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Peter Brent: Selling war a hard ask for left's New Humanitarians

February 25, 2003

THEY thought they knew their customers and that the product would walk off the shelf. They were mistaken, and now they can't give it away.

The product is a non-UN sanctioned war on Iraq, and a year ago it must have seemed reasonable to expect "real Australians" to back John Howard all the way with Dubya to Baghdad.

But how wrong the spruikers were, and now, just to move the bloody stuff, they're throwing in don't take out your credit card just yet! a set of steak knives. And what a crumby, two-dollar set it is.

The set of steak knives is the argument that we should invade Iraq to save the Iraqis. No, seriously. From Saddam Hussein. OK, not those we kill, maim or make homeless, or their families, obviously, but many of the rest.

Several weeks ago, veteran Labor activist Jim Nolan wrote in The Australian that real lefties should back this war, citing "the liberation of East Timor from the Indonesian military rulers" as a comparable "great humanitarian intervention in recent years" supported by the Australian Left.

Last week, The Australian's Paul Kelly castigated peace marchers for "their consignment of the Iraqi people to a gulag of deprivation, decline and imprisonment".

Former ALP national secretary Bob Hogg wrote in The Australian Financial Review that "the Iraqi question has similar ingredients to that which led to NATO's intervention to end Slobodan Milosevic's regime in Yugoslavia".

And The Age's Pamela Bone backs invasion because "if the old, left ideas of internationalism mean anything, they mean we should be trying to rid the world of Saddam Hussein, and every other rotten dictator like him".

They're the Humanitarians for War.

First, a reality check. NATO's intervention in Kosovo had neither the intent nor even the result of ending Milosevic's rule. And the delusion that Australia "intervened" in East Timor is a dangerous one to base future actions on. Our troops went there with Indonesian consent (extracted albeit by some third-party arm-twisting) and we "liberated" no one.

Second, what the New Humanitarians want is to trash UN Resolution 1441. They advocate invasion whether Hussein disarms or not, which would make a lie of the claim that war is up to him.

Third, very few of us can claim any high ground on how much we allow foreigners' suffering to impinge on our daily thoughts, let alone actions. If the New Humanitarians have thoughts on how to spread human rights and democracy around the globe which doesn't involve bombing them first please share them with us.

Otherwise, if we bomb Iraq into "liberation", who's next? The idea of the US and its allies roaming the world ridding it of tyranny by force is absurd. And, given current estimates for this one, likely to send the planet bankrupt.

We wouldn't be discussing Hussein's people's suffering if it weren't for his weapons. He might be the world's most famous tyrant but that doesn't necessarily make him the worst.

For that honour a couple of other contenders, who share borders with Iraq, also spring to mind. Most countries in the former USSR stay below the radar, but what's the electrode-to-testicle ratio there? North Korea? How about deepest Africa? And so on.

OK, this will all soon be moot, possibly within days, but in the meantime give "the mob" some credit. Talk to us about weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, geopolitics, oil and how this war will make the world a safer place. Explain why deterrence won't work. Let's discuss human rights, too.

But, guys, lose those godawful steak knives. They cheapen your product.

Peter Brent is editor of mumble.com.au.

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