War on Iraq: Howard prepares to defy public opinion

Issue 

BY ALISON DELLIT

Despite a Newspoll indicating that public opposition to a war on Iraq has not been dented by the Bali bombings, Prime Minister John Howard has strengthened indications that Australians will be part of any US-led war on Iraq.

The poll was taken between October 18 and 20, and respondents were asked if they were “personally in favour or against Australian forces being part of any US-led military action against Iraq”. Fifty-three per cent were against, with 36% saying they were “strongly against”. Thirty-nine per cent were in favour and 8% were uncommitted. A similar poll taken in September also recorded 53% against, with 35% strongly against.

Sixty-nine per cent of respondents in the Newspoll also thought that “Australian government support for the US was a factor in the Bali bomb blast”.

The continuing opposition to war on Iraq is making sections of the ruling elite very nervous. No less than a dozen opinion pieces in major Australian newspapers were run between October 27-29 calling for increased military resources to be diverted to the Asia-Pacific region.

Under pressure following its Cunningham by-election loss, Labor wasted no time supporting such calls. Federal Labor leader Simon Crean told the October 27 Channel Nine Sunday program that Australian troops now in Afghanistan should be “deployed here in our region”.

In an opinion piece published in the October 31 Melbourne Age, former Labor foreign affairs spokesperson Laurie Brereton went slightly further, arguing that, even if the UN should support an attack on Iraq, Australia should only contribute “bilateral intelligence” and not “lend the direct support of our defence forces”.

Brereton, who also argued that the ALP should only support an attack on Iraq “with explicit authorisation from the [UN] Security Council”, is hardly reflecting a concern for the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who will probably be killed in a US-led invasion.

What he is reflecting is unease among sections of Australia's capitalist ruling class, which are worried about a potential public backlash from Australian participation in a war on Iraq and instead believe the Bali bombings provide an opportunity to beef up Australian military support for repressive regimes in South-East Asia.

In response to this pressure, Howard also announced on October 28 that, during the October 25-29 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Mexico, he would discuss strengthening Australia's military involvement in the Asia-Pacific region with US President George Bush.

The Bush administration, however, was not happy with any attempt by Australia to reduce its military involvement in a war on Iraq. This was hardly surprisingly, given that Bush's anti-Iraq coalition currently consists of only Britain, Israel, the US and Australia.

Far from pulling away from a war on Iraq, while he was in Mexico Howard ended up signing a joint communique with Bush promising that Australia would work closely with the US to “ensure Iraq complies with all UN resolutions”. What this will mean in terms of the deployment of Australian military forces remains to be seen.

In recent years, media commentators and politicians have had to repackage Australian support for repressive regimes in South-East Asia as “engaging with Asia” and “ensuring stability”. Since 9/11, the region has been described as an “arc of Muslim instability”.

Following the Bali bombings, the claims of Muslim extremism have escalated even further, with ludicrous claims by commentators such as Padraic McGuinness that Islamic militants intend to include northern Australia in an Islamic state stretching from “Mindanao to Morocco”. (Claims even foreign minister Alexander Downer had to say were based on no evidence.)

These claims, however, are aimed at laying the basis to convince Australians to accept Australian military and financial support for the Indonesian military's bloody suppression of the Acehnese independence movement and the Philippines government's attack on Moro independence fighters in Mindanao.

From Green Left Weekly, November 6, 2002.
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