A belated Happy Australia day to all readers Down Under- and indeed all Aussies wherever you are! I wanted to post these two topical pieces yesterday, but the server was down, so they're a day late. First up is a piece by William Spring, of Christians against NATO Aggression on his nomination for the greatest living Australian- the one and only- John Pilger.
Then, there's a piece I co-wrote with the Australian conservative writer Tom Switzer for Quadrant in which we try to explain why it is that so few Australian conservatives have opposed the Iraq war- compared to their brethren in the UK.
Hope you enjoy them.
William Spring on John Pilger
Today is Australia Day.
Here is my nomination for the greatest living Australian - John Pilger.
I don't know him personally but have heard him speak on several occasions and read his articles in The New Statesman.
Last year the Pope died.
There was a general feeling that the late Pope should be given the additional title "The Great".
John Pilger and the Pope didn't get on very well and about the only thing I disagree with Pilger on are his views on aids and the Pope being a cause of the spread of the HIV virus in Africa on account of his opposition to condom use.
But actually both John Paul (and the present Pope Benedict) and John Pilger are all very similar people, being men of immense moral stature and great courage and dogmatism in defence of right and wrong.
One of the comments made by John Pilger at a public meeting I attended against the Iraq War is that "it isn't a matter of right and left but of right and wrong."
John Pilger originally proved his journalist credentials covering the war in Vietnam.
A measure of his stature is that he is banned from broadcasting on the BBC, a station which sounds more and more like Radio Moscow ( as I recall it in the early 1960s) every day.
Yesterday's 6 PM BBC Radio 4 News Broadcast was fairly typical of the BBC style: " The BBC has learned that more British troops are going to Afghanistan to support the democratic Government. "
Since when has the so called "Government" in Kabul been democratic!
Pilger's articles on the Iraq war prior to the General Election in UK* were masterpieces of journalism. All of his articles are indictments of the moral depravity of Mr Blair and the Silence of the Great and the Good in UK, ( e.g. the Monarchy and Church of England) in the face of Parliament having imposed upon us, the public, as Prime Minister a war criminal committed to the use of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners ( as long as it is not called torture) and the indiscriminate killing of civilians by cluster bombs as e.g. at Fallujah.
A most unconservative war
Tom Switzer and Neil Clark on why so many British conservatives and so few Australian conservatives have opposed the war in Iraq.
HE'S too old. He's too lazy. He sells cigarettes. He would split the party and in any case he's not as popular as people make out. In their panic over the very real possibility that Britain's Conservative Party may soon be led by a man who does not share their enthusiasm for following George W. Bush to the ends of the earth, the serial regime changers are in danger of losing what little credibility they have left. Kenneth Clarke's rising political stock, though, raises an intriguing question: at a time when Britain's Conservatives could soon be led by a well-known dove on the Iraq war, why have so many co-ideologists in Australia been so hawkish about the democratic project?
The point bears underlining when you consider that Clarke's opposition to the Iraq war is shared by many other high profile British Tories. Former foreign secretaries Douglas Hurd and Sir Malcolm Rifkind as well as other former cabinet ministers such as Lord Gilmour, Douglas Hogg and John Gummer all opposed military action from the outset. And the ranks of Tory dissenters has by now been strengthened by the likes of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont and the party's former foreign affairs spokesman John Maples, who, having backed the war at the start, now concede that it was a colossal mistake.
To be sure, Conservative Party leaders Iain Duncan-Smith and Michael Howard were enthusiastic cheerleaders for toppling Saddam Hussein. But what made their unashamed support particularly puzzling _ and indeed unwise _ was that so few ordinary British conservatives shared their passion for a pre-emptive strike on Iraq. Opinion polls, as commentator Geoffrey Wheatcroft has pointed out, regularly confirmed what everyday observation already suggested: that the Iraq war was markedly more unpopular among Tory than among Labour voters. Had the Conservative leadership reflected the views of its own supporters more accurately, and tapped into the widespread anti-war sentiment in the country, May's General Election might have seen a very different result. In Australia, meanwhile, conservatives have strongly supported the hawkish John Howard, the long-time prime minister and one of the three leaders to commit troops to the invasion two-and-a-half-years ago.
At a time when the conservative Liberal-National Coalition has showed tentative signs of splintering on domestic issues (telecommunications privatisation, industrial relations reform, and illegal immigrants), the conservative movement -- at the party, organisational and intellectual levels -- has been solidly united behind the Government from the start and remains committed to staying the course in Iraq indefinitely. True, there are some exceptions, such as former National Interest editor Owen Harries and former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser, but the latter does not really count given that Australia's Ted Heath habitually attacks his much more successful successor from the Left. So why have so many British conservatives questioned their nation's servile relationship with America and been so uneasy about Tony Blair's venture, while their brethren down under have practically wanted the Australian Army to serve as the American Foreign Legion in Mesopotamia?
Well, for one thing, British conservatism, properly understood, has nothing to do with neo-conservatism. ``Conservatives do not believe the political struggle to be the most important thing in life. The simplest among them prefer fox-hunting, the wisest religion.'' Lord Hailsham's words, written almost 60 years ago, remain the definitive exposition of the Tory approach. Simply put, and notwithstanding the Thatcher years, conservatives are more realist than idealist, prudent than ideological and have a very ingrained scepticism about foreign adventures that do not directly affect the national interest. Take, for instance, John Major's non-intervention policy in the Balkan wars. The Conservative government resisted strong US pressure to bomb Belgrade in 1995 (a policy incidentally which most neo-cons strongly supported and one which New Labour adopted with gusto in 1999). The Conservatives' refusal to take sides in the Balkans, in particular with the Bosnian Islamists, earned them the wrath of the ``something must be done'' liberal interventionists. But not only was it the proper Tory policy; it was, as subsequent events have proved, the right policy too.
In contrast, conservatives in the Antipodes talk the language of neo-conservatism without appreciating its historical and cultural relationship to the land of the free. Indeed, listen to Howard talk about democratic idealism taking root in the Middle East, and you might be forgiven for thinking that you were listening to William Kristol with an Aussie accent. On top of this, British conservatives are more critical of Israel and are more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. There was always a strong strain of Arabism which permeated the Foreign Office and which was shared by many leading Tories, the highly respected Lord Gilmour being a prime example. This strain hardly exists on the Australian Right, and Howard and his foreign minister Alexander Downer seem to identify with American neo-conservatives who believe that supporting Jerusalem come what may is the overriding priority in Middle East policy. Most British conservatives, furthermore, remain unconvinced of the suitability of the US to be an imperial power. This stems not from visceral anti-Americanism or jealousy that Pax Americana has replaced Pax Britannica, but more from a sincere belief that the superpower's attempt to export democracy and free markets to the Middle East by way of B52s is at best naive, at worst utterly demented _ and bound to lead to unintended consequences.
For Australian conservatives, on the other hand, support for Washington is more positively masochistic, and foreigners could be excused for thinking that some Australians are happy to see their nation become a US client state. Such undying loyalty is due, in large measure, to a security alliance forged after World War Two to contain communism and guarantee a long peace in the region. But there is also a strategic rationale behind Howard's unhesitating and unqualified support for the US in Iraq: Canberra builds up a lot of credit in Washington with the hope of political payback in the future. Never mind that, as Charles de Gaulle, once warned, great powers are ``cold monsters'' and gratitude is not one of their stronger motivators. Indeed, one only has to recall how US leaders treated Australia with neglect during the Dutch New Guinea and East Timor crises in 1962 and 1999 (and indeed Britain in the Suez Crisis in 1956) respectively to realise that subordinate allies, however loyal, should not expect inconvenient loyalty in return from their great and powerful friend. Still another reason why Australians on the Right are more committed to the neo-con cause is that, in contrast to the British and especially the Americans, they are ideologically tribal and cleave more faithfully to the central tenets of the movement. Bush once famously warned, ``You are either with us or against us'', and many Australian conservatives take his warning quite literally, lest they be lumped in with John Pilger and George Galloway. Of course, Australian conservatives will say that it is they who have been in power for nearly a decade and it is their British co-ideologists who can't win an election, so who's got it right? But the irony here is that US conservatives themselves, far from being doctrinally pure, relish debate and dissent. President Bush Sr's national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger spoke out against the neo-con agenda in the Middle East, with the latter warning months before the invasion that he was ``scared to death'' about ``the Perles and the Wolfowitzes of this world''. Three-time presidential candidate Pat Buchanan stridently opposed the war; his fortnightly magazine The American Conservative is one of the best anti-war publications in Washington. And prominent Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has become the leading voice of dissent within the GOP establishment. Such figures, you see, hardly exist in Australia. Which is a shame. For the war in Iraq, as Kenneth Clarke and many of his colleagues have warned, is profoundly un-conservative. Any threat that Saddam Hussein may have posed could have been dealt with as indeed it had been since 1991: via a traditional conservative policy of deterrence. No strong operational links, remember, existed between the secular Iraqi tyrant and the fanatical al Qaida terrorists bent on martyrdom all over the globe. And the task of creating a viable democratic state that comprised such an ethnically and tribally fractured society was bound to be so messy and so dangerous that it was not worth so much blood and treasure. Besides, since when has it been the business of conservatives to export democracy? The result has been the worst disaster for British and Australian foreign policy since Suez and Vietnam respectively: the formidable insurgency that inflames not just the Sunni heartland but the Shia south; the weak central authority in Baghdad; the rising organised crime syndicates; the undisciplined and under-equipped indigenous army; the CIA's recent conclusion that Iraq is now a breeding ground for the next generation of terrorists; not to mention the more than 2,000 Coalition (and probably 20,000 Iraqi) deaths. By opposing the Iraq war, many British conservatives have kept faith with their better instincts. Too bad their brethren down under have not followed suit.
Copyright TOM SWITZER/NEIL CLARK/QUADRANT