EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
America, Iraq and ... Australia
, August 9, 2003
Three months after winning the war to overthrow the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, the US President, George W. Bush, is facing increasing difficulty in winning the peace.
The aim of the Bush Administration in Iraq was not simply to defeat Saddam: it was to replace a violent and dangerous dictator, who had defied the international community for 12 years over his possession of chemical and biological weapons and waged war on other states in the Persian Gulf region, with a moderate pro-Western state which would be a model for others in the region.
Washington wants to establish an American-style democracy in Iraq. This is, perhaps, naive, in light of Iraq's long tradition of military dictatorships after the end of British colonial rule, and the failure of American attempts to achieve this outcome in other countries where it has taken military action - such as Lebanon, Somalia and central America.
But, on the other hand, US military intervention saw democracy established in the Balkan States after the collapse of communist Yugoslavia, just as it was established in Western Europe and Japan after World War II.
In any case, it was never an option, politically, for Washington to sponsor the replacement of one dictatorship by another, even if more benign.
The achievement of an orderly transfer of power from the US to Iraqi civilians has been undermined by the Americans' failure to find and recruit an Iraqi administration capable of ending the anarchy which began with the looting of Baghdad, and has now developed into frequent crimes against people and daily attacks on US military personnel.
Significantly, the British have not had the same problem in the southern city of Basra, where they have recruited an effective local police force.
The American problems are not confined to issues of security. Perhaps more importantly, the country's power supply - destroyed by looting at the end of the war, not by bombing - has been only partially restored. Without police and electricity, crime rules the streets at night. Murder, robbery and violence have become commonplace.
As daily temperatures in Baghdad at this time of year exceed 40°C, food cannot be stored, factories cannot operate, and the country's oil is not being processed for export.
All this has fuelled anti-American resentment. The Americans are blamed by the increasingly hostile local population for the war, the destruction which accompanied it, the collapse of the economy, widespread unemployment, and rampant lawlessness. This explains why many Iraqis are saying openly that things were better under Saddam Hussein.
It is surprising that the Americans, who obviously thought a lot about the military side of the war, seem to have failed to think through the obvious implications for the administration of Iraq post-war.
On the other side of the world, the families of the 150,000 Americans in Iraq want them home, now. They represent a powerful political force in the US.
Despite the pressure for an American pullout, a withdrawal now would leave a political vacuum which would make stable government in Iraq unachievable. The Americans have no option but to stay and see it through.
This will require immediate and substantial American money to rebuild the war-damaged infrastructure, particularly electricity supplies, and recruit a local police force to end the anarchy which grips the country.
Additionally, Australia must learn from the Iraqi operation, as this country steps closer to accepting responsibility for the civil administration of the Solomon Islands, including the disarmament of armed para-military forces which have made it ungovernable.
Australia will need to recruit and train a new police force, and re-establish effective political authority over the police and defence forces.
The deeper problem of the Solomons, however, is that it has insufficient local industry to employ its growing population. Unless Australia takes on the responsibility for supporting and developing local industries - not leaving it all to the vagaries of the "free market" - the present crisis in the Solomon Islands could be repeated in five or 10 years' time. The people must be given an interest in preserving a stable and prosperous society.
But Australia's responsibilities do not end there. Whether we like it our not, Australia is the only nation in the region capable of maintaining stability in the island states in our region.
The crisis of our smaller neighbours is borne out in the economic growth figures. Over the past nine years, New Guinea has had six years of negative economic growth, Vanuatu eight, the Solomon Islands six, and Fiji four years of going backwards. Only Samoa and Tonga experienced sustained positive economic growth.
If these states disintegrate, there is a real possibility of a descent into chronic violence, becoming a breeding ground for interests profoundly hostile to Australia, whether criminals, terrorists, or other nations seeking a power base in this region.
If the trend towards political breakdown continues in Papua New Guinea, it could well lead to a flood of refugees from PNG across the narrow Torres Strait, making the problem of "boat people" from Indonesia in 2001-02 pale into insignificance.
The warning signs are there: we need to plan now, so that we are not faced by difficulties similar to those which the US currently has in Iraq.
- Peter Westmore is President of the National Civic Council