Don’t ask the government about the next war

Feb 22, 2023
A B-52 Stratofortress

This is war protest month, with more to follow. Will efforts against the Iraq war, that failed twenty years ago this week, succeed in heading off the next one?

On Sunday 19 February thousands protested at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC against US militarism, proxy warfare, and the threat of nuclear conflict. The ANSWER Coalition plans a March on 18 March, marking the 20th anniversary of the Iraq invasion. They will demand ‘Negotiations not Escalation’ in Ukraine, and an end to US militarism abroad.

In London a rally organised by Stop the War UK and others on 25 February will call for immediate talks to end the war in Ukraine. They oppose the Russian invasion, as well as NATO’s role in Ukraine, and nuclear war. No2Nato

In Australia, the ABC broke its discreet silence on 20 February with a two-part series of interviews by John Lyons with four non-ASPI defence experts, all of whom agreed that for Australia to join in an American war with China would be disastrous. Part 1 and part 2

And this week Greenleft publicised anti-AUKUS events in six Australian cities on 24 February. Protesters will gather outside the electorate offices of Penny Wong in Adelaide, Jim Chalmers in Brisbane, Richard Marles in Melbourne and Geelong, Pat Conroy in Newcastle, and Anthony Albanese in Sydney. Take action against AUKUS, militarisation on Feb 24

This belated upsurge of anti-war protest takes its cue from 15 February 2003, when 30 million people around the world marched in opposition to the prospect of war in Iraq. Many had never joined a mass demonstration before. They were ignored, and the US-led invasion went ahead on 20 March.

The protestors knew they were lied to by political leaders who claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological and nuclear. The covert purpose of invading Iraq was to gain control of its oil, and assert US dominance over seven Middle East states: Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Syria.

The war began, and spread to Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria, provoking retaliation from al-Qaeda and its Islamic State successors. All of the invaded countries, including Afghanistan and Iraq, remain blighted. Millions are dead or displaced. To achieve this, the world’s nations, led by the US, spent sums surpassing $2tn on weapons of war in the past year.

On 5 February 2003, the Australian Senate voted against the Iraq war. In the House of Representatives, ALP leader Simon Crean spoke fervently against Australian participation. Soon after, ignoring both Houses, Prime Minister Howard sent elements of the ADF to join the SAS who had already been dispatched in secret.

Crean’s successors, now in government, might reflect on his remarks, selected here.

Two weeks ago, prime minister, you committed Australia’s young men and women to a war not yet declared, knowing all along that you couldn’t pull them out.

You committed them without the mandate of the Australian people, the Australian parliament or the United Nations. You committed them solely on the say so of George W Bush. You haven’t consulted the Australian people. You haven’t consulted your party. But you have consulted President Bush.

You said you were sending these troops because it was in the national interest. I want to know, prime minister, which nation?

You said yesterday that you are going to Washington to inform George Bush of the views of the Australian people. Well let me tell you what those views are. The Australian people don’t want peace at any cost, but they don’t your war at any price.

The US alliance has endured for over 50 years. It has always had bipartisan support. But it does not mean that we have to agree with every policy position of every US administration.

The prime minister must stop treating the Australian people like mugs…Only Labor governments have been prepared to tell our allies no when it’s been in our national interests.

Eight months after the invasion of Iraq, the Sydney Morning Herald published an open letter to President George W Bush. It was signed by 41 ALP MPs and Senators, and was headed, ‘Mr Bush, here is why we opposed the Iraq war’.

The writers stressed the dangerous precedent the Iraq war was setting, and described it as a mistake. They wrote: ‘The ALP firmly believes that international conflict should, wherever possible, be dealt with peacefully and through international co-operation under the auspices of the United Nations. When all attempts for a peaceful resolution have been exhausted, United Nations sanction is vital if force is to be used.’

The signatories included parliamentarians Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong, then in Opposition.

As Foreign Minister, Penny Wong has recently abandoned peaceful resolution of conflict, and doesn’t mention UN Security Council resolutions authorising war. She has joined Defence Minister Richard Marles in lockstep with the US in a predictable slide into war over Taiwan or the South China Sea.

Three American generals have recently anticipated war with China in the next two to five years. If the US preference for proxy wars – as in Ukraine – is an example, Australia and Japan could be the proxy fighters against China, with similar prospects.

No Australian leader has supported the UN Secretary-General’s appeals to member states to stop inflaming worse wars. Instead, they are spending more extravagant sums on new weapons systems which will be provocative, and if they are ever delivered, probably outdated and unfit for purpose. The remaining option is nuclear: and Australia refuses to ratify the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which ICAN initiated.

This month, Senator Wong re-stated the government’s commitment to the status quo on how Australia goes to war. She told Parliament on 9 February that it will not change, just as Marles did in September 2022.

She compounded that with a self-contradictory statement about US nuclear weapons ‘stationed’ in Australia. Backing Defence Department Secretary Greg Moriarty, Senator Wong claimed that Australia adheres to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, and yet supports the ‘stationing’ of US B-52 and B-2 bombers in Australia without knowing if they are nuclear armed or not.

This, we now learn, has been going on quietly since at least 2005 (“‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ Top End nuke policy”, Australian, 16 February 2023: 2). As Crean said, the prime minister must top treating Australians like mugs.

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