It’s not the end of the year yet, so a retrospective may be out of place. Premature. Untimely even. Still. I do not believe that it is too early to recall my favorite magazine cover of the year, one unlikely to be surpassed in the remaining 12 weeks: The Economist‘s “One down, three to go?” (March 20, 2004).
A real beauty, this cover. With its four aces—the British Prime Minister Tony Blair (Hearts), the Australian Prime Minister John Howard (Diamonds), the American President George Bush (Spades—just like his former Iraqi counterpart in that Pentagon deck of cards some 18 months earlier), and the former Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar (Clubs)—the one ace in this deck who’s been officially out of the game since April 17, vanquished by the Socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero the month before.—How’s that for the demise of the Old Europe?
Not that I’m a fan of this particular British weekly, by the way. The truth be told, I don’t care for it. Not in the least. As far back as its January 11, 2003 issue, its cover story already had asked the truly loaded question, “Is torture ever justified?” Of course, were I the one posing the question, I would have changed it a little. Not, When is it justified for the Americans and the British to employ torture against foreigners? But, rather, When is it justified for foreigners to employ torture against American and British citizens? Because, self-evidently, either questions about torture work in all directions. Or you better not even raise them in the first place.
Likewise. As recently as July 17 of this year, The Economist gave us the “Sincere deceivers,” a cover story on George Bush and Tony Blair. You will notice that not even the criminally deceptive British and American political leaderships resort to the sincerity defense any longer. But especially not after Wednesday’s release of the so-called Comprehensive Report of the CIA Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (a.k.a., the Duelfer Report). Quite the contrary. These days, everything comes down to the fact that these two gentlemen, George Bush and Tony Blair, got rid of Saddam Hussein. Take it. Or leave it. Nothing more. Nothing less. My eyes glaze over in this moment of moral epiphany.
Though the low point—at least for me, anyway—came inside The Economist‘s July 31 issue (“Sudan can’t wait“): “Armed intervention in Darfur may—or may not—flout the law,” a short think-piece noted, and then proceeded to ask: “So what?” (“Must intervention be legal?“) Once again, were I the one posing the question, I’d want to know under what circumstance, precisely, states and non-state actors alike are justified in flouting international law and violating British and American sovereignty—and flouting it violently, while they are at it—in order to deter the British and the Americans from engaging in world-class crimes of the kind that we’ve seen in recent years, invading other sovereign states on the flimsiest of pretenses. But, as always, this is just me talking.
Well. Like I said, Jose Maria Aznar long since has departed. True to his campaign promise, Aznar’s successor, Prime Minister Zapatero, wasted no time ordering the withdrawal of Spain’s military contingent (some 1,400 at their peak) from the occupation forces in Iraq. By late May, all had been withdrawn. When Zapatero spoke before the UN General Assembly two weeks ago, he reportedly received a standing ovation when he completed the following remarks (“Statement by the President of the Government of Spain,” Sept. 21):
The overwhelming majority of people in Spain spoke out against the war. We were not persuaded by the reasons given by those who promoted the war. We expressed this view both at the Spanish Parliament and in the streets. We spoke out loudly, we shouted. We also said that winning the war would be much easier than winning the peace. Peace must be our endeavour. An endeavour that requires more courage, more determination and more heroism than the war itself. That is why the Spanish troops returned from Iraq.
On the other side of the world from me (i.e., on Saturday, Oct. 9, according to the far-side of the International Dateline), Australians are just about to start voting in a national election that will determine whether the incumbent Liberal Party Prime Minister John Howard will win his fourth consecutive term (this Liberal Party candidate is often referred to as the most “conservative” Prime Minister in Australian history, please note well), while Australia’s major stock indices closed the week just off their all-time highs, the professional speculators who drive these returns “betting that…Howard’s government will be returned to power,” a newswire reported Thursday (“Australian shares close at record highs, led by resources,” AFX-Asia, Oct. 7).
Still. In Australia, as in Spain, Britain, and the States: The No. One issue this election isn’t the stock market, but Iraq—above all, how Iraq ever became the issue that is in the first place.
The Australian Labour Party candidate Mark Latham clearly showed this when he seized upon the release on the other side of the world of the Duelfer Report to launch a “blistering election-eve attack on the Howard Government’s credibility,” the Courier Mail (Queensland) reported, Latham himself objecting that Howard “should today at long last ‘fess up to the fact, the fundamental truth, that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” adding that “his first responsibility is to keep the Australian people safe and secure, and he’s made us less safe.” (“Latham on attack over Iraq report,” Oct. 8.)
Howard, speaking before the National Press Club in Canberra, had said (“Howard fends off new attacks on Iraq war,” AAP Newsfeed, Oct. 7):
I don’t hide behind false statements. I stand by the decision we took in relation to Iraq. I have no regrets at all about the fact that Saddam Hussein is no longer leading Iraq.
Revealingly, in his prepared remarks, Howard hadn’t mentioned the word ‘Iraq’. Not even once. (See “Howard’s address to National Press Club,” Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 7.) Only in the Q&A afterwards did the issue come up—a measure of how fearful the incumbent Australian Prime Minister is of the issue, having climbed aboard the Americans’ war as eagerly as the British Prime Minister did. And for all of the same sets reasons. Both real and fabricated.
One down. Three to go.
Let’s keep the streak going.
Report of the Inquiry into Australian Intelligence Agencies, July, 2004 (a.k.a., the Flood Report)
Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, September 30, 2004 (a.k.a. Duelfer Report)
GALOTG (“Get a load of this garbage”): Am depositing here one of the more nauseating commentaries to have come out of Australia’s national elections. Or any one else’s, for that matter. From a gentleman who has devoted his career to producing similarly nauseating commentaries that always, somehow or other, manage to find what is redemptive in wars of Western (i.e., Anglo-Saxon) aggression and conquest.
October 8, 2004 Friday All-round Country Edition
SECTION: FEATURES; Opinion / Op Ed; Pg. 15
HEADLINE: Iraq’s liberators should be proud
BYLINE: William Shawcross
Absence of WMDs doesn’t undermine John Howard’s honourable war role, says William Shawcross
JOHN Howard has been getting a bum rap on Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s ambitions to possess weapons of mass destruction were a real threat and the new Iraq will work, despite all the news to the contrary. Those are not the headlines — they are the bottom lines, the important ones.
In recent years Australians have been remarkably clear-sighted in realising that in the post-9/11 world we can no longer tolerate terrorists and proliferators abusing weak and failing states.
The headlines from yesterday’s 1400-page report by Charles Duelfer, leader of the Iraq Survey Group, are all “No WMD”. It does indeed show that Saddam did not have the stockpiles of weapons that we believed him to have when we went to war. Just why and how the world’s intelligence agencies got it so wrong is clearly vital to understand.
But Duelfer also shows that the dictator was determined to reconstitute his weapons. His fascinating report delves into the dark mind of Saddam and reveals that the UN’s oil-for-food program provided him with a bonanza of illegal funding to corrupt UN Security Council members and to diminish the impact of sanctions on his illegal weapons procurement.
I have known Duelfer since the mid-1990s, when he was a senior member of the UN weapons inspection team. He is an excellent and scrupulous investigator. Last month in Baghdad he and one of his colleagues made clear to me that Saddam had never abandoned his WMD ambitions.
Duelfer’s report demonstrates that the UN had failed to control Saddam and that once sanctions had been lifted — as his co-conspirators, particularly France and Russia were demanding — Saddam would have been off to the races. And that was the real alternative to the invasion, though critics of the war, in Australia and elsewhere, refuse to recognise the fact.
But stopping Saddam is not enough. History will condemn those of us who supported the invasion unless we are now able to help Iraqis create a much better society for themselves.
Today it is often hard to believe that that is possible. Day after day, television news bombards us with images of brutal beheadings and of suicide car bombers queuing up to murder with bleak and relentless brutality.
But this war is winnable — and it is essential. To abandon Iraq now, as Spain and the Philippines have done under pressure from terrorism, would be catastrophic. For Iraqis at once, for the world very soon thereafter.
The insurgents are an unholy alliance of former Saddamites determined to reinstate their ghastly rule, Islamic terrorists who would install something equally horrible, and common criminals. If we cannot stop them, we will have helped create another failed state in which terrorism will flourish unchecked.
In Baghdad last month, General David Petraeus, the US commander in charge of training Iraqi troops, told me: “Iraq seems like a roller-coaster which goes up and down, but it’s still climbing.” There are already about 96,000 new Iraqi troops and there should be 145,000 by January, when elections are scheduled. The key to them is their morale, says Petraeus. “Are they stayers or not?” The answer is, predictably, that some are better than others and all need more equipment.
Among the serious mistakes of the coalition is that Washington’s generous promise of $US18 billion ($25 billion) in reconstruction money has been disbursed much too slowly. More and more people (particularly young men) have grown impatient with the slow progress and have taken up arms.
But most of the country is not being car-bombed every day. Away from the cameras and away from the terrorist horrors, large parts of Iraq have made steady, unseen progress in the past year. Kurdistan in the north has created a functioning society. There has been a lot of rebuilding, much of it by US army commanders, of local schools, water treatment plants and so on. Oil production is up. So is electricity production. Marsh Arabs have returned to their rivers.
The terrorist attacks of recent years show that you cannot buy a hiding place from Islamic terrorism. If Australia abandoned Iraq, that would not make Australians safer anywhere. But it would contribute to the belief that Western democracies do not have the stomach for this new international war. It would dishearten all those millions of Iraqis who are desperate for continued help in building a better future.
Since September 11, 2001, Australia has played a full and proud role in the war that Osama bin Laden began. The ADF was integral to the removal of the Taliban and Australian special forces acquitted themselves well during the 2003 war.
Since then, Australian troops have sustained operations at Baghdad airport and have contributed an important naval and air force presence. Australians are training Iraqi troops — very well. Australia has certainly demonstrated during the past three years that it understands the magnitude of the task with which the world is faced.
It is not for me to comment on the Australian election. But I am convinced that, under Howard, Australia has placed itself firmly on the right side in this horrible new war that we have been forced to join.
Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian novelist, visited Iraq last year. He described the “various sects and movements bent on provoking the Apocalypse in order to prevent Iraq from soon becoming a free and modern country, a perspective that rightfully terrifies and drives insane the gangs of murderers and torturers of the Mukhabarat and the Fedayeen of Saddam Hussein along with the fundamentalist commandos from al-Qa’ida … All of them know that if Iraq becomes a modern democracy, their days are numbered.”
If we stay the course in Iraq, a far more decent society than Iraqis have ever enjoyed can be created there. And that will redound to the credit of all those countries that helped do it, Australia prominent among them.
William Shawcross is the author of Allies: The US and the World in the Aftermath of the Iraq War (Allen & Unwin).