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Wednesday, 19 March 2003
Page: 12894


Mr LATHAM (12:05 PM) —In her outstanding book The March of Folly the American historian Barbara Tuchman looks at the reasons why nations and governments often act in a manner contrary to their self-interest. She writes that throughout human endeavour:

... government remains the paramount area of folly because it is there that men seek power over others—only to lose it over themselves.

For Tuchman, persistence in error is the problem. When leaders abandon reason and rationality—when they refuse to withdraw from bad policy, no matter what damage they are doing to themselves and their nations—this is the march of folly. Vietnam was an example of this process. Fearful of McCarthyism and right-wing opinion at home, successive American leaders from Eisenhower to Nixon refused to be the first president to concede ground to communism. This is why they pushed their country deeper and deeper into the folly of a counterproductive foreign policy.

I believe that something similar is happening in the United States today. Post September 11 the American people want revenge for the attack on their country, and the Bush administration is determined to give it to them. It is determined to wage war on Iraq and Saddam Hussein even if this means damaging America's long-term interests, even if this means diverting resources from the real war against terror, even if this means trashing the UN system, even if this means dividing the Western world and gutting NATO, and even if this means generating a new wave of anti-American sentiment around the world. After the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon people were worried about what al-Qaeda might do next. Today they are worried about what President Bush might do next. The Bush administration has squandered much of the international goodwill towards its nation. This is the march of folly and, shamefully, the Australian government is following the United States down this path. This is the worst piece of Australian foreign policy since Vietnam.

The Prime Minister has made a crude judgment post September 11 that the world has just one superpower and in the war against terror Australia needs to get with the power, no matter the cost to our independence, no matter the cost to our international standing. The Prime Minister is not interested in arguments about the soundness of US policy or the need for global power sharing and cooperation. The Howard government is simply determined to follow the leader. For some of the media elites, to say these things is seen as anti-American. In my case, I greatly admire the achievements of the United States people. I am not anti-American; I am anti-Bush. I am anti the right-wing hawks of the Republican Party in the United States. I am anti-war.

When people ask, `What is the alternative to war?' I say the answer is quite simple: the alternative to war is peaceful disarmament. On 7 March the chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, reported that substantial progress had been made and that Iraq could be disarmed peacefully within a matter of months. He said:

We are not watching the breaking of toothpicks. Lethal weapons are being destroyed.

There is indeed a huge credibility gap in the argument for war. We now know that, as incredible as it may seem, large slabs of the British government's dossier on Iraq were plagiarised from university students. In this country a senior ONA officer, Andrew Wilkie, has blown the whistle on the true nature of Australian intelligence reports. In his assessment:

Iraq does not pose a security threat to the US, the UK, Australia or any other country at this point in time. Their military is very small, their weapons of mass destruction program is fragmented and contained and there is no hard evidence of any active co-operation between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

So why the mad rush to war? Why does Australia need to act outside the UN system when the independent report of the weapons inspectors has said that peaceful disarmament is possible? Why does Australia need to launch an invasion of another nation, an unprovoked attack on another nation—a nation that does not threaten us? Why have we sent our best troops and equipment to the other side of the world when they should be here, guarding our country against real threats, against the real terrorists? Why do we need to be part of a war that involves the slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians? Why are our military forces invading a country where half the population is under the age of 15? That is 12 million boys and girls, their lives now at risk because of George Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard.

None of these things need to happen. Peaceful disarmament is possible. This war is simply unnecessary. The invasion of Iraq will in fact create more problems than it solves. It will cause enormous suffering and instability in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq. It will breed a new generation of terrorists and, as the Leader of the House, Mr Abbott, admitted yesterday, it will increase the likelihood of terrorist activity on Australian soil. The war against terror must target terrorists, not the women and children of nation states. It must solve problems, like catching bin Laden, wiping out al-Qaeda and addressing the Palestinian question. It must attack the core reasons for terrorism, rather than being diverted into conflict in Iraq.

The Republican Right in the United States has tried to legitimise its policies by talking of the so-called `clash of civilisations'—the struggle between Western values and Islamic culture. I regard this theory as nonsense. The real clash is within a civilisation—the civil war within Islam itself, the struggle between militant fundamentalists and moderate Muslims. We need to do everything we can to ensure that the moderates win. We need to find a lasting peace in the Middle East, not start a new war in the region. We need to address the burning problem of Third World poverty, overcoming the injustices that fundamentalists thrive on. This is why the invasion of Iraq is such bad policy. It is contrary to each and every one of these goals.

There is another reason for opposing this war: it is based on a dangerous doctrine—the new doctrine of pre-emption. For nearly 60 years the world has kept itself relatively safe from weapons of mass destruction via policies of deterrence and containment. Pre-emption can only make the world an unsafe place, and yesterday, in the Main Committee, I outlined the folly of this approach with respect to North Korea. I fundamentally believe that we cannot run the world according to threats and first-strike thinking. History tells us that deterrence and containment are the only answers. Pre-emption is a recipe for international suspicion and military escalation. It is bad policy; it is bad practice.

Along with most Australians, I do not want a world in which one country has all the power. I do not want a world based on axis of evil rhetoric and the constant threat of pre-emption. There is a better way. It is called the United Nations. This means respecting the findings of Hans Blix. It means respecting international opinion. It means sharing power and cooperation across the globe. I ask this simple question: who was the last world leader to unite France, Germany, Russia and China? This is an unprecedented coalition of the unwilling. From the right-wing Gaullists in France, to the Social Democrats in Germany, to Putin's Russia, to the Communist Party of China—international opinion is united all right; it is united against the United States and against the invasion of Iraq that is promoted by the Australian government. Around the globe, people do not want a world in which one country has all the power. They want power sharing and cooperation.

The key divide in Australian politics is now clear. The Liberals have become an American war party. Labor stands for global power sharing and cooperation. We stand for national security based on collective security. We stand for an independent foreign policy. The Liberals stand for war. They stand for unprovoked attacks on other countries, because the United States wants it that way. The Prime Minister is too weak to say no to George W. Bush. This is the march of folly; this is the march of Australian folly. I urge the government, even at this late hour, to change its mind. Listen to the words of Barbara Tuchman:

In the search for wiser government we should look for the test of character first. And the test should be moral courage.

Surely there is someone in this government who can pass the test of moral courage, who can stand up and oppose this war. If just eight government members were willing to cross the floor, the will of this parliament, the will of our democracy would prevail. We could stop Australia's involvement in this unjust and unnecessary war.

Six months ago in this place—last September in this House of Representatives—24 government members voted against stem cell research because of what they considered to be the sanctity of life, the sanctity of embryonic stem cells. I note that the member for Parramatta, the next speaker, was one of them. Today we are not talking about single cells. We are not talking about cells that are too small to be seen with the naked eye. We are talking about real human lives. We are talking about the lives of 12 million Iraqi children, little boys and girls and their families—resting peacefully today but living in fear of their death tomorrow. Where are these 24 government MPs today? They are no longer defending the sanctity of life. They have joined the American war party and they are determined on the destruction of life.

I oppose the government's motion. I oppose the war in Iraq and I urge members opposite—those who can find the moral courage, those who truly believe in the sanctity of life—to do the same. Support the ALP amendment; stop this invasion of Iraq. Stop the destruction of human life. Have the guts to stand up for the principles, the lectures you gave us on stem cell research about the sanctity of life—what about the sanctity of Iraqi lives? (Time expired)