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Friday, October 18, 2002
The best thing about blogs is that they are wildly diverse and pretty much constantly updated, so that whatever your jones is, you can find the instant gratification of a new post in a few clicks.

Not me, though. Not today. I'm going through Blair withdrawal. Tim Blair is one of my favorites and he is allegedly on his way to the US. I say allegedly because he said he would be on a plane for twenty hours and that was about forty eight hours ago. To satisfy the strange cravings that have come over me, I decided to read Tim's latest column. I knew it would not be as satisfying as his website postings. It seems that, even in the Land of Oz, you just can't call someone "the fucking dumbest dumb fuck of them all" (ah, sweet redundancy) in print. Still, it would be better than nothing.

So I followed the link I found here for the opinion page of The Australian. No Blair column in sight. At least not in immediate sight. It seems I was too successful in staving off the Blairshakes. Tim's column was listed in a single line at the bottom of the page because it was published yesterday (and yesterday in Oz is two days ago).

When I didn't see what I wanted immediately, I decided to browse a bit, and I found this.

One Doug Bandow, writing about the bombing in Bali, says:

As the shock of personal loss reverberates across Australia, its citizens must confront the terrible dangers of living in a terrorists' world.

Even the most innocent tourist in the seemingly safest resort is now at risk. More urgent is the Government's response. Prime Minister John Howard says Canberra will not be deterred from its support for US policy.

Such a public stance is necessary, if only to demonstrate that murdering civilians is not a useful tool for changing government policy.

So far so good. But then he jumps in with both feet in his mouth.

But Australia, no less than the US after September 11, 2001, must reconsider its foreign policy goals and tactics. After all, Canberra's broad, tight alliance with Washington has had no justification for years, especially in the post-Cold War world.

So Bandow thinks that Australia needs to state publicly that they will not be forced by terrorists to change their policies, but then must change their policies anyway. I guess those stupid terrorists are too dumb to notice a disconnect between what the object of their affections does and says. All the terrorists care about is words. Actions are irrelevant. In the immortal words of Bill Cosby, Riiiiiiiiiight.

As the September 11 and October 12 attacks show, the threats against both nations today are far subtler, more decentralised and asymmetrical than any traditional security threat. Which makes co-operation for more limited goals and a new division of labour ever more important.

Despite the Bush administration's pretensions to deal with every violent conflict everywhere on earth, the US has been unable even to root out terrorist cells from the scores of countries in which al-Qa'ida alone is thought to be operating. Australia is far better equipped to confront terrorism and instability in South-East Asia.

Why the asymmetrical nature of the security threat requires a reduction in the ambitions of the joint US/Australian goals is left unexplained. As to the division of labor, actually being next to Southeast Asia, I agree that Australia might well be in a better position than the US to do something about terrorism there than are we. More on the claim that the US has been unable to "root out terrorist cells" later.

In doing so, Canberra should act not as Washington's deputy, but as an independent player – a friendly one, to be sure, but nevertheless one with its own interests and objectives.

Did I miss something? When did the US ask Australia to abandon its own interests or objectives? Isn't that what the French are all hot and bothered about in connection with US policy: That we refuse to abandon our own interests or objectives? The fact is that, with respect to any specific objective of the US campaign (Afghanistan and Iraq, so far) we are refusing to seek coalition partners whose membership in the coalition would require the alteration of the goals of the coalition because of the interests and objectives of the potential coalition member. Having, for example, France join the Iraq campaign would require changing the goals of that campaign because France's stated interest is to prevent the invasion of Iraq. So the US is saying to France, "OK, no problem, you need not join us. We'll do it without you."

Of course, Canberra's assistance to the US after the September 11 attacks was appreciated, but more for moral than material reasons. Australia can do more by being active in its own region than by contributing to the fig leaf of an international invasion force for Iraq.

You bet Australia's response to 9/11 was appreciated, and if the reasons were more moral than material, so what? On the other hand, whether Australia can do more by being active in Southeast Asia is a judgment call on which reasonable people can disagree. First, Australia, should it chose to do so, can probably contribute more than a fig leaf. Their special forces are supposed to be excellent. Second, I think that whatever contribution Australia decides to make (or not to make) to an invasion of Iraq will have little or no effect on what it can do in its own region. The Oz contribution with respect to Iraq will probably be military and/or logistics related. But Indonesia has a government that apparently is not yet owned by extremists. That one fact puts Indonesia in a position more analogous to that of Pakistan, and makes the use of Australian special forces within Indonesia unlikely. My guess, therefore (and it really is a guess), is that Australia's actions in Southeast Asia will probably be related to intelligence and investigation. So Bandow's unstated assumption that Australia cannot simultaneously contribute to the coming action in Iraq and act within its own region appears to be false. If, however, Australia decided that it needed whatever resources it would otherwise commit to Iraq to pursue Indonesian terrorists, however, Bandow could be correct.

The fact that terrorism has suddenly imposed such a cruel toll Down Under illustrates another important responsibility for Canberra: to offer tough counsel to the Bush administration. The US should deal with first things first.

The Iraqi regime is ugly; Saddam Hussein is pursuing weapons of mass destruction; the world will be a better place after the dictator's demise. But none of these factors has changed since September 11 and none is unique to Iraq. Without serious evidence of a connection between Hussein and al-Qa'ida, there seems to be little reason, and certainly no hurry, to invade Iraq.

No connection, little reason and no hurry have all been dealt with elsewhere better than I could. Bandow is correct that none of the bad things about Iraq is unique. However, the combination of bad things about Iraq (murderous tyrant, thirsting for revenge against the US for Gulf War I, potential access to nuclear weapons, confirmed access to biological and chemical weapons, willingness to use unconventional weapons, willingness to attack its perceived foes without provocation, ties to terrorist groups) is unique.

But the nightclub bombing in Bali, ship attack in Yemen, shootings in Kuwait and terrorist arrests in Portland, Oregon and Buffalo, New York, all demonstrate that much remains to be done to defeat terrorism. Attacking Iraq would foolishly divert resources and attention from this fight.

Wait one. I thought that the US had been unable to date to root out terrorist cells. If Bandow means we are not done rooting out terrorist cells, and that therefore we can do nothing else in the meantime, he is wrong. I'm not saying that we have found and dismantled all of the cells. That certainly has not happened. Indeed, there is a real possibility that it may never happen, given that there are some six billion people in the world and given percentage of them will always be crazies. In any event, no one has ever said that it could be done in a short period of time. Everyone, from Bush on down, has said that it will take a long time. My guess is between five and ten years, but what do I know. However, regardless of how long finding and dismantling terrorist cells takes, whether its thirty minutes or thirty years, Bandow is wrong when he says that until that goal is accomplished we can do nothing else.

Moreover, an invasion would inflame Islamic hatreds and aid terrorist recruitment. An American attack would be sloshing gasoline from the Middle East to South-East Asia at a time when Muslim fundamentalists dominated the elections in Pakistan, the Philippines war against Islamic insurgents stagnates, Israelis and Palestinians are at war, and Indonesia faces perhaps its greatest security challenge yet. Should the sparks from America's Iraqi strikes light a larger conflagration, Australians almost certainly will be burned.

Inflame Islamic hatreds: The dreaded Arab Street. Do you remember the Arab Street? That was the group that rose up en masse and ignited a general conflagration in the Middle East when the US invaded Afghanistan. That was the group that caused a revolt in Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan because the US invaded a supposedly devout Muslim nation for the purpose of imposing secular government. I remember them. I remember that the Arab Street celebrated the collapse of the World Trade Center. I remember that the Arab Street said the US deserved what it had gotten. I remember that the Arab Street was completely and utterly silent when the US achieved in Afghanistan in eight weeks what the Soviets failed to do in eight years. The Arab Street respects strength, despises weakness and sees compromise as weakness. Why compromise when you can enforce your will? There is no such thing as magnanimity in the Arab Street. The Arab Street cares for one thing and one thing only in an adversary: Victory. Win, and the Arab Street is silent. Vacillate or compromise and they will be at your throat. So let's win. We can, you know.

Aid terrorist recruitment: Islamic fundamentalist terrorists will flock to the banner of the secular Baathists in droves. The same secular Baathists who attacked Iran, the very first "pure Islamic" nation in the modern world. The same Baathists who attacked Moslems in Kuwait. The same secular Baathists who murder Moslems within Iraq with impunity. In droves.

Worsen the Israeli/Palestinian conflict: Yes, the Israelis and the Palestinians are at war. Removing Iraq as major source of funding for the Palestinian's particular brand of terror will not worsen the situation, it will improve it. It may also have the effect of putting the fear of Allah into Syria, another butcher of Moslems and the source of Hezbollah's power.

Canberra, however, is in a unique position to try to slow the Bush administration's rush into another unnecessary war. Unlike Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, for instance, the Howard Government has resolutely supported Washington. Now that Australians, too, have suffered from the murderous hatreds loose about the globe, the Bush administration at least would have to listen.

The UK and Australia are both in a position to offer advice to the US. I agree that their position is unique among all of the nations of the world. I assume that both nations are in fact offering advice. I don't think that its advice of which Bandow approves, nor do I think that either of those friends wants to spend even a small amount of their good will with the US as Germany did through futile gestures.

The US and Australia have much in common – a shared ancestry, related culture, diverse geography, and joint commitment to the values of human life, dignity and freedom. That commonality now includes the enormous sorrow caused by young lives tragically cut short.

And Bandow argues that this common sorrow should cause both Australia and the US to turn away from the values of human life, dignity and freedom, cravenly slinking away in fear of an Arab Street that is, in Bandow's opinion, omnipotent, but in fact is wholly absent.

Yet security ties should serve a purpose, not exist as permanent institutions constantly seeking new justifications for their existence.

I agree that security ties should serve a purpose. The purpose they should serve is the mutual security interests of the parties to the security pact. Security ties should not serve to enable one partner to dissuade the other from pursuing its own security interests when those interests are not identical to both members. The fact that the NATO treaty was invoked after 9/11 (apparently) for the purpose of attempting to restrain, as opposed to assist, the US, has severely damaged NATO. I think that both the US and Australia realize that if Australia were to attempt to do the same thing, similar damage to the US/Australian relationship would occur. I think that both the US and Australia want to avoid that damage, and that therefore no such attempt at restraint will be made at all, much less made publicly.

The sort of threat reflected by the Bali bombing calls for a continued strong relationship, but one with a new division of labour. The two nations' partnership should evolve, reflecting changing strategic realities for both Canberra and Washington.

The world is changing, as it always has. The pace of that change is accelerating. All institutions, including nations and international organizations, must also change in response. So in that limited sense, Bandow is correct. But what he wants Australia to do in response to the bombing in Bali is to restrain and change what he perceives as America's misguided foreign policies. That should not happen. I trust that it won't.
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