Friday, January 31, 2003

Questionable Timing

Friday, January 31 2003 (Day 49)

Now that I've posted the overlong "Long Overdue War Blog", I have to go back into the real world for the weekend. So please don't any expect any wait-I-can-explains or that's-not-what-I-meants before then, on any subject.

A Long Overdue War Blog

Friday, January 31 2003 (Day 49)

I've been doing less blogging over the past week for two reasons: the slow lifting of the Trotsky employment drought (as soon as the El Nino effect which has blighted my personal life lifts as well things will be just tickety-boo) and a general depression over the coming war with Iraq. Like many, I'm hoping that Saddam Hussein might see sense and take the exile option but it's much more likely that I'll actually have reason to open that pack of condoms that I bought last year before they run out of use-by.

In her article Parsons should give war a chance in Wednesday's Oz, hero-columnist Janet Albrechtsen called on the Anglican Church to retrieve the "centuries-old just war doctrine". Over the past couple of days I've been trying to put some shape into my inchoate tangle of ideas on the impending war using the tools of just war theory (which may have been what Janet had in mind - it's a little hard to tell).

For those who can't be bothered following the link, modern just war theory is generally considered to originate with Thomas Aquinas, the famous pre-Anglican author of Summa Theologica. Just war theory concerns itself with two major issues: when one has the right to go to war (the jus ad bellum in the technical jargon) and how a war should be conducted if it is to be considered just (jus in bellum). As the war hasn't started yet, I'm only going to concern myself with the jus ad bellum for now. Aquinas' requirements are:

... having just cause, being declared by a proper authority, possessing right intention, having a reasonable chance of success, and the end being proportional to the means used

When I started writing on this issue, I intended to do a single post but, I've discovered that there's a lot more ground to be covered so it looks like the Tugboat History of Australia will be on the backburner for a while. The reference books have to go back to the local library anyway, before I cop an overdue books fine.


Let's start with the issue of just cause.

The possibility of a war with Iraq has been around since George Bush's 2002 State of the Union Address where he named Iraq as one of the three members of the "axis of evil":

States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.

We will work closely with our coalition to deny terrorists and their state sponsors the materials, technology, and expertise to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction. We will develop and deploy effective missile defenses to protect America and our allies from sudden attack. (Applause.) And all nations should know: America will do what is necessary to ensure our nation's security.


In May 2002 we got the "Bush Doctrine" of pre-emptive self defence against rogue states with weapons of mass destruction. Latterly the additional justification of liberating the Iraqi people from the oppression of Saddam Hussein has been thrown into the mix but, when we examine the most recent reasons given for supporting war on Iraq we discover that we're back to dealing with a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction - more precisely, stocks of chemical and biological agents and the missiles to deliver them. In his 2003 State of the Union Address, George Bush put it this way:

The world has waited 12 years for Iraq to disarm. America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country, and our friends and our allies. The United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on February the 5th to consider the facts of Iraq's ongoing defiance of the world. Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraqi's legal -- Iraq's illegal weapons programs, its attempt to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups.

We will consult. But let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.

In an interview with Kerry O'Brien on the 7.30 report, John Howard put it this way:

If Iraq gets away with this, if Iraq stares us all down, she will certainly not abandon her weapons then, she'd build on them and potentially use them and worst still other countries, other rogue states, will be emboldened to do exactly the same thing.

And in this article in the Wall Street Journal, Tony Blair and others put it this way:

The Iraqi regime and its weapons of mass destruction represent a clear threat to world security. This danger has been explicitly recognized by the U.N. All of us are bound by Security Council Resolution 1441, which was adopted unanimously. We Europeans have since reiterated our backing for Resolution 1441, our wish to pursue the U.N. route, and our support for the Security Council at the Prague NATO Summit and the Copenhagen European Council.

In doing so, we sent a clear, firm and unequivocal message that we would rid the world of the danger posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. We must remain united in insisting that his regime be disarmed.


The common objective in all three statements is to remove a threat to world peace by disarming Saddam Hussein. John Howard adds the additional justification that this will deter other potential rogue states but this is secondary. Equally secondary to the main justification of war on Iraq is the liberation of the Iraqi people. This is not offered as the casus bellus but as an anciliary benefit. The case of Iraq is not like the UN backed interventions in Bosnia, Rwanda and East Timor: we won't be going to war to protect the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein. On the contrary a decision to go to war will inevitably involve sacrificing some of the Iraqi population for geopolitical purposes and, only incidentally, the removal of an oppressive government. It's rather like deciding to kill your psychotic gun-toting neighbour on the general principle that he's a threat to public safety then rationalising your decision with the excuse that once he's dead he won't be able to abuse his wife and kids any more. A wrongful act isn't justified by the unintended benefits it confers on third parties: to claim the liberation of the Iraqi people as the just cause for the war requires that we act with that specific intent, not that the liberation occurs as a secondary effect of a war fought for geopolitical purposes.

Ending Saddam's war on his own people is a just cause but that isn't the reason we're being offered as justification for this war. I don't think it's the basis on which it's being planned either. That's one of the reasons I'm not sold on it but I'm never going to be sold on war: war isn't something you sell, soap is. If we do go to war with Iraq for the reasons offered so far we may end up doing a good thing very badly and for all the wrong reasons.

Postscript: having seen Ken Parish's latest post "Reprising Iraq argument" (broken permalink) I suppose I'll be lumped in with the hand-wringing Pontius Pilates of the Left who want to monopolise the moral high ground. All I have to say on that score is that being knee-deep in shit may be a little more comfortable than being balls-deep in shit but the smell isn't any better.

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Movable Bloggers

Friday, January 31 2003 (Day 49)

Ken Parish has moved his blog and renamed it Troppo Armadillo. Today he has a very well-reasoned post on mandatory life sentences for murder. Gary Sauer-Thompson has defected from Blogger to moveable type and now has a site design to match the quality of his writing (those who dislike his writing will probably disagree with me there). I'm not moving yet, but I am considering changing the motto of this blog to something a little more punchy.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Random Thoughts

Thursday, 30 January 2003 (Day 48)

Any decision that is too important to be left to a politician is too important to be left to the people who voted for him.

The normal alternative to mutual respect is mutual contempt.

The Birth of an Australian Tradition

Thursday, 30 January 2003 (Day 48)

(Part 3 of the increasingly irrelevant Tugboat History of Australia. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here).

One of the enduring legends of Australian history is the tradition of mateship. According to the orthodox account, mateship originated with the first settlers, especially the convict members of the population and their natural antipathy to the officers and men of the New South Wales Corps. So it is disappointing that Manning Clark (admittedly a dubious source) does not provide confirmation of this view. It's sad to read Clark's accounts of how so many members of the then convict mainstream of Australian society, faced with either the lash or the gallows, were so eager to lag on their mates in the mistaken belief that this might buy them clemency. On the other hand, the frequency with which offenders faced punishment remarking that it "was a fair cop guv' and ain't I a mug for falling in with the wrong lot" shows that the tradition of copping it sweet does originate with the convicts.

One Australian tradition we can confidently say traces back to the early days is the tradition of the rort. The first rort originated with Grose's well-intended grants of land and trade rights to the officers of the New South Wales Corps which was extended by Paterson, Grose's temporary successor. It established the pattern for its many successors, such as the rorter's insistence that the primary purpose of the rort was the public good rather than private gain. So, in the matter of trade, the public good was served by the restraint of the officers in setting mark-ups on the price of rum at between 150% and 1900% rather than at the more extortionate levels that would be charged by ship's masters whose rapacity was not restrained by a gentleman's code of honour.


By the time of John Hunter's arrival in September 1795, the rort was taking a heavy toll on the economic life of the new nation, despite the restraint of the officers. Many looked to the god-bothering Hunter to solve the problem but, from the first, Hunter was outmatched. If mateship was significantly absent from the convict population it flourished among the rorters. Hunter rapidly found himself in conflict with the foremost among them Lieutenant John MacArthur. MacArthur had all the advantages in the struggle: the somewhat naïve Hunter, believing that right was on his side, was too apt to believe that justice would prevail. MacArthur, more realistically, put his trust in his mates.

In 1796, MacArthur, in the prevailing spirit of public service, made a number of suggestions to Hunter for the administration of the government commissary at Paramatta which Hunter rejected. The conflict between MacArthur and Hunter deepened when Hunter started to protect Richard Atkins (who was not a mate) from MacArthur’s attacks on his reputation. This was a clear signal to MacArthur that Hunter was not going to be a mate and he responded with a number of attacks on Hunter’s character and governorship, including a letter to the Duke of Portland, lambasting Hunter’s poor administration and failure to prevent the moral decline of the colony. Hunter was shocked and stunned.

Hunter brought Bennilong back to nascent Australia with him as another demonstration to the natives of the benefits of English civilization. Bennilong proved to be as useful in this capacity as the public floggings previously staged for the edification of the natives. He eventually declined into alcoholism, derided by settlers and natives alike. Relations with the natives continued their decline.

In 1799 Hunter ordered the arrest of 5 men for the murder of 2 aboriginal boys: in their defence, the men pleaded necessary vengeance on a “treacherous, evil-minded, bloodthirsty set of men” (Clark). Nonetheless they were found guilty, but rather than passing sentence straight away, Hunter appealed to England for guidance. By the time it came, Hunter was gone: the continuing exchange of correspondence between Hunter and Portland and Hunter’s detractors in the colony (such as lefty cleric Thomas Fyshe Palmer) and such of their mates in England who could be trusted to pass the word on to Portland ended with Hunter’s recall in 1800. It was a clear demonstration of the importance of having a good mate or two to look after you.

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