The first casualty

President's perspective

The Howard government's pro-war position means that the need for citizens to maintain a vigilant, critical stance in relation to our media cannot be overstated. The most recent report to the UN Security Council on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction gives no credibility whatsoever to the war case, while a resolution supporting military action in the Security Council seems less likely either to attract the necessary number of votes or to escape a veto. In view of this, the Walk Against the War Coalition, the group that three weeks ago brought 300,000 people into the streets of Sydney, believes that Australian participation in military action would be illegal and has called for the nation's troops to be brought home.

As Phyllis Bennis concludes in her article on the Evatt website this month, "Nothing that Powell said [in his presentation to the UN] should alter the position that we should reject a war on spec". Key aspects of the Powell case were refuted by Hans Blix, and the more recent reports by Blix and Mohammed El Baradei of the IAEA at no point suggest that military action against Iraq is desirable. Blix has made it clear that such action would be a failure of the UN system. As in the previous report, Blix and El Baradei point to discrepancies, shortcomings and issues requiring resolution, but also to progress. Blix noted that, in witnessing the destruction of the El Samoud missiles, 'we are not watching the breaking of toothpicks - lethal weapons are being destroyed'.

Germany, France, Russia and China have made it perfectly clear that they see no need for military action against Iraq. French foreign minister, Dominque de Villepin, has summed up the position of the Australians who marched three weeks ago in their hundreds of thousands - and of the millions who marched worldwide - when he said: "Why choose division when our unity and resolve are leading Iraq to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction? France will not let a resolution pass that authorises the automatic use of force."

Our immediate attention must be on mobilising the anger that Australians feel toward unilateral military action; while at the same time hoping that the members of the Security Council can reject the attempt to bully and buy their vote. As Tariq Ali says in his article on the site this month, there is now a clear risk that, "[i]f the Security Council allows the invasion and occupation of Iraq either by a second resolution or by accepting that the first was sufficient to justify war as a last resort, then the UN, too, will die."

The President

The word anger is appropriate. President Bush is not to be trusted. People around the world are rejecting his euphoric arrogance. The latest version of his strategy is based on a domino effect. Destroy the evil leader in Baghdad and instil democracy and this will create a "demonstration effect", Bush said: "A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region."

In last month's President's perspective I referred to the article by the Middle East scholar, Professor Michael Scott Doran - now published on our site - where he analysed untranslated bin Laden statements. The undemocratic leaders of his own country and the other US allies in the Middle East are a primary focus of bin Laden's anger. If the US engages in unilateral military action, Bush will unite Moslem people against him and a percentage will gravitate to terrorism. They pick up the crusading language that President Bush uses to appease the religious right in his Republican party.

Bush's language comes from no practical study of the complex issues in the Middle East, but from theoretical visions of the neo-conservatives in and around his administration. It is as though the whole world has now become a greater Texas: a world composed of goodies and baddies, a world based on oil, a world where there is always a long queue on Death Row. As the crisis gets closer, everything confirms that the Bush foreign policy is run according to theology and opportunism, not principle and practicality.

As Kenneth Davidson said in the Summer issue of Dissent magazine, "The sensible way to deal with international terrorism is to drain the swamp of injustice in which terrorists hide so that the actual terrorists can be exposed more easily and dealt with by normal police methods." September 11 should have been a wake up call to deal with the injustices imposed on the Arab people of the Middle East since the carve ups after the two world wars. As Davidson says, "Instead September 11 has been used as an excuse to impose a pro-western regime in Kabul, whose main job is to give the US an Afghan route for Caspian oil, and 'regime change' in Iraq, which will give the US control over Iraq's huge oil reserves - control lost in l991 even though the US won the first Gulf War."

The coalition of the less and less willing

Meanwhile, as Immanuel Wallerstein observes in his article on the site this month, never has there been a coalition of the less willing. "There is not a single country in Europe, including Eastern Europe, where the polls are not against the US position ... the same thing is happening in East Asia, where Japan, South Korea, and China are aligned against the US approach to handling North Korea."

US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld has now made it clear that if the UK joins the UN in blocking the war, Bush will cast aside Tony Blair, who is dividing his government in following the president. Prime Minister Howard should not feel much more secure. I have watched the peace movement in Australia for fifty years. Never has it been more spontaneous or more representative of our society. Howard has insulted all the citizens who protested, but his wedge politics just will not work this time.

I challenge John Howard to come out in a straight-forward way and call a rally in support of unilateral action. He would get two and a dog. I'm not sure who the two would be. Nobody can understand what is causing the normally cautious John Howard to act this way, with his reputation of being an astute politician who knows how to drive wedges between people to achieve his ends, while appearing humble.

I think he has lost it. He is passing the St Ledger in his last race and the real John Howard is standing up. Parliamentarians falling for 'last term syndrome' and facing retirement do not suppress their true beliefs. We can guess it is a mix of conservative solidarity with a Republican president, defending Anglo-imperialism as we once knew it, and the promise of a trade deal with the US. But this will not protect our soldiers, the three and half million Australians who travel overseas each year or the 720,000 expatriates who work overseas from retaliation, not to mention the potential for massive Middle East casualties in this country's name if the war proceeds.

Media watch

"The first casualty when war comes", US Senator Hiram Johnson said in 1917, "is truth". Thanks to Phillip Knightley's classic 1975 history of war correspondents, the phrase 'the first casualty' has now become a commonplace. They are timely watchwords, as the articles on the Evatt site this month by Phyllis Bennis about Colin Powell's case to the UN Security Council, by Fay Gervasoni and Linda Heard about Tony Blair's fake security dossier, and by Ghassan Hague about John Howard's attitude towards Australia's concern over the war so clearly illustrate.

Amplifying the theme, the Evatt Foundation kicked off this year's program of public events with a special seminar at the Seymour Centre on the current state of news and current affairs journalism. Featuring the distinguished speakers Phillip Knightley and Chris Masters, and attracting an audience of over 400, the seminar probed the forces that have effectively conspired to kill off powerful investigative journalism here and overseas. The papers from the seminar are published this month in our feature, along with a related paper by Richard Ackland, an open letter by prominent US journalists, writers and commentators setting out their expectations of the media in the coming conflict, and John Pilger's introduction to the revised edition of Phillip Knightley's The First Casualty.

The Foundation has also obtained a limited number of copies of the revised 2000 edition of Phillip's book for purchase by our members and readers. The new edition contains new chapters on the 1990-91 Gulf War and the conflicts in Kosovo and the Falklands, and it is an essential reference for anyone seeking to evaluate the performance of our media. We were prompted to obtain the books after we found that no other copies are currently available in Australia. To place these arguments within the larger picture, this month we are have also made the chapter on the media from our own book, Globalisation: Australian Impacts, available on the site.

The internet

The internet is a new and unpredictable feature of the media landscape under conditions of war. The net played a crucial role in the co-ordination of the recent world-wide protest, and is undermining Washington's ability to achieve its stated aim - as Phillip Knightley points out in his paper - of "full spectrum dominance".

Happily, the Evatt Foundation is also playing an increasing part in informing the debate. In my annual report last year I noted the progress of our website. Since that report, the site's traffic has escalated remarkably. In the first two months of 2003 the site's traffic has more than doubled.

We were hovering around 90,000 hits a month at the end of 2002. We are now receiving around 200,000 hits and 25,000 page views a month, or an average of nearly 7,000 hits and 900 page views a day. In the 2002 annual report I noted that, on our busiest day to that time (which was in October last year), we had over 7,000 hits. We now regularly exceed that mark on several days each month, and on our busiest day in January we received over 34,000 hits. We also have hundreds of new subscribers, and our readership now extends to over 70 countries. By any and all measures, it's an extraordinary rate of progress. Congratulations to Christopher Sheil and Mark McGrath, who manage the site. And on behalf of the Foundation, my warm thanks to all our contributors and readers.

Bruce Childs
President
Evatt Foundation
13 March 2003