What's next?

President's perspective

War & peace

"The agenda, as always, begins with trying to find out what is happening in the world" Noam Chomksy concludes in his interview with Michael Albert in this month's Evatt Journal. As President Bush and his comprador John Howard claim the always-was-inevitable victory in the Iraq war with great fanfare, you have to be worried. There is every sign that the Bush team will engage in further adventures to reshape the world based on the unilateralist model.

Yet the Iraq issue is filled with complexity. We need extended research, debate and discussion to examine the issues, to understand the current directions and to identify Australia's interests. Paul McGeough's final despatch from Baghdad, which we publish this month, captures the sense of contradiction and challenge that lies in building the postwar, post-Saddam Iraq.

The military dimension has been fairly described as a battle not a war. The military battle can be best understood by comparing the size of the combatants. The United States spends half the world's total military budget, which amounted to $US437 billion in 2002. Australia spent $US7.5 billion and Iraq spent $US1.5 billion. The military outcome of the Iraq invasion was never in doubt. In the larger war, however, all the larger problems still exist, and it will take time to discover the effects of this battle on them.

What is disturbing is that this massive military machine is being wielded by a President who is aided and abetted by a media that permits his simplistic sound bites to triumph over sound analysis. Charles Kupchan, in his book The End of the American Era, described the United States as a great power adrift, characterised by contradictory and incoherent behaviour. Perhaps nothing so plainly illustrates the contradictions and incoherence as the extraordinary and outrageous double standard embodied in its attitude to US prisoners of war and those held in Guantanamo Bay, as George Monbiot so clearly explains in this month's article "One rule for them".

The dangerous US drift can be explained in part by the contradiction between the traditional Republican isolationism and the unilateralism that favours unfettered global 'leadership'. Indeed, the United States' relationship to the United Nations over Iraq is a case study in how isolationism and unilateralism can coalesce. This must lead to a careful analysis of the Bush team and its beliefs. The Evatt Foundation will look to examining links between the Bush team, their corporate donors, the right wing think-tanks, the religious right and the media machine that increasingly sets the agenda.

In particular, we aim to focus on the neo-conservatives, whose influence now looms so large in the wake of their role in pushing the US into the war. We begin this month by featuring two key articles. Joseph Cirincione, a Senior Associate and Director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, outlines how the call for regime change in Iraq was driven by the small group of influential officials and experts in Washington known as the 'Neocons' since 1991. The article contains valuable links back to the Endowment and the key documents. The other article is by historian Robert Blecher, and he takes a wider perspective, tracing the way in which "Neo-conservatives, traditional conservatives and plain old-fashioned liberals have formed a coalition of Iraq hawks whose spilling of ink" was "a pale precursor to the spilling of Iraqi blood".

One of the major debates is between the Bush regime and the multilateral United Nations. The UN Charter, Article 1, Section 4 states: "All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state...". Despite Bush's bullying, the UN Security Council upheld its Charter and refused to endorse the invasion. This great achievement for the UN was made possible by the global people's movement against the war. In the coming months there will be an intense struggle as Bush seeks to assert his will over that of the United Nations. This is a fundamental debate for Australia.

Australia

A decade ago I chaired the Senate Estimates committee that dealt with the Department of Foreign Affairs. Senators from the extreme right, Bronwyn Bishop and Rod Kemp, set out to attack the UN, its agencies and international conventions. They were following the Republican right and their think-tanks. Their technique was to infer that these far off countries, often in the third world, should not tell us what to do. I believed it was the old 'Anglo dog whistle' being blown.

With the Howard government, we now have this isolationism sprinkled with unilateralist outbreaks as our policy. Australia's traditional leadership in world forums has been reversed and in the last five years our human rights record has been under critical scrutiny by all six UN human rights treaty committees.

The list includes discrimination against indigenous people, against women and social enlightenment and applicants for refugee status. As Anne Summers explains in her article this month, the Howard government is now moving to destroy the power of Australia's Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HEREOC).

Another manifestation of the same problem is the behind closed doors negotiations for a US Free Trade Agreement, a topic which is addressed by Patricia Ranald. At the same time that Howard has alarmed our neighbours in the region and undermined long-term trade prospects, he threatens to put all our eggs in the American basket. In another chapter from the Foundation's recent book, Globalisation: Australian Impacts, thsi month Kevin Rudd examines Australia's role in the context of regional governance in the Asia-Pacific.

It is crucial to ensure that the Howard government's adventures with George Bush and his aggressive social agenda are not allowed to sideline serious concerns over economic policy. This month we publish what is certainly our most impressive and challenging array of papers in this area. As well as an analysis of the latest major failure in the continuing saga of PPP policies, we are proud to present a review of new research on American working life by Roy Green that has direct implications for Australian policy, extracts from important and challenging new books by Fred Argy and Clive Hamilton, and, finally and most remarkably, the latest research on the direction of the world economy by the distinguished historian, Robert Brenner.

For those of our readers who are in Sydney, I urge you not to miss the upcoming Evatt Breakfast Seminar featuring Michael Pusey, who will talk about his rich research into middle Australia. In the next issue of our journal we aim to focus on the Howard government's budget and proposed Medicare changes.

Bruce Childs
President
Evatt Foundation
6 May 2003