Latham’s troops recall: your say

There�s strong disagreement in Canberra on whether Latham�s troops recall plan is smart or dumb in terms of his standing with the Australian people and Labor�s election chances. Most agree, for all sorts of reasons, that Latham�s policy is wrong.


On the politics, some say he�s ensured that Howard won�t pull a welcome home parade for the troops in Iraq during the election, and that�s got to be a plus. They also say Latham is following the �you�ve got to be in it to win it principle� � and that a vigorous debate on bringing the troops home will help neutralise national security as a positive for Howard and allow Labor to fight the election on domestic issues.

For me, stopping a Howard welcome home parade is not worth the cost. And why neutralise an issue when � before this debacle � Latham had a bloody good chance of winning it! (See Latham’s Iraq indiscretion ends honeymoon). Not only that, but he�s undermined Labor�s long-time support for international law and the United Nations (see Latham joins Howard in trashing international law on Iraq).

Does Latham really believe we need to recall 850 troops �to defend Australia�? Has he behaved impulsively on a matter of core national importance? Is he joining Howard in playing politics with the nation�s safety at a time when Howard is (or was) under the gun for the same reason?

Can Latham be trusted to lead the nation?

Webdiarists are as divided as the Labor Party and political journalists on whether Latham�s on a winner or is taking unnecessary risks. So let�s hear the arguments.



Hugh Halloran recommends roadtosurfdom for in depth discussion of Richard Clarke�s book and developments in Washington on Clarke�s revelations on Bush and Iraq.

Brian McKinlay adds his recommendation to many others, including me, of juancole for must-read coverage of developments in Iraq.

Antony Loewenstein recommends Counterpunch for details of where the September 11 inquiry is at in the US and Misleader, a daily chronicle of Bush administration distortion.

Richard Tonkin recommends the Defence Ministry media release of March 10, “which states that our new Abrams tanks are units of a much larger global force. The last paragraph regarding rail transport and cranes in Darwin is also worthy of your attention. An implication of the creation of a covert unit of the U.S. Army could easily be drawn.”


Dave Green

Re the poll result that 60%-ish of Australians want our defence personnel to remain in Iraq “until the job is done”, it should be noted that this is a view held by persons on roughly both sides of politics.

It�s by far the dominant view of the 40%-or-so Australians that still support the Howard government. However, it is also a significant view held by some at the small-l liberal end of the progressive spectrum.

The important point, however, is that there are radically different bases to these positions.

Deployment-supporting Conservatives appear, in general to support continued Australian involvement in Iraq for two main reasons:

1. It is government policy and they don’t want Labor to get an edge over their “team”.

2. They fear that removing our forces will signal weakness to terrorist groups.

There is a minority on this side of politics, which also support the U.S. neo-conservative empire-building exercise, and this obviously influences their opinion. But I suspect that our home grown neo-con movement is confined mostly to the elite conservative establishment (radio talk hosts, Murdoch columnists, some in the Federal Government).

Deployment-supporting progressives have a very different basis for supporting the continued deployment of Australian troops. Their position has two sources:

1. Respect for the notion of an international rule of law generally, and specifically, the provisions under the Geneva convention on the responsibilities of occupying powers.

2. Humanitarian concerns for the plight of ordinary Iraqis caught in a failed, ideologically driven attempt at nation building.

I don’t think Mark Latham should be too worried about the latest poll because deployment-supporting progressives won’t vote for the government regardless of the Labor position on Iraq. Howard�s continual politicisation of foreign policy, disregard for international law, and disastrous record on human rights for refugees precludes this possibility.

This looks to be another in a series of blunders by Howard – he is hammering this issue, but there isn’t much in it for him while it is framed by concerns for international law and human rights.

The issue can easily be neutralised for deployment-supporting progressives. Labor has already stated its intention to at least remain until the hand over of sovereignty to the Iraqis (showing a concern for international legalities) – and that half the troops would remain anyway. Add to that a substitution of aid to Iraq for deployment costs, and the 60% of support to Howard’s “position” would become at most 40% (and falling).


Simon Mansfield

Latham demolished Howard’s argument on bringing the troops home yesterday. We have done our job in Iraq; it’s time to get out before it all goes to shit. Why would be want our troops there in the middle of a civil war.

Howard wants the troops home as soon as he can get a political hit out of it. The real story is how Howard has had senior Foreign affairs officials and ADF officers out there engaging in the political debate.


Nick White

Well Margo, I must give it you: finally I read one of your articles that makes me smile, not fume. Unlike Alan Ramsey at least you have the balls to publish the fact that Latham made a policy on the run and a bad one at that. You were also the first to make a valid point when you state that it was crazy to demand the withdrawal of 850 troops to defend Australia when our armed forces total 51,000.


David Palmer in Adelaide

Margo, regardless of what you think of Latham’s tactics, his statement about pulling Australian troops out of Iraq was completely realistic.

It’s public knowledge that Australian troops presently play no significant role in Iraq. There are more Polish troops than Australian troops there at the moment. We’re quite fortunate that no Australian soldiers have been killed there yet.

Labor’s problem when Crean was in the Opposition leadership is that he failed to clearly oppose the U.S. led invasion – and Howard’s tailing behind anything that Bush said on the issue. Including the now discredited “Weapons of Mass Destruction” claim.

Howard is again deceiving the Australian public – and basically lying to them about the “importance” of our troops in that region. The problem is not Latham – it is Howard. I’m disgusted by Howard, not Latham.


Harry Heidelberg

Thanks for including the original Latham transcript in Latham’s Iraq indiscretion ends honeymoon. If you read all his caveats, what he says seems fine. (Margo: That�s what the Australian newspaper thought on the day � the paper did not report the first comments). All I had seen to that point was the screaming headlines, including from the Herald “Latham: Troops Home by Christmas” and similar. Yes, Latham should have taken Robert Bosler’s advice. If he had done so perhaps people would have focused on his original words.

Normally I can’t be bothered reading long things from Howard. I read that speech you printed and am stumped. I have been saying for a long time that he is the living dead, but that speech has me wondering again. Perhaps he can pull the rabbit out of the hat one more time. Surely not?

One thing I like to do is put myself inside the head of the average Australian. Not over analyse, not over intellectualise, but taking things on face value. I don�t find it hard to think like an ordinary person because I am. That speech hit every sweet spot. Howard HASN�T lost it. The wily old fox is back.

The basic pitch becomes hard to resist. In times of trouble, what do you want? A loose canon or a tried, proven and competent leader surrounded by people of similar ilk. I didn�t include “trusted” because he has lost that – but it is a relative thing (unfortunately). Do you put up with being conned from time to time if everything else works out OK?

In such an uncertain environment, it mightn�t seem right to turf out the old guy who knows what he’s doing in favour of the young guy who increasingly seems to have no idea. Perhaps this is just another flash in the pan but I think it is significant. We’re not America. We haven�t lost hundreds of our troops. We haven’t spent US$109 billion on this thing. Bush is in much more trouble than Howard.

I have a feeling the last day of the honeymoon has arrived. The suitcases are on the bed; there was a fight the night before and there is a long trip home to a reality filled with tense silences and doubts. Hey taxi, take me to the airport. We’ve gotta get out of this place! The Howard speech is the equivalent of arriving back home from the honeymoon and finding a letter from your old lover in the post box. You realise the fleeting quality of the new has become grating and the old, if you still had it, would have fit like comfy slippers on a winter’s night. Everyone needs security and Howard remains convincing.


Mick Stojcevski

I write in relation to the beat up over Mark Latham’s promise to withdraw our troops from Iraq. I believe everyone, nearly everyone, has misread the purpose of Latham’s promise. I believe he has wedged Howard.

The way Howard and most of the media have reacted, they have missed Mark Latham’s wedging of Howard. Latham has forced Howard to fight on the Iraq War again, forcing him to justify his position on that war in order for the troops to remain there.

Maybe there were sufficient gullible people 12 months ago willing to swallow Howard’s line, but how many do you believe are willing to swallow it now? Only the sycophants and the fools. And they are a sufficiently small minority that they won’t win the election for Howard, and he knows it. I agree with you that Howard is still out there fishing for a wedge, but he either isn’t aware that Latham has perhaps wedged him or he truly believes he can win by fighting on the Iraq War again.

If I am correct then we will see further erosion of Howard’s credibility.

Maybe Peter Costello will garner the courage to challenge, but I doubt it. Costello was right last June, and it’s a pity for him that John and Janette weren’t as wise. But, then, one could argue that they never were and have had three lucky strikes; anyone could’ve beaten Keating in 1996, he was lucky to win with 48.5% of the vote in 1998 and lucky that the Tampa and September 11 came just before the 2001 election. He should’ve trounced the ALP in 2001 but he couldn’t. The electorate doesn’t love him and as soon as the ALP offered a decent alternative, they have flocked to him in droves.

He won’t have such luck with Mark Latham. Not in a million years. Bye bye Johnny.


Mike Lyvers in Queensland

If Latham is serious about bringing the troops home and making Australians safer from terrorist threats, then he should be calling for immediately withdrawal of all Australian forces from East Timor.

The Australian role in the liberation of East Timor unequivocally increased Australians’ risk of being victimized by terrorists, as the Bali bombers and Osama bin Laden justified the Bali attack by citing Australia’s role in East Timor as a “crusader nation” stealing land from a Muslim nation, Indonesia. (And East Timor’s oil reserves are every bit as likely to have been a major motivating factor in that involvement as in Iraq).

But there is silence from Latham, the Greens and the Left in general about this. Why? All those who advocated Australian involvement in East Timor must accept that such action clearly and unequivocally increased the risk of a terrorist attack against Australians – Bali being the proof.


Jaye Newland in Copacabana, NSW

Being an election year there are lots of attacks on individuals, notably Mark Latham, from Howard and the media – including Web Diary.

Let�s get real. Howard has blood on his hands, and Mark Latham does not, so that makes them different for starters. Mark Latham is younger, and I am sure that he will learn more in a short time than Howard has over decades.

Howard has taken taxpayer�s money away from health and education and put it into his war chest for his self serving political ambitions, Defence, “the war on terror” and Security. Howard cancelled reconciliation with indigenous Australians and depleted essential services.

Mark Latham’s mentor is Gough Whitlam and I�m sure that he will improve services and cultural support for our indigenous peoples. Mark Latham deserves all the support he can get from thinking Australians.


Clive Astle in Banksia Beach, Queensland

Margo, Howard’s government claims Oz troops can’t be brought home because they are needed to protect Australian diplomats in Iraq. Silly me – I thought the war was supposed to be over. And yet the UK does not use its defence forces to protect its diplomats – the UK contracts private security guards.

Similarly, why should Australian defence forces perform air traffic control or other civilian tasks? For example, if the war is really over, re-employ the Iraqi air traffic controllers that ran Baghdad airport before the war.


Iain Todd

As I understand the logic of Howard’s justification of war in Iraq, the removal of Saddam was necessary because he was a despotic leader with WMDs and the capability of furthering terrorism. That our presence was necessary appears to be because of our strategic alliance with the USA.

There is an echo of this sentiment in our commitment to the Vietnam War. Replace terrorism with communism, and the two wars appear eerily similar.

It’s instructive to see the film “The Fog of War”, where Robert McNamara explains the involvement of the US in what he now acknowledges was a misguided use of US military power. It was particularly galling to hear the former Secretary of Defence state that none of their allies participated in that conflict.

That our involvement in Iraq is more to do with domestic politics than any other consideration seems clear; apart from the duplicity of the Howard government, what angers me most is that we continue to learn nothing from history. If we had learnt those lessons, perhaps the Government of the day, of any persuasion, would not find us so easy to delude.

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