Craven, why did you predict the WMD's wouldn't be found?
Bill Hayden: Only way out for US
THE Bush administration's Iraq policy has led to a disaster. Far from becoming a secular, liberal, democratic state, Iraq will almost certainly turn into a narrow, stifling Shia theocracy. It will be characterised by a harsh intolerance of nonconformity, by discrimination against other religions, sects and minorities, and by the repression of women.
Moreover, it appears increasingly likely that Iran, not the US, will be the master external draftsman of Iraq's future. At least that seems to be what Tehran expects. Following Iraq's elections in January, a regional head of Iran's intelligence service applauded the result: "The people we [Iran] supported are in power." Talk about unintended consequences.
There is general agreement that the US needs an exit policy. But it is difficult to conceive of one that is practical and will at the same time save face for Washington. Far from a grassroots democracy in the heart of the Middle East that George W. Bush envisaged two or three years ago, the likely consequence of Iraq's "liberation" will be a fragmented, warring and unstable region.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Bush and his neo-conservative colleagues, guided by zealotry and refusing to heed the lessons offered by the region's history, resolutely set their minds against the well-informed advice that they are likely to have received from State Department officials. Iraq, after all, is hardly a coherent state with a shared national identity. It was artificially created following World War I when the victorious European powers set up new states by drawing neat lines on maps, with little consideration for ethnic, religious or tribal affiliations.
Britain and France divided up the region according to notions of how their national aspirations would best be served, rather than on the basis of what was right, practical and desirable for the people of the region. The European powers treated the inhabitants of their colonies with disdain, so it is hardly surprising that the aspirations of Iraqis were deemed unworthy of attention, let alone respect.
Iraq proved to be a troublesome colony for Britain throughout the 1920s. The RAF had to be strategically stationed in the country on a long-term basis, at enormous cost, to subdue insurgents. Winston Churchill was Britain's colonial secretary at the time, and a recent book on his role in creating Iraq is titled Winston's Folly.
In the early 21st century, it would be equally apt to describe Iraq as Bush's blunder. If the US were to cut its losses and end its military presence, the consequences would be awful. US prestige and its international influence would be seriously impaired (a result that could have adverse consequences for Australia). The Iraqi army and its police force are in no condition to take over from US forces, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
There is no realistic solution, although there is the UN route. But leading members of the UN have been savaged by the US administration, its camp followers and the now diminishing hordes of neo-con commentators for refusing to rubber-stamp a US foreign policy blunder.
If only the US administration had waited a little longer and allowed the UN weapons inspectors to complete their task, it would have been possible to demonstrate that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction, that its nuclear ambitions had been contained, and that the other excuses cited for invading it were equally groundless. That way, the US may have been spared the consequences of its leaders' ideological excitability.
The UN route may be difficult to negotiate, not because of the contempt shown for the organisation by the US and its allies, but because the mess in Iraq is so hard to fix.
Forget about democracy; not all peoples in the world want democracy or are capable of sustaining that method of governance. What about different regions? US president Woodrow Wilson wanted to create a Kurdish state after World WarI, but ill health and domestic politics kept him from pursuing that task. Before there is a Kurdistan, there will be a lot of bickering within Iraq, plus the involvement of neighbours such as Turkey, Syria and Iran. To leave this loose end untied will, like so many loose ends left dangling after 1922, provide the wick for an explosion at some later juncture. But it's a daunting prospect.
Imagine the paradox. President George Herbert Bush curtailed the war against Iraq in 1991 to prevent Iran from exercising greater influence, only to have his son turn Iraq into a gift horse for the mullahs in Tehran.
Meanwhile, there is the unfinished business of Afghanistan. The Taliban may have been forced to retreat in late 2001, but the country is effectively a narco-state and the Taliban are re-asserting themselves. The Government's writ diminishes rapidly beyond Kabul and is non-existent in many parts of the impoverished country.
That is where the war against the roots of terror properly started and and that is where it should have remained concentrated. Instead, the US and its allies misguidedly shuffled off to Iraq. If the way out of this mess is through the UN process, the US will have to speedily and skilfully restore its international leadership through diplomacy. That could lead to a vast improvement in the global order.
Bill Hayden is a former foreign minister, Labor leader and governor-general.
I'll be willing to predict that Craven's response will be well thought out and complete. Not just a shrug and eye roll that is typical of our anti-american bretheren.