Bali to Iraq: time to act

"Ridding Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and its regime will almost certainly require military force"

The Age 17 October 2002. (with major edited changes in italicized square brackets)

Bali has led many to urge Australia to forget about Iraq and to concentrate on terrorism as being more immediate and closer to home. But this is bad advice.

First, it supposes Iraq and terrorism pose quite different threats. But they don’t.

True, we have no evidence that Saddam is deeply involved in directing international terrorism. But he is encouraging these activities — notably in Israel, by making large payments to families of suicide homicides.

More fundamentally, Iraq matters because the Middle East is the centre of international terrorism; because until the Middle East is radically changed terrorism will continue and because the place to begin that change is Iraq, for its own benefit and for the effect on other Middle East countries.

Change almost certainly cannot be initiated without using outside force to unseat Saddam. But this will not be enough by itself. Outside efforts will continue to

be needed to attempt to make governments in the area democratic [and more sensible economically].

[Middle East governments are so stuck in the rut of their ways that an outside push will be necessary; and that would best be provided in the first instance by forced regime change in Iraq].

Second, the advice to forget Iraq supposes that our attention span and our means are not up to dealing with two large matters simultaneously. But that is nonsense, because our means of dealing with the two are not the same.

Ridding Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and its regime will almost certainly require military force. But military force is not appropriate in dealing with terrorism, except in Afghanistan-type circumstances where the terrorists effectively took over the government.

[That is certainly not the case in Indonesia]. Bali requires us not to draw on our military means but to beef up our non-military means such as domestic resolve, laws, intelligence, police, better coordination at home, more cooperation abroad.

So we cannot forget about Iraq and the probable need to use military force against it.

Should Australia join in that use of force?

Some argue against it on [claimed] principle, saying force should not be used in any circumstance, or only with UN Security Council authorization [— since to act without that would be to return to the Law of the Jungle].

But the member states of the UN make their decisions in self-defined national interests. In any case, sufficient "authority" already exists in previous Council resolutions [, and will probably soon be strengthened by yet another.]

Moreover, the UN charter did not give member states self-defence as a right, to be exercised in defined circumstances; rather did it recognize the pre-existing right of self-defence, to be exercised at the decision of the defender.

Australia would be justified in joining a coalition of force against Iraq even without (further) Security Council sanction. But would we be acting in our own interests to do this? Yes, because those interests, including that of self-defence, go much wider than beating back an invading force [on our beaches and in the air-sea gap immediately beyond]. The world — and Australia with it — will be a safer and better place without Saddam [and his WMD, and with the beneficial effects of that on international terrorism].

Even so, some argue, Australia’s contribution to a coalition effort against Iraq would be so miniscule as not to make any difference, so we should stay home — which happily would also remove the threat of a terrorist reprisal attack on us.

In addition to playing down unpardonably the skill and efficacy of our forces, [demonstrated in the field most recently in Afghanistan,] that [camel straw] argument is [rationally unsustainable — the final straw carries no more weight than the first; and is also] immoral — if we were to do nothing to aid a cause that advantaged us, we would simply be [bludgers,] free loaders.

And the argument that we should not join a coalition, lest we attract the threat of reprisal attack is pusillanimous [— a quality for which, fortunately for us, our forefathers were not famous.] Moreover, if we followed this argument the terrorists would have won by showing that they could intimidate us. In any case it would not reduce the likelihood of terrorist attack, since the terrorists want to bring us down for what we are and represent, at least as much for what we do.