The US, Britain and Australia In The Age of Terrorism
2004 The Sydney Institute Lecture
Wednesday, 28 April 2004
II am very pleased and grateful to be here tonight. This is not the first time that Gerard and Anne Henderson have invited me to speak at the Sydney Institute, which they have both done so much to make into the important think tank it has become. But it is the first time that I have been given the singular honour of delivering the Institute's annual lecture. It is daunting, particularly given the difficult and painful subject before us tonight.
I once talked to members of the Institute about Rupert Murdoch because many years ago I wrote a biography of this extraordinary Australian. Indeed, it was research for that book which first brought me to Australia and began what, for me, has been a very happy if not constant enough relationship with this country.
Tonight, I want to talk about several subjects:
First, about Iraq now, one year after the overthrow of Saddam;
Secondly, about Iraq before the war and the reasons for the war;
Thirdly, about aspects of the war on terrorism; and
Fourthly, about the future. Or bits of it.
And I want us to consider all this in the context of a quotation from Osama bin Laden. When he issued his declaration of war upon the United States in 1998 he mocked America for its weak response to his attacks against it in Africa and elsewhere. He said, 'When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they naturally gravitate towards the strong horse.'
In early March, Emma Bonino, an Italian politician and friend of mine, called. In 1998, I went with her to Afghanistan. It was the height of Taliban rule and we got ourselves arrested. Now Emma is leader of Italy's radical party and a member of the European Parliament; she invited me to go with her to Iraq.
We set off first to visit the Italian troops - some 3,000 of them - in Nazariyah, in the South, and then to Baghdad.
I should emphasise that this was before the recent and horrific upsurge of violence in some of Iraq.
But let me remind you of one of the causes of that violence. It is progress. The more progress is made in Iraq by the Coalition - the US, Britain, Australia and 32 other countries - the more violence by people determined to stop it.
Every Iraqi we met confirmed the findings of the poll published by the BBC and other broadcasters in March. The majority of Iraqis said that their lives were better now than before the invasion and 70% said they felt that their lives would be better still in a year from now, one third saying, much better. In this context it is important to remember that before the war many people predicted a massive refugee crisis. It did not happen. Indeed, in the last year, Iraqis have been coming home, not fleeing.
About half said they opposed the presence of coalition forces but few of them wanted to leave now.
In Nasariyah, one of the poorest provinces, security had worsened recently, with both gangs of criminals and fundamentalist militias marauding. We met Sabri al Rumadia, the nominated Governor of Nasariah.
He was proud that the marshes, which Saddam had drained in a brutal act of ethnic cleansing, were being refilled. The Marsh Arabs were returning, though they would never be able to come back in such numbers as before.
He said that the priorities were economy, transport and security. The lack of security - though not everywhere - is one of the greatest failures of the Coalition and understandably one of the principal reasons for growing disillusion with the occupation.
Emma asked him, 'What is your message to the world?'
He replied, 'It is to say : 'Please send any help you can to Iraq. Don't stay away. That would be a big disaster for us.'
He was horrified by what had happened in Spain. 'If the troops withdraw the situation will deteriorate further. Its essential that the coalition forces stay to put pressure on our neighbours (especially Iran) not to interfere.' Iranian subversive and terrorist interference is very serious.
Since then the new Spanish government has announced that its troops are coming out at once – rather than even waiting for the June 30th handover of sovereignty and the possibility of staying under a UN umbrella, as many had hoped. Many, many Iraqis, will be terrified by Spain's precipitate decision.
We met with some ten women, representing themselves or some of the new women's and other groups, like teachers.
Emma Bonino asked 'Do you think life has changed a bit for the better or not?' One of them answered, 'We have great hope for the future. The problem is now.'
Several said that not enough had changed in the last year. Emma pointed out that in Italy after 1945 it took many years to rebuild the country.
Baghdad is surreal. The first impression driving off Saddam's vast military airfield and into the city is of the dictator's insane megalomania. There is Palace after Palace after Palace, many of them built in the nineties when the country and people were suffering under sanctions imposed because of his refusal to abide by UN disarmament resolutions.
Behind the headlines of the awful violence of the last month, there is another reality.
Now Baghdad is a boom city. Every corner is piled high with boxes of air conditioners, televisions and other consumer durables for sale. There is now more electricity in more places than under Saddam/ But the huge new demands imposed on the fragile grid will probably cause it to crash constantly this summer – leading to more discontent.
There is an explosion of ideas as well as consumer goods. The interim constitution, adopted by the Governing Council in March, gives citizens and particularly women more rights than they enjoy in any neighbouring states.
It is truly a revolutionary document. The question that women, in particular, ask, is 'Will it last?'
Children are back at school in most of Iraq – and they no longer just have to worship Saddam. Almost all hospitals are re-opened. Foreign capital has begun to return. The vital oil industry is being restored, despite terrorist sabotage. Last month OPEC produced its full oil quota of crude oil for the first time since 1979.
The US is spending $1/2 billion on democracy building programmes. $27 million of this will be spent on setting up women's centres and teaching women's rights in every province.
There have already been municipal elections in 17 Iraqi cities and in each of them victory has gone to democratic and secularist parties. Similarly in professional associations. All the opinion polls favour democratisation.
15 months ago there were only pro Saddam newspapers and television. Now there are over 200 newspapers and satellite dishes, outlawed under Saddam, are one of the biggest sellers. Unfortunately the two principal Arabic broadcasters, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya are totally opposed to the American led venture in Iraq. They broadcast poison.
Unemployment is certainly very serious. But the US's $18 billion aid programme will kick in very soon – it should have come much sooner, but it will help alleviate unemployment. The World Bank reckons that per capita income will rise by 33% this year and GDP by 60%. Inflation will rise also.
We met with a group of young people - students and artists amongst them.
'The end of Saddam was like a dream,' said one. 'Now we can talk for the first time in our lives.' 'The Coalition has not protected our security well enough' said another. A third said, 'We believe Saddam himself was the real Weapon of Mass Destruction. We have freedom now.Don't leave now.'
From the press reports it is easy to come away with two images of Iraq today - (1) that it is all a hopeless war zone and (2) that Iraqis do not want us there. Bonino and I came to a very different view : that most Iraqis are very glad that the Coalition overthrew Saddam, and that most of them are for the first time enjoying many of the freedoms that we take for granted. In understand the trauma that the Spaniards endured in the Madrid bombing but we were convinced that it is quite wrong for the new Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, to describe Iraq as 'a disaster'.
It is not a disaster. It is an incredibly difficult attempt to reform a crucial state in the most dangerous part of the world. It is made more difficult by the Coalition's failures – in particular its failure to send enough troops to police the country. The resistance is by no means all Iraqi – foreign subverters and terrorists have been rushed in from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria to make sure this progress towards civil society is destroyed. The more progress, the more violence.
The disaster would be to fail, to turn away from the commitment we have given the Iraqi people and ourselves. That would terrible repercussions with Iraq and beyond. I am sure that that is something Australia would never do.
THE THREAT OF SADDAM
How did we get there anyway ?
I believed that the war against Saddam was justified above all because he was in total defiance of the United Nations over its twelve years demand that he reveal and destroy his Weapons of Mass Destruction.
But we have not found the 'smoking weapons' that we thought Saddam possessed and it has become almost axiomatic to declare and believe that George Bush, Tony Blair, John Howard and others 'lied' about them.
I think it is important to state that that is not true.
There is no evidence that any major western leader - Bush, Blair, Howard, or Spain's Jose Maria Aznar - lied.
Every major intelligence service in the world believed through the end of the 1990s and into the new millenium that Saddam was still pursuing his old dream of WMD and that he had failed to comply with all the multiple binding resolutions against him. However, some of the intelligence was clearly wrong.
Before 9/11 was already Saddam seen as a serious threat. It is not just President Bush who thought that.
Consider this quote:
'If we fail to act or we take some ambiguous third route, which gives him yet more opportunities to develop [his] weapons of mass destruction and continue to press for the release of sanctions.he will conclude that the international community has lost its will and that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, some way, I guarantee you he will use the arsenal...'
Who said that? Not President Bush, not some wild eyed Neo Con in his employ. No. It was President Clinton.
When? In February 1998. Clinton was aware that Saddam, uniquely among current leaders, had form. Saddam had actually used WMD against both his neighbour (Iran) and his own people; by 1998 Iraq was in breach of almost all of the obligations of many years of binding Security Council Resolutions.
Clinton went on to say, 'In the next century the community of nations may see more and more of the very kind of threat Iraq poses now - a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists... If we fail to respond today, Saddam, and all those who would follow in his footsteps, will be emboldened tomorrow by the knowledge that they can act with impunity...'
Clinton was absolutely right. But at the end of 1998, caught in the toils of the Monica Lewinsky crisis, he failed to follow through. He continued the policy of containment - including sanctions, air patrols, and covert operations. He left office still convinced that Saddam had to be removed.
The popular belief is that Bush came into office obsessed with Iraq. But he did not at once seek to change the Clinton policy. The early pre-occupation of the new administration was not Iraq but the growing power of China (which is still a concern.) Donald Rumsfeld said Asia would be the new focus of defence policy.
Then came 9/11.
By extraordinary chance John Howard was in Washington DC on 9/11. The attacks, understandably, had a profound impact upon him and he realised at once that we had entered a fearsome new world.
On his return to Australia, Howard invoked the Anzus treaty, which since 1951 has been the cornerstone of Australian foreign policy. I think most Australians believe that the American alliance has served this country well.
You do not need me to tell you that Howard was determined that Australia should play a full role in the war on terror which bin Laden had begun. The ADF played an important part in the campaign to remove the Taliban and Australian Special Forces were committed to the western desert of Iraq in March 2003, where they acquitted themselves well.
Today Australian troops are crucial in sustaining operations at Baghdad airport. There is an Australian naval presence in the Gulf, which was called into action to save Americans under attack a few days ago. There is a CI30 airborne detachment. Australians are training Iraqi troops, something the ADF does very well. By its actions, Australia has certainly demonstrated over the last three years that it understands the magnitude of the crisis with which the world is now faced.
There is much criticism of the Bush administration for focussing on Iraq after 9/11. But I think we should ask whether containment of Saddam was really still sustainable. One might ask whether it was even moral. The French and the Russians were anxious to have sanctions lifted unconditionally as soon as possible. As the massive UN oil for food scandal reminds us, Security Council members were already subverting their own resolutions.
Anyone who looked at Iraq before or after 9/11 would have to have concluded that this was a rogue state using the privileges of statehood to evade international law and endanger peace and security of the region, if not further afield. Saddam had demonstrated over twenty years that he would not be restrained from using any weapons he managed to acquire. Far from rushing to action, it had taken twelve years – in which Iraqis and their country suffered immeasurable harm. This was a regime which had tortured and killed hundreds of thousands of its own people, in which children were murdered in front of their parents to make them confess to non existent crimes. Saddam was hated and feared by most countries in the region, even if they did not always dare say so.
The Council voted again unanimously in Resolution 1441 of November 2002 that Saddam was still defying the world on WMD and gave him a final opportunity to co-operate fully. He did not take it. Hans Blix, the chief UN inspector, said that Saddam's stocks of VX and anthrax remained unaccounted for and that little progress had been made on the solution of other serious issues. David Kelly, the British weapons expert who was so misused by the BBC, also thought that the invasion was inevitable.
In spring 2003, the debate in the UN became bitter. In my view it was not the US which walked away from the UN, but France and Germany which refused to enforce Resolution 1441. Instead of concentrating on the problem of Saddam, they concentrated on the US, and as a result split NATO, the European Union and the Council itself. The French position was, apparently, that the 200,000 US and other troops poised in Saddam's borders should remain there until France decided they could move. No US President would ever have accepted that.
The war was won brilliantly fast, without any of the disasters predicted by its opponents.
Since then, to the surprise of many, including myself, we have not found the biological and chemical stockpiles we expected. But we do now know that Saddam was illegally building long range missiles. Once sanctions had been lifted then he could arm them by reconstituting his biological and chemical stockpiles.
George Bush, Tony Blair, John Howard and their allies are now attacked for this failure. But imagine the consequences if Iraq had in fact been as advanced along this road as North Korea, or even Iran ? Not without reason, the historian Philip Bobbitt points out, 'It cannot be better to avoid action until we are certain that the situation we most fear has indeed come about.' Saddam may not have been an immediate threat but he was an inevitable one.
Rolf Ekeus, the measured first chief UN weapons inspector, said last summer that the attacks on Bush, Blair, Howard and other western leaders for the failure to find the WMD predicted were 'a trivialisation of a major threat to peace and security.' He argued that Saddam's policy in recent years had been to concentrate on design and engineering rather than accumulating stockpiles. 'The combination of researchers, engineers, know-how, precursors, batch production is what constituted Iraq's chemical threat' – not rusting drums. And don't forget that in 1991, the UN inspectors were appalled to find that Saddam's nuclear programme was far more advanced than they expected.
There are 30 million pages of Iraqi official weapons documentation in Qatar now; they are being read by machine to find more clues. There are still many interviews to do.
Dr David Kay, the first head of the Iraq Survey Group, has said that we know that terrorist groups were anxious to acquire 'the knowledge of how to make . small amounts [of WMD] which is, after all, mostly what terrorists want. Iraq remained a very dangerous place in terms of WMD capabilities, even though we found no large stockpiles of weapons.'
Consider in parallel with that, this remark by Eliza Manningham Buller, the director of MI5, British counter intelligence : 'Al Qaida has the ambition to carry out unconventional attacks on the West. They have said so.' But do they have the means? she asked. 'My conclusion, based on the intelligence we have uncovered, is that we are faced with the realistic possibility of some form of unconventional attack. That could include a Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear attack. Sadly, given the widespread proliferation of the technical knowledge to construct these weapons, it will only be a matter of time before a crude version of a CBRN attack is launched at a major western city.'
It is in the context of that grim reality that I would like to turn now to the war on terror, which has affected Australia as horribly as any country. The road from 9/11 through Bali to Madrid, and most recently Basra and Riyadh, is a gruesome and depressing one.
Even so, I think we sometimes fail to recognise how great the threat is. It long predates the overthrow of Saddam. President Clinton said in the mid 1990s that terrorism was akin to World War Two and the Cold War. I quote, 'It is the enemy of our generation and we must prevail.' Others have said that Islamic terrorism or Islamofascism is the third 'ism' that we have to defeat after Nazism and Communism.
The first thing to say, and this is what senior counter intelligence people do say, is that 9/11 did not so much change the threat from terror in itself, as it changed our perception of it. Before 9/11 we had a failure of imagination.
Intelligence cannot tell us everything. It can only illuminate some parts of the picture. Our intelligence agencies have to sift trough masses of material and make judgements. They get bored with having to repeat the refrain 'the possibility cannot be discounted that..'
The problem with tracing and stopping Al Qaida is that it is not a structured organisation like the IRA or other nationalist terrorist organisations. It is much broader, more diffuse, more dangerous. It is a network or franchise. If part of the network is destroyed it simply knits together again. This makes it ultimately more dangerous and more difficult to deal with.
There are those who argue that the war in Iraq has and is inflaming Islamic opinion and creating more people willing to give their own lives to destroying the West. Well it may be so. The first Gulf war, fought to liberate Kuwait, was one of bin Laden's early clarion calls for holy war. Should we therefore have left Kuwait in the hands of Saddam ?
Other western policies may also anger Islamists. Of course the hideously painful stand off between Israel and the Palestinians creates militants. But even if the destination on the Road Map, a two state solution for Israel and Palestine, were reached immediately, that would not end the threat from bin Laden and those who think like him. They see this as an existential war.
Do not forget that during the 1990s, when there was no war in Iraq, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Islamic warriors were trained in the bin Laden camps in Afghanistan. That was a time when the US president, Bill Clinton, was working overtime to create an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The United States finally came to the rescue of Muslims in Bosnia, after Europe had failed to do so, and then led the effort to save Muslims in Kosovo.
None of that stopped bin Laden from building up his organisation and attacking the US where ever he could.
In the 1990s the US failed to respond decisively to the attacks upon it. bin Laden saw the US as weak. In his 'Declaration of War against the Americans' he mocked the US for withdrawing from Somalia after 18 soldiers were killed in a firefight in Mogadishu in 1993. 'You left the area in disappointment, humiliation and defeat.You had been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew'. Islam was the strong horse, he said.
After 9/11 President Bush and his coalition partners were determined to show that the West as a whole was not a weak horse after all.
bin Laden does not himself direct all the terrorist attacks in the western and Arab world. But his evil doctrine and his extraordinary success on 9/11 have given a poisonous new strength and vision to disparate Islamic groups around the world. They live to kill. The most determined live to die. Or, perhaps more often, they brainwash others to do so.
For example, here is the story of a young Kurd who was about to become a suicide bomber. He was arrested by the Kurdish authorities and this account was published in the London based Arabic paper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. I quote:
'Kaywan Qader, 18 years old, grew up in Suleimaniya. He was one of ten children in a moderately religious family. In the mosque he met Sawara Ali, who discussed religion with him and then recruited him to [the terrorist group] Ansar al-Islam.He was able to convince Qader that Jihad would offer him paradise and save him from hell. Qader agreed to join Ali in one of the camps to prepare himself for Jihad, and all of his father's efforts to dissuade him from that failed. Qader told his father that Allah's wish supersedes his family's wish..In the camp Qader agreed to carry out a suicide mission because he was told it is the highest level of jihad...Another detainee who spent time in the camp says that they listened to lectures where they were told that each of the martyrs will find 72 virgins waiting for him in paradise...'
Sergio Vierra de Mello, Kofi Annan's superb representative in Baghdad was murdered by a suicide bomber in August last year. You will remember that de Mello was the man who skilfully oversaw East Timor's transition to independence. Consider what al Qaida said about of him. They described him as 'the diseased Sergio de Mello, representative of America's criminal slave, Kofi Annan.Why cry over a heretic? de Mello is the one who tried to embellish the image of America, the crusaders and the Jews in Lebanon and Kosovo and now in Iraq..he is the crusader that extracted a part of the Islamic land (East Timor).'
For helping East Timor, Sergio, the UN and Australia earned Al Qaida's total enmity – long before the invasion of Iraq.
Last summer an Al Qaida spokesman, Suleiman Abu Gheith, said that Muslims have the right to kill 4 million Americans, including 2 million children so as to reach parity with alleged American attacks on Muslims. 'Furthermore it is our right to fight them with chemical and biological weapons.'
Such evil zealots will not stand down if bin Laden is killed or captured or promises any truce. To quote Manningham Buller again, 'The supply of potential terrorists among extreme elements of the Islamic world is unlikely to diminish. Political dialogue and a process of reconciliation are not on the horizon as groups like Al Qaida have aims that are absolute and non-negotiable.'
They cannot be appeased.
The new Spanish government is quite, quite wrong. Withdrawal from the attempt to build a decent Iraq will not protect anyone. On the contrary it will lead to disaster. Jose Maria Aznar, the defeated Premier of Spain, said this week that withdrawal 'tells the Iraqi people that they cannot count on us. We are saying that we are not going to help them secure the liberties that we ourselves enjoy and that we are nor prepared to take the slightest risk for them. Appeasement does not protect one from danger; instead, it fortifies the danger itself.'
EFFECTS OF THE INVASION
Bernard Lewis, one of the great western authorities on Islamic culture, has written, 'If the peoples of the Middle East continue on their present path, the suicide bomber may become a metaphor for the whole region, and there will be no escape from the downward spiral of hate, rage, spite and self pity, poverty and oppression.'
The only long term hope of preventing that lies in the transformation of the region.
Consider the UN Development Programme's 2002 Arab Development Report. This made chilling reading.
Consider: in one of the richest areas of the world, 40% of adult Arabs are illiterate (two thirds of them women). And consider, the combined GDP of the 22 Arab League states is less than that of Spain. One third of the people of the region live on less than two dollars a day.
And consider, 50 million young Arabs will enter the labour market by 2010, 100 million by 2020. If current trends continue it would take the average Arab140 years to double his income; other regions will do so in less than ten years. There is 'poverty of capabilities and poverty of opportunities'. These have their roots in three deficits : freedom, women's empowerment and knowledge. The study found that of the seven regions of the world the Arab region had the least freedoms of all. No wonder that so many people there are so angry and rebellious.
Why does the future look so bleak? One of the principal reasons is bad government, Saddam's was the worst in the Arab world, but there are many others. Syria is governed by a corrupt and despotic family clique from a minority sect. Egypt has been ruled by emergency decree since 1981.
An important part of America's strategy in Iraq was very bold. It was to change the criminally destructive complacency of governments in the region.
It is has not provided overnight transformation but it is already possible to see good effects of the removal of Saddam in the region. First, and most dramatically, perhaps, Gadaffi sued for peace. He has handed over all his WMD programmes in return for being allowed back into the international community.
In the last year civic movements demanding change have grown for the first time in Egypt, Saudi and Syria. They were not created by George Bush, but they do say that Washington's new democratisation policy has given them a voice, an audience and a partial shield against oppression – three things they did not have a year ago.
Now reform is on the agenda throughout the Middle East. Who has put it there ? Not the European Union, for sure. The United States.
Right now, at US insistence, the socalled sherpas from major western governments are preparing for the June G-8 summit.
The hope was, and must remain, that success in creating a better society in Iraq, can have a domino effect on the region. It seems to me tragic that Romano Prodi, the European Commission President, Dominique de Villepin, till recently the French foreign minister, and other politicians elsewhere are now competing with Spanish premier Zapatero to denounce the United States and its allies in Iraq. They represent a terrible spirit of Euro-effetism. But, importantly, this spirit does not exist amongst the new or aspirant members of the European Union – Poland, Latvia, Rumania, Estonia, Bulgari, these and others know how vital the US was to their liberation.
Before the war, Jose Ramos Horta, the East Timorese dissident, criticised the anti-war marchers in the west, saying, 'If the anti-war movement dissuades the US and its allies from going to war in Iraq, it will have contributed to the peace of the dead.'
The great Peruvian novelist, Mario Vargas Llosa, has written of the 'various sects and movements bent on provoking the Apocalypse in order to prevent Iraq from soon becoming a free and modern country, a perspective that rightfully terrifies and drives insane the gangs of murderers and torturers of the Mukhabarat and the Fedayeen of Saddam Hussein along with the fundamentalist commandoes from Al Qaida and Ansar al Islam as well as the terrorist brigades sent to Iraq by the ultra conservative conservative clerics. All of them know that if Iraq becomes a modern democracy their days are numbered.'
If it happens, it will be above all because of the sacrifice of soldiers from 35 countries. As so often the greatest sacrifice will be borne by young Americans. More than 100 have been killed in the past month alone.
Australia's strategic reality is a partnership and alliance with the United States. I think that most Australians understand that hatred of America is both powerful and destructive. Some of that hatred is caused by America's mistakes, though that is not true of Islamic nihilists, a minority whom nothing can assuage. The bottom line is this. For all its faults, American commitment and American sacrifice are essential to this world. As in the 20th century, so in the 21st only America has both the power and the optimism to defend the international community against what really are forces of darkness. In this endeavour America needs its allies in the liberal democratic world - for both real and symbolic purposes. Indeed the two often march together.
The new beginning in Iraq is proving much more painful than anyone, supporters or critics of the war, would have hoped. The terrorists want to see Iraq subjugated again - either under a Saddamite or an Islamic dictatorship. It would be a catastrophe for Iraq and the world if they were allowed to succeed.
I have no doubt that, for all the violent attempts to stop change, Iraq is already a better place than it was under Saddam. For all the horrible problems, most of the 25 million Iraqis have more freedom and a better chance than ever before.
I believe that Australians understand that and I believe that Australians will not want to abandon this brave, difficult and important mission.