Iraq on the Head of a Pin

Mark Seymour’s thoughts on Iraq, as posted on his Internet site.

Author: Mark Seymour.

Date: 16 October 2006.

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In politics credibility is what counts and winning is the ultimate form of credibility. Unfortunately something’s gone horribly wrong in Iraq and everybody knows it. Whether or not it is right or wrong to leave the troops there or pull them out and even if you’re John Howard’s greatest admirer, you’d have to be blind or stupid not to be wondering if Howard has finally made a mistake. The thing is though, he hasn’t made many. In fact you could say he’s had a dream run. His greatest trick has been to appear to be acting in good faith even when the stakes are potentially terminal and in pure political terms, there’s nothing more terminal than a war. Iraq appears to be all of that and Howard isn’t winning.

Let’s just say for the sake of argument, that it was reasonable for John Howard, along with the leaders of Britain and the United States, to believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a link between Saddam and Al Qaeda; that combined with Saddam’s reputation as a mass-murderer and you could say they had good cause to lobby their respective nations as hard as they did to invade Iraq and get the bastard. If they succeeded, there would be a little less evil in an already fearful and nervous world.

Let’s put aside the fact that to do this, there was the need to spend billions on logistics, hardware and people to get the job done. It was, in anyone’s book, a humungous effort and the troops on the ground had good reason to be cheerful when they won.

Put all strategic intelligence aside. Let’s say that Howard simply believed he was doing the right thing. After all, it is no small feat to commit an army into harm’s way. Far be it for anyone to imply that Howard is a hollow man, who’s sole purpose in life is to win and hold political power for it’s own sake and that the U.S. alliance, interpreted at it’s most extreme level was more important to Howard for domestic political reasons than waging effective war on terror. After all, the big issue now is how ineffective the Iraq invasion has proven to be, and there was no lack of strategists opposed to the concept back in 2002.

Bare in mind that Howard is a Christian, which suggests that on a moral level, he chose to defend the future happiness of the greatest number. In fact, given the nature of Christian faith, it’s urgings to forgive, to live compassionately, to do unto others as you would you have them do unto you, if religious faith was driving him then of course Saddam simply wasn’t playing cricket and something had to be done. You might say that Howard’s belief was so strong that he chose to completely ignore the clear message he was sent by a majority of voting Australians that they didn’t want their country to join the “Coalition of the willing.” His faith was his guide so he must’ve known better. Okay. Where does that leave us?

The planes went into the towers in 2001. The invasion happened early in 2003. It’s now getting close to the end of 2006. The war on terror continues, global intelligence is in overdrive, nations around the world have ratcheted up internal security to unprecedented levels. People go about their daily business with the same mild anxiety about bombs going off that they’ve had, two, three, four years ago. But it’s not too bad. After all, you’ve got to get on with living. Things are pretty much the same. Mildly grim. The carnage that is Iraq has become a permanent fixture. You might even argue, that what is going on there, is to most law-abiding people, the ‘war on terror’ itself. It’s a hell of a business, and better that it’s going down over there and not here.

Or maybe people aren’t that dumb. My 23 year old nephew is off on an around the world ticket…. He’s not scared. He couldn’t give a shit. What would be the point of that? Still, a lot has been written about Iraq since 2003; military incompetence, bad intelligence, dubious diplomacy, corporate nepotism and greed… torture, human rights abuse and of course, the as yet unknown number of innocent people who have died violently, the usual stuff you get with wars. It’s all a bit sordid really especially listening John Howard as he wriggles on the head of a pin.