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The US election & Iraq

President's perspective

The United States electoral earthquake and aftershocks are loosening the grip on power of Bush, Blair and Howard. The three Anglo leaders have broken every legal and moral value in the name of 'democracy in Iraq' and democracy in their own countries is catching up with them.

Tony Walker in the Australian Financial Review summed up the crisis: 'Getting rid of a Defence Secretary who has failed is one thing, changing a war policy after more than three years of bloody conflict with no exit strategy in sight is something else altogether.' Bush's talk of 'victory' is nonsense, since it is impossible to define 'victory' in Iraq beyond leaving behind a barely functioning state that is tearing itself apart. Prime Minister John Howard, who has shown poor judgement in his slavish devotion to a flawed presidency - never mind his enthusiastic support for an unnecessary war in the first place - might try to pretend, for political reasons, that Iraq was not the dominant concern in the Congressional mid-terms, but 'he would be wrong.'

As attention in the US turns to the confirmation of Robert Gates as Defence Secretary, the Baker committee will meet George Bush. This hand-picked conservative committee can only present him a failure card, that has cost US$400 billion, isolated the United States from the world and alienated all Moslem communities. The speculation is that Baker's committee will reject the simplistic, unilateral axis of evil jargon and propose a comprehensive Middle East plan that would tie Iraq into a broad regional settlement involving countries President Bush vilified and shunned. In short, the end of the Bush doctrine.

Withdraw now

'The invasion of Iraq may well turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in US history. And the longer America stays, the worse it will get.' -William Odom

A year ago, Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders called for a timetable for withdrawing coalition troops while simultaneously recognising that 'national resistance is a legitimate right of nations.' In the last year, as the situation has deteriorated in Iraq, all we have heard is the Bush, Blair and Howard trio singing with the Fox orchestra 'don't cut and run'.

The United States foreign affairs establishment has been involved in a tense debate, which resulted in breakouts in the US elections that even included top military officials. A year ago, Senator John McCain, the front-runner to be the next Republican Presidential candidate gave a speech to the American Enterprise Institute. McCain supported a counter-insurgency strategy based on an article by Andrew Krepinevich in Foreign Affairs. McCain said, 'Whether called the 'ink blot', 'oil spot' or 'safe haven' strategy, it draws on successful counter-insurgency efforts in the past. Rather than focussing on killing and capturing insurgents, this strategy emphasises protecting the local population and creating secure areas where insurgents find it difficult to operate. US forces with Iraqi assistance would begin by clearing areas, with heavy force if necessary, to establish a zone as free of insurgents as possible. Security forces can then cordon off the zone and establish constant patrols, by American and Iraqi military and police, to protect the population from insurgents and common crimes and arrest remaining insurgents as they are found.'

The oil spot strategy has particular significance as McCain and his Republican colleagues consider the break up of Iraq into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish sections. In an article headed 'Withdraw now' in Current History, General William Odom, Director of the National Security Agency under President Ronald Reagan, asserts that 'The invasion of Iraq may well turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in US history. And the longer the US stays the worse it will be.' As the Baker committee meets with the President, it is worth noting that General Odom is calling for the stabilising of the region from the eastern Mediterranean to Afghanistan as very much in America's interests. Odom involves President Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has called this region the 'global Balkans', a name that recalls the role of the European Balkans during the two or three decades leading up to the outbreak of World War I. Brzezinski's point is that 'the Middle East and South West Asia have precisely that kind of potential for catalysing wars among the major powers of the world today, although nothing in the region objectively merits such wars'.

Professor A G Hopkins of the University of Texas joined the debate on the Middle East in Current History with a critique of the 'oil spot' strategy. As the Baker committee may come up with some variant of this 'solution', his examination is important.

The oil spot strategy

Hopkins says 'the greater part of Krepinevich's analysis consists of a strategy for subduing insurgents. He is highly critical of the 'hunt, kill and withdraw' policy, which allows insurgents to observe, leave and return. He advocates instead an 'oil-spot' strategy which would provide permanent security for defined areas, deprive insurgents of popular support, and in time expand - like a spreading patch of oil - to other parts of Iraq. This strategy requires a marked improvement in sources of information, which will happen only if the United States can master the intricacies of local politics and form alliances with suitable 'tribal groups'. If the strategy is to be successful, it will require 'at least a decade of commitment and hundreds of billions of dollars'.

Professor Hopkins says that Krepinevich's article entitled. 'How to win in Iraq', has flawed assumptions and it assigns incorrect values to the constituent ingredients of the proposed strategy. In dealing with history, he says the term 'insurgent' is now used by commentators unreflectively to refer to the opposition to coalition forces and the Iraq government. In the 19th century, the term was applied to militant opponents of established, legitimate governments. Washington sent troops to quell insurgents during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 and Lincoln used the term to refer to the Confederate states. In the 20th century, the term was adopted by colonial powers to describe opposition to colonial rule, and by the United States to refer to the Vietcong.

Hopkins quotes a poll taken in August last year by the British Ministry of Defence that showed that over 80 per cent of the Iraqis 'strongly oppose' the presence of Coalition Troops, that over 70 per cent had no confidence in them, and that 45 per cent believed that attacks on American and British troops were justified. One could only guess at what the polling would be today on the issue, given that the insurgency in Iraq has to be seen primarily as a movement that opposes foreign occupation. It is surely no accident that Al-Qaeda's chief in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Mushajer, 'announced the end of the jihad and the start of a new one - to usher in the prospect of an Islamic caliphate and restore Islam's glory'. At the same time the Guardian Weekly has conducted a poll in Britain with 69 per cent of those questioned saying that they believe US policy has made the world less safe since 2001.

Oil spot history

Hopkins describes the history and failure of oil spot strategies. Much of what he says also has application to what has already happened in Iraq: 'Commentators who now use the term "oil spot" in recommending new counterinsurgency measures for Iraq might feel uncomfortable if they knew that its origins lay in the expansion of the French empire. The term itself (cache d'luile) was first used by Brigadier General Hubert Lyantey in 1902 when he outlined a new policy of colonial conquest in Morocco. It summarised a strategy worked by Lyantey and his superior, General Gallieni, in extending the French empire in Indo China and Madagascar during the 1890s. Between them they formulated a distinct concept of colonial warfare that separated military strategy from the conventional methods inherited from the Napoleonic era. The merit of having light, mobile forces had already been recognised. But Gallieni and Lyantey went further in arguing that forces, however deployed, should be used with restraint because destruction would alienate the indigenous population and delay economic recovery. Gallieni's observations on this subject, made in 1898, are still relevant today: "a country is not conquered and pacified when a military operation has decimated and terrorised its people. Once the initial shock passes, a spirit of revolt will arise among the masses, fanned by feelings of resentment, which has been created by the application of brute force." The oil-spot strategy required military and civil policies to act in concert to secure an area, restore normal conditions and gain the co-operation of the inhabitants by giving them a stake in the new regime. The process of expansion could then be resumed, but always by applying the same technique.'

In Hopkin's judgement 'Lyantey's policy was not the triumph that was claimed at the time. Economic incentives proved insufficient to dissolve resistance to foreign occupation. The colonial intelligence system paid good money for generally bad information. The attempt to reduce the costs of controlling and extensive terrain by using "native" troops floundered because they were poorly motivated and unreliable. Faced with these unanticipated problems, Lyantey fell on conventional techniques of "shock and awe" by carrying out reprisals on dissident villages, since dissidents themselves were hard to catch. These measures subdued the local population but created resentment, some of which was channelled into support for the insurgents. Lyantey's oil spots did not extend as far as he had hoped, not least because they were mixed with a good deal of "blood". Senator John McCain argues "that coalition forces need to clear and stay. They can do this with a modified version of traditional counterinsurgency strategy." Andrew Krepinevich, Tom Donnelly, Gary Schmitt and others have written about this idea. Whether called the "ink blot", "oil spot" or "safe haven" strategy, it draws on successful counterinsurgency efforts in the past.'

Hopkins destroys this argument when he says 'Krepinevich cites the prominent case of Malaya, which applied this strategy in defeating a communist insurgency in the 1950s, Malaya has also been referred to recently by other commentators on Iraq because it offers a rare example of a modern colonial power overcoming an insurgency and thus stands in marked contrast to the other policies that failed in Vietnam. Given that there are so few examples of successes against colonial insurgents, a great deal hangs on the accuracy of the comparison between Malaya and Iraq. There are indeed some similarities. In both Malaya and Iraq, the relatively small numbers of insurgents involved (if the official US figures for Iraq are accepted) and the limited extent of outside assistance provide a marked contrast to the situation in Vietnam. Beyond this point, however, the Malayan case offers no support at all for advocates of the "oil spot" policy in Iraq. The "oil spots" in that country were not large towns but new villages to which Chinese squatters on the fringes of the forest were moved. The policy centred on a massive relocation project. It affected some 500,000 squatters, took several years, and required a huge expenditure - which was met fortuitously; by Malaya's booming exports in rubber and tin. The strategy succeeded for a very special reason that would be hard, if not impossible to duplicate. The squatters were newcomers living in temporary shanties; they could be moved relatively easily, and relocation improved their prospects. The aim of the exercise was to deprive Chinese insurgents in the forest of information and food. The strategy bypassed the largest community, the Malays, which formed the bulk of the peasantry and were in general unsympathetic towards communist insurgents. The policy worked by separating the guerrillas from their rural base.' Hopkins sums up the difference: 'it is evident, even from this compressed account, that the situation in Iraq today is very different from that in Malaya during the 1950s, where insurgents lived in forests, were easily identified by their ethnic features and could be isolated with the creation of new villages and towns. The insurgents in Iraq already are in towns, they are not easily identified and the chances of isolating them are very limited. On these grounds alone, the prospect of winning hearts and minds creating model settlements is remote.'

We were right and they were wrong

As the neo-cons reaffirm their blind faith in 'victory' or recant like Richard Perle, we can imagine Karl Rove, President Bush's brain, working away to turn reality into its opposite, blame the Iraqis or insist on other countries cleaning up the Bush mess. In Australia, and indeed the world, those of us who strongly opposed the war can say we were right and Bush, Blair and Howard were wrong. We can now discuss the model for peace in the Middle East under the auspices of the United Nations and help the Iraqi people. Colleagues of mine, Richard and Wendy Friar, have gone all out for peace by making a 'soon to be released' ground breaking film that will help leapfrog peace-building to a new level, with Australians leading the way. Using the world peace marches in 2003 and what happened in Iraq as the reference point, their goal with the film is to give 'people power' the shot in the arm it needs to throw 'regime change' out the window and champion the kind of democratic, political and social 'system change' we need in order to give peace a chance.

The state of the states

The state of the states 2006 was launched in inspiring style by Professor Frank Stilwell at a well-attended seminar on the public sector at the Sydney Mechanics Institute on 8 November. With a federal election due next year, the Evatt Foundation's executive committee was of the view that it would be timely for our annual assessment of The state of the states to rejoin the broader context from which the series originally sprang. We are therefore delighted to feature four expert essays on the state of the public sector in the 2006 issue, in addition to the Evatt Foundation's 13th annual state government performance assessment against the triple-bottom line of social, environmental and economic criteria.

Fittingly, The state of the states 2006 is dedicated to the memory of John Kenneth Galbraith, a lifetime opponent of encouraging 'private affluence' at the cost of 'public squalor' who passed away on 29 April 2006, at the age of 97. Apart from his prescient critiquing of 'the conventional wisdom' on public services, we also do well to recall the late great economist's parallel thesis on the growth of corporate power and its increasing but largely disguised capacity to shape public purpose to its own ends. Corporate management, Galbraith wrote in one of his last books, The economics of innocent fraud (2004), 'ordains that social success is more automobiles, more television sets, a greater volume of all other consumer goods - and lethal weaponry. Negative social effects - pollution, destruction of the landscape, the unprotected health of the citizenry, the threat of military action and death - do not count as such.'

The invited essays in the 2006 edition of The state of the states by Professor John Quiggin, Fred Argy, Professor John Dwyer and Linda Scott offer many valuable corrections to today's conventional wisdom and the undue influence of corporate management. My thanks to the distinguished contributors, the trade unions that helped the Evatt Foundation to fund the project, to Christopher Sheil as editor, to Mark McGrath as publication manager, and to everyone else who helped to make it happen. In this Journal, we are pleased to present the results of our annual State Government League Table and other selected highlights. The full report, with analysis and commentary on the asessments and the specialist essays, are only available from the book itself, which may be securely purchased from Evatt online.

IR, Reconciliation & the AGM

As we publish this issue of the Evatt Journal, news also comes that the High Court has upheld the Howard government's draconian new industrial relations laws in a 5-2 majority decision, as widely predicted. While this is a disappointing outcome in the short term, it presents a two-edged sword for the future, given that the opposition leader has pledged that a "Beazley Labor government will use all the powers available to it under the Australian Constitution, for the purpose of legislating a modern, flexible and fair industrial relations system." The next important milestone in the campaign against these laws is the National Day of Union & Community Action on 30 November.

I want to remind Evatt members and Sydney readers that the Foundation will be hosting a special sunset seminar on Thursday 23 November on the future of reconciliation, featuring Linda Burney, Mick Dodson and Dr Quentin Beresford, the author of the acclaimed new book Rob Riley: an Aboriginal leader's quest for justice (Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 2006). The life of Rob Riley contains powerful, universal themes: early triumph over adversity; the search for justice; and disillusionment over reformist politics. Not all will agree on either his vision or his political methods. But Riley's legacy is to force us to reflect on why the battle for reconciliation was lost by this generation, and what this says about the nation. This is a public seminar that is not to be missed.

Finally, Evatt Foundaton members (only) are reminded that our Annual General Meeting will be held on 28 November 2006. The meeting will review the Foundation's activities, consider what we should pursue next year and feature a report by Frank Muller, professor with the Institute of Environmental Studies at UNSW and formerly of Washington DC, on developments in policy and politics in the United States, from where he has just returned. The Annual General Meeting is a members only event, and all are encouraged to attend.

Bruce Childs President Evatt Foundation 14 November 2006


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