Queensland Liberal Senator Russell Trood says the comments on Iraq attributed to him in The Bulletin today do not fully reflect his words.

“Reflect” might be a key word here. We often don’t like what we see when we look in the mirror. Particularly when we consider it in detail. Trood is using the standard political formulation of “marry in haste, repent at leisure”.

The Prime Minister has come to his defence, telling Channel Nine that Trood is not advocating the Labor course of withdrawing Australian troops from Iraq.

Which is probably just as well. There’s a major problem with Kim Beazley’s pledge to withdraw after the next election. They’ll probably be gone before then as the United States and Britain will leave – and we’ll follow suit.

Watch out for more exciting political formulations. It’s going to be interesting to see the rhetorical justification for all of this.

How do leaders politely say that the US does not have the will to win – that the US just cannot do midsized wars, particularly those combatting insurgencies?

In small wars where the fight is quick and easy, they win. In large wars where the nation itself is threatened, they commit all and win. But mid-sized wars are a problem. The US seems unable to mobilise the will and commitment to prosecute them effectively.

It’s very easy to see how Mission Accomplished became Mission Impossible. For all its might, the US has been unable to secure Iraq’s borders. At the same time, they have destroyed Iraq’s governmental structure without successfully imposing a new one. All this from the nation that was able to write workable constitutions for Japan and Germany after World War II.

With mid-term trauma looming, we now hear the Administration is scrambling for a plan. The process we now see is the equivalent to Nixon’s Vietnamisation of that war – fighting with proxy local troops. It should be a no-brainer. If, faced with the same problem, you use the same failing method, it is going to end in the same misery and self doubt for the United States that Vietnam ended in.

Is pulling out a credible response? Probably. “How” is the issue. And we need to get a grip on our own relative importance, too. Realistically nothing Australia does in these circumstances will stop the slide to anarchy and US defeat if the US cannot or will not prosecute the war.

This failure of will and failure of policy may be the Bush Administration’s greatest shame. Strategist John Keegan recently spelt out why Iraq is not Vietnam :

The Vietnamese communists had organised and operated a countryside politico-military organisation with branches in almost every village. The North Vietnamese People’s Army resembled that of an organised Western state. It conscripted recruits throughout the country, trained, organised and equipped them.

The Iraqi insurgency, by contrast, is an informal undertaking by a coalition of religious and ex-Ba’athist groups. It has no high command or bureaucracy resembling the disciplined Marxist structures of North Vietnam. It has some support from like-minded groups in neighbouring countries, but nothing to compare with the North Vietnamese international network, which was supported by China and the Soviet Union and imported arms and munitions from both those countries on a large scale.

North Vietnam was, moreover, a sovereign state, supported explicitly by all other communist countries and by many sympathetic regimes in the Third World. The Iraqi insurgency has sympathisers, but they enjoy no organised system of support and are actively opposed by many of their neighbours and Muslim co-religionists.

What should politicians say on Iraq? Perhaps they should just take the words of Simon Jenkins in The Guardian today:

This country has been turned by two of the most powerful and civilised nations on Earth into the most hellish place on Earth. Armies claiming to bring democracy and prosperity have brought bloodshed and a misery worse than under the most ruthless modern dictator. This must be the stupidest paradox in modern history. Neither America nor Britain has the guts to rule Iraq properly, yet they lack the guts to leave.

Peter Fray

Help us keep up the fight

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today to get your first 12 weeks for $12 and get the journalism you need to navigate the spin.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW