What about Iraq?

One thing that’s striking about our election campaign in contrast to the one being waged in the US, is the almost deafening silence on the war in Iraq; while Iraq dominates the US campaign, there has been barely a word about the war in Australia. Of course, it’s the conventional wisdom that Howard has it all over Latham on matters of defence and national security, and so Latham is sticking to domestic policy basics. But — given the times in which we live — surely it’s in the national interest to debate these issues.

Indeed, on any considered analysis, it’s far from obvious that Howard’s foreign policy has led Australia in the right direction. We’ve written before about the complete loss of our leadership role in multilateral trade reform. And what of the war in Iraq? As the number of US casualties passes the 1,000 mark and US officials concede that insurgents control important parts of country (read here), it’s hard to spin this one. Last week Britain’s prestigous Royal Institute for International Affairs released a sobering report predicting that the most likely outcome is that Iraq will fragment or descend into civil war. (click <a href="http://www.riia.org/index.php?id=189&pid=168&PHPSESSID=d185a1ba95c147db2c41538f476d5045
“>here to read the full report). Voters would do well to ask whether nodding agreement with the Bush administration really does make for a good foreign policy.

From a campaign perspective, Labor strategists should consider challenging the CW and taking up this issue — not because Iraq is high on voters’ minds, but because how we got there plays into an important broader character narrative about Howard and the way he governs. The ALP and others have been pushing this “Howard lies” line. The problem with this line is that — while it’s clearly true — it’s a polarizing argument. Far more subtle and effective IMHO would be the argument that Howard, as a leader, has not been completely “fair dinkum” with the Australian people on this and many other issues — he doesn’t deliberately set out to misled us, but he doesn’t pay sufficient attention to the truth; he plays a bit fast and loose with the facts. And here’s the kicker — after eight years in power he’s getting worse. There are lots of examples that ALP strategists could point to (here’s our own little irrelevant, but funny example). Latham and his surrogates ought to be arguing that surely the Australian people deserve a leader who’s going be fair dinkum with them. Fair dinkum on health. Fair dinkum on education. And fair dinkum when it comes to sending Australia’s young men and women to war.

[Posted by David Madden]

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2 Responses to What about Iraq?

  1. There’s very few people in Australia that are actually interested in a serious discussion about foreign policy; in the mediascape, it all comes back to domestic politics, and it makes the voters eyes glaze over. If you try to hold a serious debate about foreign policy it tends to get hijacked by idealists and cranks, rather then a sensible balanced arguement weighing the costs and benefits of a particular course.

    You can imagine the way the White House would have reacted if JH had basically declined to go along with the Mespotamian Adventure. Plenty of people would have welcomed the end of the Alliance which would likely have followed. But plenty of voters would not have.

    I think JH basically never did believe in the war, but felt he had to go along for the sake of preserving the alliance. If you look at the level of our actual troop committment in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is the absolute bare minimum that JH can politely get away with.

    Was that the right policy? I tend to think so, all things considered, (it is easy to imagine if Beazley had won in 2001 he would have followed a similar path) but in the shrill and almost hysterical atmosphere of an election campaign, I do not think you will see too much sensible debate.

  2. Brett McLean says:

    Dave,

    On the ALP Campaign: I think you are just substituting the words “Fair Dinkum” with the word “Truthful”. I don’t see how that changes anything, except that it introduces an outdated and to my ears, jarring expression into the campaign.

    The problem as I see it so far is that neither party is offering a grand vision of the future that is in any way compelling. They are offering instead to bribe us with tax cuts, which comes over as rather cheap, shoddy, and insulting. It paints the voter as grasping, greedy and self obsessed (perhaps they are!).

    For Labour to successfully challenge Howard on Foreign Policy, and Iraq in particular, it needs to be able to offer something concrete. Saying we’ll send army medics and rebuilding teams, and of course soldiers to protect our diplomats, but we’ll recall ‘the troops’, is difficult to sell as much of a difference.

    Labor’s problem with Iraq is that there’s not too many options. It either sticks with the US or pulls out abandoning it to the dogs, neither option looks good because as you say, and I agree, the place is going to the dogs regardless.

    The UN doesn’t offer any alternative for Labour to support, so unless Rudd and the ALP can pull off a sort of “Oslo agreement” for Iraq, a ‘deus ex machina’, then Labor doesn’t have too much attractive to offer on the FP front.

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