February 9, 2003


In bed with Bush, and it's hard to sleep: Don't think for a minute that the Prime Minister is completely comfortable with his stance on Iraq. (Paul Sheehan [psheehan@smh.com.au], February 6 2003, Sydney Morning Herald)
'ABU Ghraib is the biggest prison in the country [Iraq]. Until recently, it housed maybe 50,000 men, although to my knowledge there are no official figures on this ... Over the years human rights organisations have reported that mass executions took place regularly ... every Wednesday was execution day at the prison. An old-fashioned Indian hanging machine had been used for a while, but a problem arose with noise. There was a terrific banging sound every time the machine dropped and people living near the prison had been begun keeping track of the executions by counting the bangs," the Iraqi exile said.

"The old gallows was replaced by a quiet modern device, but the locals still knew when executions were taking place because the condemned men ululated as they went to their deaths. In our culture, this is something that only women do, when they are happy. But the men in Abu Ghraib make the sound because they are so relieved that they are finally going to die."

This description, extracted from a superb inside portrait of Iraq by Jon Lee Anderson in The New Yorker of November 25 (and thus subject to the magazine's legendary fact-checking department), presents a dilemma for all the moral virgins who fill the debate over Iraq.

Like most Australians, I'm against the Bush Administration's war, but that doesn't mean that we in the majority can congratulate ourselves about our moral superiority. All those offering a variety of peaceful, patient, reasonable and bloodless options should at least have the honesty to acknowledge that if Saddam Hussein retains power in this stand-off with George Bush, the anti-war movement will have delivered a de facto victory for a psychotic, genocidal tyranny. And not for the first time.

It really is a tortured choice. Do we participate with the Bush Administration in a hot conflict that Australia does not need to join? Do we thus help a son complete the unfinished work of his father? Do we participate in a full-scale armed intervention that mobilised after Bush announced last April, "Saddam needs to go"? Do we acquiesce with an Administration that considers nuclear weapons a first-strike option? Do we trust the same people who botched the endgame against al-Qaeda during the war in Afghanistan? Do we support an Administration that still makes no connections between its Iraq policy and the blank cheque it provides to Israel?

The Australian public has said "No" to all of the above. I agree with them.

This is an admirably honest formulation by Mr. Sheehan, acknowledging that "human rights" advocates can have the best of both worlds: they know the U.S. is going to depose Saddam regardless of what they or their countrymen do, but they can keep their own skirts clean as far as war is concerned by opposing the U.S.. It's not a serious moral position, but it is refreshingly frank. Posted by Orrin Judd at February 9, 2003 6:48 AM


At one point, Mr. Sheehan states: "...Like most Australians, I'm against the Bush Administration's war..."

I have heard that exact phrase on NPR a good dozen times over the last week.

My Wayback machine could need oiling, by my memory tells me Desert Storm was a UN approved war. The cease fire that followed was UN approved. The foiled inspections and economic sanctions were UN mandated.

President Bush holds the UN to its word, and it becomes Bush's war? It is bad enough that sort of sloppy, ahistorical thinking shows up in an op-ed piece. When is someone going to blow the whistle on the ever so even-handed NPR?

Jeff Guinn

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 9, 2003 9:24 AM

Hmmm. I figured out how to turn italics on. I seem to have problems turning them off.


Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 9, 2003 9:29 AM



For the purposes of illustration assume that [ = , then if you write in the comments here:

"[i]Italics[/i] lesson.", then the first line of this post would appear.

Posted by: Uncle Bill at February 9, 2003 10:17 AM


Around the same time the media stops referring to the "Republican Congress". Last I checked, it's the United States Congress.

Posted by: oj at February 9, 2003 11:25 AM

I'm looking forward to the day NPR refers to itself as "the taxpayer's radio network."

Posted by: pj at February 9, 2003 8:19 PM