrorist officer will ever see one are extremely poor.
That is the reality of the US capacity in this debate. The Bush administration is reluctant to admit these sorts of shortcomings. Instead, it is using, as a blanket description, the slogan 'war against terror' to justify other aspects of its foreign policy agenda.
I see action against Iraq as unfinished business from the early 1990s. It does not directly relate to September 11 in the United States or October 12 in Bali. In practice, it is a diversion from the real war against terror: the war that targets terrorists, not nation states. Even Brent Scowcroft-someone that the other side of politics would normally cheer home-former national security adviser to Presidents Ford and Bush Snr, has acknowledged this point, stating: Any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, cost and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism.
That is the Scowcroft point of view: action against Iraq diverts the United States for an indefinite period from the war against terrorism. This is a hard-headed, realistic assessment. Every dollar spent fighting and then occupying Iraq is a dollar that cannot be spent on attacking terrorist networks and improving Australia's domestic security. President Bush's foreign policy looks more like American imperialism than a well thought through and resourced strategy to eliminate terrorists.
Bush himself is the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory. It is a bit rich for him to be preaching democratic values when he himself failed to win a democratic majority in the 2000 presidential election.
His war with Iraq is more about revenging his father's mistakes. It is about the things that happened in Iraq and Kuwait in the early 1990s and it is about securing domestic political advantage. It is more about those things than a rational assessment of the best way to defeat terrorism. Post September 11, Bush needs to be seen to be acting, giving the American electorate a sense of revenge and puffed-up patriotism. If he cannot catch Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein is the next best thing, the next best strategy, for the American Republican Right.
For our country, none of this is in our national interest; none of this is in Australia's national interest. The government has just spent $15 million on advertising to warn Australians of the terrorist threat in this country. But if our nation is under threat, as the government argues, we should not be sending our best troops and equipment to the other side of the world. If terrorists were to take control of an international hotel in a major Australian city, where would you want our SAS and commando troops to be? You would not want them on the other side of the world; you would want them in Australia, defending Australian families and Australian freedoms. If there were a terrorist incident on Sydney Harbour, our open harbour in the biggest city in Australia, where would you want our navy and other military capacity?
We would want them here looking after the Australian people, first and foremost.
Post Bali we do not have the luxury of blindly following the Americans into Iraq. We should not be placing the lives of young Australians in George Bush's hands. We should not be contributing to the horrors of war and the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent people when a better policy or strategy is available to the Australian government.
This sentiment was perfectly expressed in a recent letter to the Sydney Morning Herald by Ros and Bob Barwick of Sunnybank Hills in Queensland. For me it summed up perfectly the anguish the relatives of our servicemen and women must be going through right now. It was an open letter to John Howard that read: Today you sent our son-in-law to war. He is a career officer in the Navy and joined to defend his country. He sailed on the Kanimbla from Garden Island, leaving his wife of 18 years and his two daughters. Will he be back to see his girls start the new school term? Will he be home for his wife's birthday in February? Will he be back at all? Do you really care?
... ... ...
Do you even remember the name of the young SAS officer you sent to die in Afghanistan? He left behind a wife and baby to fend for themselves.
The widow is the same age as your daughter.
Think, John Howard. Just think. These are real people you are sacrificing.
That is the sentiment. It is the sentiment passionately and meaningfully expressed.
From time to time strong leadership comes from saying no to another country. The PrimeMinister puffs himself up and talks about strength. The real strength and purpose of national leadership every now and then comes from saying no to another country.
That is what Mr Howard should have said to the Americans instead of committing Australia to forward deployment and the inevitability of war in Iraq. But he is too weak, and behind him sits a weak and ineffective backbench.
It has been left to the elder statesmen of the Liberal Party-John Valder, Fred Chaney, Peter Baume, John Hewson and Malcolm Fraser-to articulate a true small-l liberal position. Mr Howard and his government are just yes-men to the United States. There they are, a conga line of suckholes on the conservative side of Australian politics.
The backbench sucks up to the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister sucks up to George W. That is how it works for the little tories, and they have the hide to call themselves Australians. In my book they are not Australian at all. They are just the little tories -the little tory suckholes. The backbench sucks up to the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister sucks up to George W. That is all they have left on their rotten little side of politics.
Australia deserves better than an American apologist as its Prime Minister. We deserve better than someone who is too weak to say no to Uncle Sam. In his statement to the parliament, the Prime Minister dismissed the opposition to war as anti-American prejudice.
That is what he said-'This is just anti-American prejudice.' Fancy the member for Bennelong lecturing us about prejudice. This is the same member of parliament who opposed sanctions against South Africa, who wanted to cut Asian immigration, who opposed the Mabo judgment tooth and nail, who welcomed Pauline Hanson's first speech in this place as an outbreak of free speech.
He still refuses to say sorry to the stolen generation and, to this day, cannot bear to utter the word 'multiculturalism'. Fair dinkum, this bloke has a PhD in prejudice; he has no right to be lecturing anyone else.
I would argue that opposition to the government's strategy is not a form of American prejudice; it is an expression of Australia's national interest. This is not prejudice; it is Australia's national interest. I believe there is a new nationalism in this country-the sort of nationalism that says that Australia should be part of the international community and, sure, it should be part of international engagement, but on our terms. It is the sort of nationalism that says that we should engage with other countries but with a very clear sense of our interests. Australians are saying that we are not a baby nation anymore. We are not some little colony or junior nation.
We are a mature nation that takes a mature view about our interests. That is the new nationalism, and it is the reason why right-wing elite opinion in this country is so out of sync with public opinion. It is out of sync with the new nationalism that stands tall in this nation.
This is the way we should now approach the United States: with an independent foreign policy that puts our interests first. We can have a defensive military alliance with the US, but we do not have to stand shoulder to shoulder with them in every single conflict and on every single international issue. Just as there were no American boots on the ground in East Timor, there should be no Australian ground forces in Iraq. Even if the UN sanctions some form of military action, Australia's commitment should be limited. I strongly endorse the ALP policy statement of April 2002 which reads as follows:
... our military capabilities are such that we could only provide limited military assets to any coalition operations against Iraq because of the drain on our military resources elsewhere (Afghanistan, East Timor, Bougainville and the Solomons); and Under these circumstances, our military support should be limited to the usual levels of intelligence cooperation and broader logistical support.
I further endorse our statement of 15 November 2002 that: ... in light of the threat to Australia from terrorist organisations operating in South East Asia, the priority for the deployment of Australian military resources must lie within our own region.
The Iraqi regime is not a direct threat to Australia. We must deal with the threat in our own part of the world first and foremost. We have higher priorities to pursue in the war against terror. I oppose the Prime Minister's strategy. I oppose his toadying to the United States. I oppose the way in which he is leaving us defenceless, pushing fridge magnets into the front-line of our nation's defence while sending our SAS and other commandos to the other side of the world. He ought to be ashamed of himself. I believe he has disgraced our great nation and placed its future security and safety at risk. Every year, each and every one of us as members of parliament says 'lest we forget'. The truth is that the Prime Minister has forgotten. He has forgotten how to stand up for Australia's national interests. He has forgotten how to keep Australian lives safe and secure. He has forgotten how to be a good Australian, not some yes-man to a flaky and dangerous American president. I reject the Prime Minister's statement to the House. I reject his blind rush to war with Iraq. And I trust in time-I dearly hope in time-that the Australian people themselves will reject this Prime Minister and his government."