The Guardian October 31, 2001


Howard's uncivilised war

by Peter Symon

It is a sure sign that all is not well with George Bush's "war against 
terrorism". Last week Prime Minister Howard gave a talk to the Australian 
Defence Association that he described as an "intellectual" contribution to 
keep the Australian people behind the war. This week Tony Blair is going to 
give the British people a similar pep talk.

Far from Howard's talk exhibiting his "intellectual" powers it showed his 
intellectual poverty and dishonesty.

He immediately claimed that "no one now doubts that the Al Qaida network, 
led by Osama bin Laden, was responsible for the attacks" on the WTC. The 
fact of the matter is that half the world has serious doubts and many say 
so openly. The skepticism is added to by the fact that the Americans have 
not published any conclusive evidence to prove their assertions.

The persons who have been arrested by the Americans come from Saudi Arabia 
and Egypt. Not a single one of those named so far is a citizen of 
Afghanistan. Some are citizens of the US. Naming persons and making 
assertions is not proof and is not grounds for waging a war against a 
country.

Indicating that he is on the defensive about what is happening, Howard 
immediately jumped to defend the role of the US in Israel's war on the 
Palestinian people. He claimed that it is "a monstrous falsehood" to blame 
the conflict on the US which he says, has done so much to bring about a 
peaceful resolution.

However, Howard fails to mention the many UN resolutions which call upon 
Israel to withdraw to its previous borders and the billions of dollars 
worth of armaments that the US has pumped into Israel for decades and which 
continue to fuel the war.

Howard, even now, cannot bring himself to support the creation of a 
Palestinian State although he vaguely mentioned "self-determination". Both 
Bush and Blair now talk about a separate Palestinian State although they 
have only done so in an attempt to keep Arab countries on side in the 
present situation when their anti-terrorism coalition shows many signs of 
being exceedingly shaky.

Again when it comes to the ANZUS treaty, which has been used to justify 
Australia's commitment, Howard does not mention the specific clauses which 
have been invoked and limits himself to the vague reference to "relevant 
provisions". Anyone who takes the trouble to read the ANZUS treaty will see 
that the first obligation of the parties is to refer matters to the UN 
Security Council in the event of a conflict. This has not been done.

Howard, more than once, talks about the "civilised countries" of the world. 
In view of the fact that the war is said to be against a particular group 
and not against a country, one is entitled to ask which countries, in 
Howard's mind, are the uncivilised ones.

To back up his assertion about being "civilised" he mentions the fact that 
the Australian government has "committed over $23 million to assist 
refugees and other victims since the crisis began". A bomb in one hand and 
a loaf of bread in the other! It ill becomes the Prime Minister to even 
talk about assistance to refugees when his government is engaged in the 
most despicable attempts to prevent refugees from Afghanistan and other 
Middle East countries from even landing on Australian territory.

When it comes to the aims of the conflict he says: "Whilst the destruction 
of the Al Qaida network must be our first priority, the long-term aim of 
this war is to demonstrate that organised, international, state-sanctioned 
terrorism will not be tolerated by the world community".

It is in this context that we have the "infinite war" that the Pentagon has 
projected and which Howard obviously supports. He said, "should the nature 
or scale of this conflict change substantially, requests for further 
contributions may be made and they would be carefully considered". It was 
also in this context that Howard ruled out conscription but only "in the 
present strategic circumstances".

In mentioning the Vietnam war Howard shows again his dishonesty. He claimed 
that the Vietnam war "was a Cold War conflict with two states, each backed 
by super powers, competing for territory..."

The truth is that a war in Vietnam only arose because of the machinations 
of the French colonialists in the first place and then because the US 
poured hundreds of thousands of troops into the country. This invasion was 
justified by the so-called Tonkin Gulf incident. This incident was a 
complete concoction by the US. It never took place but Howard carefully 
omits this historical fact.

He asserted that the war against terrorism would "be fought by highly 
trained, highly professional combat forces using the most modern 
intelligence and weapons systems." The US and Australian forces are 
certainly well trained and equipped but the war in Afghanistan will not be 
won by the side with superior weapons.

The story of the Russian presence in Afghanistan tells a similar story. 
They also had sophisticated weapons and well-trained troops but they could 
not win against a people that fought a guerilla-type war.

Howard has no idea when it comes to real measures to fight terrorism. He 
has no plan to do something about the poverty, unemployment, humiliation, 
homelessness, lack of medical and educational facilities which are the lot 
of hundreds of millions of people around the world. Unless something is 
done about these issues more acts of terrorism will occur even if the 
Taliban is suppressed and replaced.

In apocalyptic mood Howard says that "the stakes are very high, even 
determining the security of the world we hand to our children." So, will 
the world be saved by bombing Afghanistan into rubble or by replacing the 
Taliban with a government acceptable to George Bush and John Howard?

This is not really what Howard has in mind. Being highly class conscious 
and a vehement supporter of capitalism, he really has in mind the survival 
of the world of capitalism. That is what Howard means when he refers to 
"civilised countries", "our way of life", "what we humans value most", and 
similar statements.

Under the banner of the "war against terrorism" he and those with whom 
Australia has been allied, will launch new wars in the future against any 
and every country that does not toe the corporate line and insists on 
maintaining its independence and freedom. Those people and states that 
oppose the corporate agenda will be increasingly branded as terrorists.

It is not a war for freedom or even against terrorism but a war to impose a 
new colonialism. That is why many around the world are skeptical and are 
already taking to the streets in anti-war protests.

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