March 16, 2004 | Graham

Is Rudd calling for reform of ASIO? and other fallout from Madrid

Yesterday’s decision by the newly elected Spanish Socialist government to withdraw its troops from Iraq might decrease the chances of another Al Qaeda (assuming it was Al Qaeda) attack on Spanish soil for the short term, but it has to increase the chances of an attack on other countries in that same period.
Al Qaeda appears to have originally based much of its strategy on the belief that Western democratic nations are weak and do not have the will for a sustained engagement. US actions in Afghanistan and Iraq post 9/11 should have challenged that assumption, which up until that time would have appeared a reasonable one. However, those actions by the US do not disprove the theory, just elongate the time scale over which it acts.
The more nuanced version, which the Spanish Socialist action tends to prove, is that while the West is weak, its weakness may be sporadically punctuated by resistance. The engineer in bin Laden will presumably want to continue to empirically test this theory on the resolve of voters in other Western countries facing election.
However, what appears to have worked in the case of Spain may not work elsewhere. It requires an Opposition that believes that withdrawing troops immediately is an option and then wins the election. I say “appears to have worked” because it is still an open question as to whether it has really worked in the case of Spain. Oppositions who do not expect to win often promise things that those that do don’t. The new Spanish government’s pronouncements have some “weasel” words in there that might allow them to change policy now they are in power.
The Australian reports that new Prime Minister Zapatero “said barring new developments in Iraq before June 30 – the date the United States has promised to hand power over to an Iraqi provisional government – Spain’s 1300 troops in Iraq ‘will return home’. The other occupying states will be contacted for consultations on withdrawing the soldiers, he said.” Other reports say that he has said he might leave them there if Iraq were under UN control.
At the same time John Howard appears to me to be fighting a losing war of words about whether Spain was targeted for its involvement in Iraq. Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty says it was. The Prime Minister cites head of ASIO Dennis Richardson who apparently says it wasn’t. There is no doubt that Richardson is in a better position to make this judgement than Keelty, and no doubt that Keelty has spoken out of turn, but the chances of the PM winning this argument are slim.
There is one possibility for him however. Labor frontbencher Kevin Rudd has backed Keelty against Richardson. This offers a possibility for subject change to the PM. The implication of this is that Rudd thinks that ASIO isn’t up to the mark. The PM or Ruddock should be running around today asking Rudd whether he has confidence in ASIO, and if he doesn’t what plans Labor has to “reform” ASIO. Labor’s key weakness is still foreign affairs and security, and it is a weakness that poisons public confidence in its strengths. I’d be interested to see whether Rudd has a consistent and logical policy on reform of ASIO although the organization has been a Labor bête noir since before the days of Whitlam and the Murphy raids.

Posted by Graham at 9:57 am | Comments Off on Is Rudd calling for reform of ASIO? and other fallout from Madrid |
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