February 8th 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Old-growth forests and wildfires

COMMENT: Iraq's last chance to avert war

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Howard turns eyes to NSW poll

HIGH COURT: A further improvement in the High Court

STRAWS IN THE WIND: False Dawn / Iraq another Vietnam? / UN: ideal and reality

AGRICULTURE: Deregulation and low prices see sugar investment collapse

The fatal flaw in economic rationalism (letter)

Why men avoid fatherhood (letter)

Cattle grazing to cut bushfire risk (letter)

Firefighters deserve our thanks (letter)

Canberra's tragedy (letter)

Case against Saddam not established (letter)

Full story (letter)

Cane farmers' survey (letter)

PROFILE: Solzhenitsyn: the conscience of modern society

ASIA: China launches massive infrastructure expansion

VICTORIA: Taxpayers bankroll alternative lifestyles

ASIA: Taiwan's rural finance in trouble

BOOKS: ANSETT: the Collapse, by Geoff Easdown and Peter Wilms

BOOKS: Human Cloning and Human Dignity: The Report of the President's Council on Bioethics

Books promotion page

False Dawn / Iraq another Vietnam? / UN: ideal and reality

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, February 8, 2003
Covenants without the Sword are but Words and Breaths ...
- Hobbes

1. False Dawn

The collapse of Western Communism, symbolised by the knocking down of the Berlin Wall, ushered in what was proclaimed to be a New World Order. It was something for which we had all hoped - and had believed everyone else had hoped for. A world moving from the shadow of global war, most especially nuclear war; one where the United Nations would dispense peace and justice - even-handedly - and more and more swords would be turned into ploughshares. America would remain the greatest country - but her role a beaming, ever-beneficent, impotent giant - a cross between Golem and the Wizard of Oz.

Realpolitik was unacceptable; realism would give way to idealism, and democracy would take over everywhere, with all the ease and inevitability of the changing seasons. The world would devote itself to making money, and distributing it to the needy - people and countries. Freedom of speech and thought would hold sway: we could be looking at a New Millennium, a New Tolerance.

It is easy to say we should have known what wishful thinking, what childish ahistorical rubbish this all was - but World War II, a long Cold War of 50 years of threat and polarisation and intolerance, had worn people down. We just wanted a quiet life, and security for our children.

2. What didn't change

Of course, large parts of the international system haven't changed. Many of the most odious people, institutions and political recidivists are still fully operational. They never left. Communist China flourishes and remains unapologetic about its past. Those good old days. Africa maintains its downward spiral - no New Order there. And the Middle East continues its structured anarchy with the same Western players/interlopers including Russia. The death of Communism has produced few visible consequences in the slow political unravelling of Latin America; while Japan and the countries on the Asian/Pacific Rim have problems and challenges very similar to those occupying them in 1989.

3. What did change?

So what has changed? At least three very undesirable changes have occurred in this New World Order.

Firstly: Freed of the threat of Soviet Communism, many countries want to play their own hand as though there were no longer any impediments to their freedom of action, nor wider consequences of those actions. (Other than ceaseless harassment by their domestic pressure groups, which are now shaping the foreign policies of more and more states.) Long-term planning or commitment is not possible for such states: promises made can easily be broken ... and are. Anyway - as Hobbes said - "Covenants without the Sword are but Words and Breaths... ".

Secondly: Those free-floating and, should I predict, free-falling states are busy making crypto-alliances and combinations against the one power likely to be able to keep world order, or even want to. And provide the power for a UN wishing to discharge its duties. But even the US needs friends to discharge this role without great cost to herself. If friends are not forthcoming, then the US is likely to let the world drift back into even greater disorder, as it was under Clinton.

Next, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, barely under restraint before, is fated to take off, almost uncontrollably, unless the US and Britain are allowed to make an example of Iraq. Then, later, we must choke off North Korea's nuclear ambitions. So this is a watershed we are in.

4. Is Iraq "another Vietnam"?

So degraded and politicised has the teaching and dissemination of historical knowledge become, that people here are stumbling around saying we are facing "another Vietnam". The similarity between Vietnam and the Middle East situation is indeed hard to discover; in fact the two Gulf Wars deserve separate analysis. The situation facing us now is far more akin to 1939 and the Nazis: with the Peace Now brigade simply scruffy retreads of those then calling for more time; to give Hitler another chance; give the League another chance; anyway, it's just another Trade War like the First War, and not a drop of "workers' blood" should be spilled to help the capitalists. It's all about oil - or trade; not security or democracy, or protection from tyrants. Or nuclear or biological proliferation.

We are, in fact, facing another Munich - for that is what is being lobbied for by Saddam's protectors.

But so Orwellian has the Left propaganda machine - led by the public media - become, that Saddam and his vile regime are the victims and America is the warmonger, in this pastiche of 1984. Repeated butcher of his own people, gasser of the Kurds and Iranians; despoiler of Kuwait; master of a sadistic police state; Iraq a haven for terrorists and a source of illicit arms for terrorist groups outside Iraq, and, despite all the bans, warnings and interdictions, Saddam still doggedly trying to become a nuclear power while his people suspire. And he, and his psychopathic friends, are the victims! And their allies and clients: Germany, France, Russia and China - holding the UN to ransom to protect him so he can continue spreading fear and wickedness and buying their arms, as he could in the good old days before the UN blockade.

The UN: the ideal, the reality

Many people here and in the West are very loath to give up hope in the potency, and belief in the goodwill of the United Nations, because the alternatives seem worse. But the ideals and the realities of "world government" or the lion agreeing with the lamb, or key questions being discussed and resolved in a spirit of fairness and with the intention of producing justice ... are now further away than for many years.

Historically, the UN has operated fitfully and selectively. There would have been no UN-supported defence of South Korea had the Russian member been present to cast his veto. America and friends would have had to do what they may have to do now. The Algerian and Indochinese wars never made it in the UN, by the mutual agreement of veto powers France and America.

Israel, supported by Washington's veto, has enjoyed carte blanche - simply ignoring resolutions which they consider undermine their national interests. Over the years this has greatly flawed the image of the world body and, as Dr Ian Spry has pointed out in the current National Observer, created enormous problems for US policymaking. Now, more serious than they have ever been.

When the Security Council was impotent during the years of Russian intransigence, the body turned to the Assembly; while America worked her alliances. When the Assembly passed under non-Western control, it was back to the Council, with limited clout.

In reality the peace was kept by America and Russia by their Mutually-Assured Destruction policy and their alliances. Also, by their agreeing not to fight a major war but rather to conduct proxy wars on the soft-tissue parts of the system instead; while deciding which third parties might be allowed to fight little wars with each other. All this stabilised the system. The talking shop at Lake Success simply legitimised their decisions.

This balance is gone. Medium-sized and rising new forces are struggling for more control - seeking to fill the vacuums - and hoping to hijack the international bodies as they had been hijacked before. But now, to be hijacked for their use. We are watching this process at the moment. The extent of the hijack can be seen with the election of Gaddafi's man to chair the UN Commission on Human Rights. (A bit like Jack the Ripper taking over the AMA). Not to mention the immunity given to Mugabe, as it was to Idi Amin.

Huntington's "Clash of Civilisations" must also include civilisations versus barbarians. We in Australia have no interest in this new deforming of the UN, or in any attempts to destroy a previous precious status quo which was, and is, a sine qua non of our future security and independence.

The ideal of the UN is excellent and we can all praise it. But the reality is quite different, and always has been. We rest our fate in that present system of hypocritical realpolitik to our peril. Only by being confronted by its total, present and systemic failure will the UN be forced to reform itself and, at last, carry out its intended functions. A great pity the members of the League of Nations never faced that, while there was still time.

Hallucinatory Ecology

The bushfire catastrophes described by Peter Westmore in his editorial may be with us for some months, but the consequences will continue for years. The costs to tourism, doubts as to the viability of many small towns and the future of the whole new culture of hobby farmers from the city, are things we haven't even started to confront: but must. And whether forest management and land management policies imposed by green state governments have contributed to these horrendous events, even caused them, have to be discussed now.

Yet a deafening silence reigns. The Greens and the Democrats, the prime political suspects in any investigation are, perhaps understandably, silent. Iraq is what they want us to concentrate on. Labor is similarly mute. More surprisingly, the Liberals are accepting a noblesse oblige silence, while the fires continue, not wishing to appear critical of the fire-fighters and their efforts. No one would think that they were - and Labor is certainly not holding back on discussing our ongoing military activities.

The National Party should have no such reservations. This is one of the worst blows struck at country people in present memory; it follows years of warning by country leaders and conservationists, warnings treated with contempt by city politicians and journalists. If the city parties who like to use the bush as a motel, a play ground, or a place to squat don't want to start looking at how these disasters came into being, all the more reason for the Nationals gathering their forces now.

One thing they could start with is the squeezing out of experienced, realistic people in the relevant authorities and their replacement by New Class, often New Age, tyros from the suburbs - and the driving away of timber workers who represented a greater reservoir of experience and pragmatism and who, time and again, supply our volunteer fire fighters.

Rarely has the triumph of ideology over experience ended in such transparent failure. Nature has just taken her Revenge.

The new Evatt ALP

Incidentally, I think we may have reached a new low in public affairs the other day when the Opposition and friends turned up to wish the Kanimbla expedition ill (and seek to divide the loyalties of the young men and women carrying out most dangerous and selfless duties). Labor hagiographers are now trying to say we have a new version of the old Whitlam Government. Whitlam never behaved thus. The kind of ALP we now have has taken us back to the times of Dr Evatt and the 1950s.

As to journalists waylaying stressed or tearful relatives at their most vulnerable; to extort some doubt, some criticism, ideally some abuse of the Government, or to unknowingly put some kind of evil eye on their departing family members' endeavours.

Frank Sinatra spoke too generously of such characters when offering to pay them fifty cents a time. But they'll go far in our contemporary media.

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