Looking to Europe

President's perspective

President Bush is the leader of the world's greatest military power ever. If the Pentagon were to rank as a country, it would be the world's 14th biggest economy. The United States has a quarter of the world's economy, but only 5 per cent of the world's population. Yet the United States today is responsible for half of all money spent on defence. Today, this colossus is insecure and vulnerable. It is led by a president who has moved to the right and is characterised by his omni-directional belligerence.

It's hard for Australians to understand the mind set that now dominates the Bush administration, but that must be a major part of any analysis. The power of the military-industrrial complex, energy-oil, pharmeceuticals and private health corporations has increased. I am reminded of my experience as a member of parliamentary delegations to the US. We always seemed to be making representations on behalf of our primary products that faced trade barriers. Yet our embassy always arranged meetings with congressmen and senators who, in their electorates, invariably had substantial defence products that Australia buys.

Since the Second World War, the US alliance has been a major pillar of Australian policy. There is now a need to review this in view of the unilateralist Bush position, not with a crude anti-American reaction, but based on a clear headed assessment of our national self interest.

Europe versus the US

In the forties, Dr Evatt wrote about how Australia had to give attention to our region. The Whitlam, Hawke and Keating governments developed practical initiatives in our region, and trade has prospered as a result. In contrast, John Howard wants to go all the way with a US trade deal at the very time his actions in blindly supporting Bush threaten our trade in the Middle East and South East Asia. Clearly, Howard has hitched himself to the Bush star because he thinks that the might of the United States and media hype will carry the day. This denies the extent to which the Bush administration is dominated by dangerously narrow political and economic interests.

Dennis Healey, former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, wrote about how the Reagan administration had transferred power from the East Coast to California. He described how the traditional link with Europe had been loosened. Bush, the Texan president with a cabinet dominated by oil and energy veterans, is now following a unilateralist policy at every level as political power shifts yet again.

Peremptory rejections of nuclear arm agreements, the biological weapons convention, environmental protection, and anti-torture proposals and punishment of war criminals have sometimes been combined with economic threats against those who disagree with Bush. All these issues have led to a serious rift with European governments and their peoples.

In his book, The World We're In, Will Hutton makes a devastating critique of the United States under Bush and the rise of the right in the last thirty years. A talk based on his book was broadcast by ABC-Radio National and a transcript of his lecture is hosted on the Evatt website this month. Hutton's argument is that the UK should follow the European model and this is relevant to Australia. All the worst initiatives that the Howard government has undertaken are derivatives of American corporate-dominated programs.

The terrorism question

The issue of terrorism now needs careful thought. September 11 challenged the feeling of US invincibility. As the American people rallied behind their head of state, Bush was able to get over the stigma of his rorted election. The Afghanistan campaign gave focus to finding the evil doers and extracting justice and revenge. At the end of the campaign, bin Laden had not been found.

At the same time, Enron and the other corporate scandals associated with the Bush deregulation initiatives started to bite. Facing the November election last year, it is not hard to imagine a meeting of his inner circle of energy and oil people where 'Iraq' came up. It has all the characteristics of doubling your bets and taking a punt, but there are many dangerous aspect to this gamble.

Firstly, the attempt to link bin Laden and Al Quaeda to Saddam Hussein is fraught. Hussein is a secular leader who has worked for years to crush fundamentalist Islam within Iraq. Hussein is a declared enemy of bin Laden. Secondly, the merging of terrorism and Iraq in the tabloid media prevents the serious examination of the terrorism question in all its complexity. A smart terrorist is not engaged in conventional warfare. Instead, terrorists kill to draw attention to their cause in order to radicalise moderates. They aim to disrupt the lives of those who prefer not to be involved. Most of all, the terrorist seeks to achieve over reaction. It goes without saying that people who feel oppressed or under privileged and poor can be mobilised.

Professor Michael Scott Doran of Princeton University, an expert in Middle East Studies, analysed bin Laden's motives in the journal, Foreign Affairs. His paper, which is also reproduced on our website this month, shows that bin Laden is interested in defeating the leaders in the Middle East whom he sees as puppets of the West. Every time Bush asserts his power in crude overstatement, like his "crusade" comment, he fuels anger and resentment in the Moslem world.

Our own prime minister and his foreign affairs minister have tried to talk up the 'War and Order' hysteria. When Howard conveyed that Australia might take its own 'first strike' type of initiative, he appalled our neighbours in South East Asia. He ignored the fact that one third of the world's Moslem population lives in South East Asia. He highlighted, after Bali, that, if he talks like Bush, he will draw anger to our country and its people. With dog whistles, he undermines the work that Labor governments have done to increase mutual respect and trade with South East Asia.

The good oil on President Bush

According to Michael Renner of Worldwatch Institute in Washington, for half a century the United States has made big investments to keep the Gulf region in its geopolitical orbit and maintain America's claim on a preponderant share of the world's oil. The key is that the Gulf region has 30 per cent of global production and also 65 per cent of the world's known reserves. Iraq is the prize as it is only second to Saudi Arabia, with reserves of 112 billion barrels.

Rival oil interests are a crucial behind-the-scenes factor as the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council jockey over resolutions. The Bush energy policy is predicated on growing consumption of oil, preferably cheap oil. Two weeks ago the Energy Department warned that America would have to increase its oil imports sharply in the next twenty-five years to meet rising domestic demand. It said that net US oil imports could account for 65 per cent of total domestic demand by 2020, up from the current 55 per cent.

As Professor Michael Klare explains in a lucid exposition of the resource issue in his article on the coming war that has also been posted on the website this month, controlling Iraq oil would allow the United States to reduce Saudi influence over oil policy. Hawks in right-wing think-tanks close to the administration have become more strident in their attacks on Arabia. The Saudi leadership faces a pincer movement. With a population reeling from economic crises and massive maladministration. They are ripe for a citizen revolt.

Beyond Saudi Arabia, yes, part of the Bush team is also seduced by the power to have leverage over the world oil market, fatally weakening OPEC and reducing the influence of Russia, Mexico and Venezuela. The aspirations of junior president Bush are in line with his family tradition and his political support group.

And Saddam ...

President Bush has said that Saddam Hussein is a homicidal dictator addicted to weapons of mass destruction, conveniently forgetting the role of the United States in providing the weapons of mass destruction in the early eighties.

In calling for regime change in Iraq, Bush has accused Saddam Hussein of being a man who gassed his own people. Of course that is true. The record shows that poisonous gases were spread over Kurdish villages in 1987 and 1988. Analysis of captured Iraqi documents, declassified US government material, the testimony of Kurdish survivors, senior Iraqi defectors and retired US Intelligence officers reveals that Iraq carried out the attack on Halabja in which 6800 Kurds died. The US State Department's spin doctors put out a statement saying that Iran had been partly responsible. The resultant confusion and indecision meant that there was a 'mild' condemnation of Iraq. The United Sates also shipped seven strains of anthrax to Iraq in the decade 1978 to 1988.

The hypocrisy of the Bush team has no bounds. As New York Times columnist Nicholas B Kristof has said, George Bush and Dick Cheney portray Saddam Hussein as so menacing and terrifying a figure that one might think they may have lain awake for years worrying about him. But when Cheney was running Halliburton, the oil services firm, it sold more equipment to Iraq than any other company did. Halliburton subsidiaries submitted $US23.8 million worth of contracts with Iraq to the United Nations in 1998 and 1999 for approval of the Sanctions Committee.

Conclusion

Nobody can be certain how the votes of the permanent members of the Security Council will be cast. Unfortunately that vote will have very little direct input from Arab, Muslem or undeveloped countries. In contrast, the self interest of the permanent members is very clear. This all has the ingredients of an explosive mixture.

The main message we want to give to the Howard government is that the majority of Australia's people do not believe a war on Iraq is justified. It would cause untold suffering ("75 per cent of all war casualties are civilian" - UN Secretary Kofi Annan). It is being sold as a 'war on terrorism', but the evidence is that the oil-energy interests that dominate the Bush administration want regime change in Iraq to rearrange the oil power balance in their corporate and national interest. Europe embodies a realistic alternative direction.

This is a debate we have to have.

Bruce Childs
President
Evatt Foundation
27 January 2003