CANBERRA OBSERVED: by News WeeklyNews Weekly
Iraq another divisive issue for the ALP
, January 25, 2003
The Federal Opposition remains deeply divided over the looming war with Iraq and Simon Crean seems to be walking into another trap set by John Howard.
Up until very recently, Mr Crean has steadfastedly refused to declare whether Labor would support military action without a United Nations mandate.
He has been all over the shop, accusing the Prime Minister of being too compliant with the direction of the US, and could not say whether he would back Australian troops being deployed even under "UN sanctioned action".Labor's "non-position"
The non-position has allowed him to take occasional pot shots at the Government without committing himself to a position which will hurt him with one of two sections of the party.
It is true that only a small but influential section of the ALP is unequivocally in favour of supporting the United States' determined position to stop Saddam Hussein ever using weapons of mass destruction, and they include former leader Kim Beazley, foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd and Victorian MP Michael Danby.
There are others but the pro-US section of the party is significant and backed by a well thought-out foreign policy position which is based on the premise that terror and the agents of terror must be eliminated.
But there is general ambivalence across most of the right wing of the party with Rudd's predecessor Laurie Brereton urging Labor to take a clear line against the war.
Mr Brereton's position that there should be no commitment outside explicit UN-sanctioned action has widespread caucus support, but he goes further and has been insisting that no Australian ground troops be sent even under a UN mandate.
Brereton had to be disciplined recently for speaking out of turn on the issue.
But many of Brereton's warring colleagues in the right, such as New South Wales veteran Leo McLeay, are also strong supporters of the Palestinian cause and are equally unenthusiastic about participating in a war likely to excite more troubles in the Middle East.
Of course, the further across the political spectrum one moves, the less enthusiasm for the war there is.
Virtually no one in the left supports a war against Iraq - with or without endorsement from the United Nations.
This leaves Crean in an untenable position.
If he supports Howard he will alienate the vast majority of his support base and the Labor Party will be as split, possibly even more deeply split, than they were over the Tampa
If Crean opposes Howard he risks losing the confidence of the Australian people who will, despite their own ambivalence about a war in the Middle East, lend their support to troops and sailors going to Iraq.
Crean has already accused Howard of being a "warmonger". How will he look if he suddenly joins him in a war?
Labor is again paying the price for not having a clearly enunciated foreign policy position, or any other position for that matter - except on the sale of Telstra.Trap
Labor has fallen into the trap of believing it can play politics with foreign policy issues, that it can use matters of international importance to hurt the Government, and that it can avoid making the hard decisions.
Admittedly, the ALP is in a difficult position.
There is a general unease in the community that a war against Iraq will exacerbate rather than contain the war on terror, and a sense that the US, having missed Osama bin Laden, is simply moving to a more accessible target.
There is something in such arguments and it could be suggested that there has not yet been the justification for a just war against a country that is potentially an aggressor rather than an actual one.
Yet Labor is not putting forward any of these, or arguing an alternative solution or strategy should the "peace" route be chosen instead.
The truth is that after September 11 peace has never been an option for Western nations whether a country decides to participate in a war or not.