February 01, 2005 | Graham

‘Rotten Romans’ could teach ALP, and all of us, some lessons

My older daughter, Libby, has been reading Rotten Romans one book in a series of Horrible Histories. It explains that the Romans beat the Britons because while both the Romans and the Britons made military mistakes, the Romans learnt from their mistakes and tended to only make them once. When I was a kid growing up, and they still called England “the mother country”, you’d occassionally hear someone praised for being “a true Brit”. Well, in the Rotten Romans lexicon, perhaps “true Brit” is a phrase that could be applied to the Australian ALP – they certainly aren’t learning from their mistakes.
In this week’s Sunday Mail Glen Milne reveals that “KIM Beazley has moved immediately to junk two of Mark Latham’s most divisive policies at the last election – his punitive attack on private school funding and his open-ended commitment to save Tasmanian old-growth forests.”
Sounds decisive, until you read the small print. The private school funding policy has gone, but Beazley is opposed to the Government’s funding formula, so the retreat isn’t really a retreat at all – some private schools are obviously going to lose funding. Same thing on old-growth forests. Labor is still going to protect old growth forests, but under Beazley there won’t be any job losses. Old policies are repudiated and embraced more or less simultaneously.
Beazley attempts to side-step the Medicare Gold issue, by claiming that it has already been dropped. As Milne notes – this is news to Julia Gillard, the relevant spokesperson.
However, he is decisive on one issue – the promise to bring troops home from Iraq by last December has definitely been dropped!
One of the iron rules of politics is that you don’t talk to journalists unless you have something to say, otherwise you will say too much. Beazley’s entitled to time to reshape Labor’s policies, and while he’s doing so, he should stop talking to journalists.
Of course, sometimes you can’t avoid talking to the press, so it was appropriate that Kevin Rudd was on ABC this morning talking about the Iraq election, but completely inappropriate that he used the opportunity to fight the last battle. What he should have said this morning is that the Iraqi election has been a great success; that he wishes the Iraqi people well and commends them for their bravery; and that above all, now is not the time to be revisiting the issue of whether the US should have invaded Iraq.
Instead Radio National listeners were regaled with a lecture on the way international relations has been crafted around respect for national sovereignty. Good thing for Labor that apart from Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister (who revealed during the last election that it is RN’s breakfast programme he listens to every morning – bad luck Alan Jones), and me, probably no-one else was tuned in.
However, this leads me to another point. Madeleine Albright suggested in a lecture last year that we needed to develop theories of international relations to deal with situations where countries might want to invade other countries because of the criminal action of the rulers of those countries. On this count Saddam Hussein would have been a prime candidate.
Afterall, the Rudd doctrine, taken to its logical conclusion, says that as long as the ruler of a country doesn’t act criminally towards other countries they can do what they wish within their own borders free of foreign interference. So, the holocaust would have been OK, as long as Hitler hadn’t invaded Poland.
I’m with Albright. While I was a post facto supporter of the war in Iraq I was never easy with the original decision. However I had no such qualms with Afghanistan, and my concerns with the NATO deployment in the former Yugoslavia was not that it occurred but that it consisted significantly of bombing of civilians in order to bring their rulers to heel – surely a war crime.
Social contract theory was invented originally as a way of justifying insurrection against a properly appointed ruler by their subjects. It could easily be expanded to take account of the current state of international relations. With the competition between two more or less evenly matched contestants of the Cold War a receding memory, we now have a possibility of reimagining the world in a new way where we come closer to guaranteeing everyone on the globe basic human rights.
We’ve made plenty of mistakes in Iraq, but the way forward for all of us – citizens and politicians alike – is to learn from them. Of course, the trick is to learn the right lessons.

Posted by Graham at 12:01 pm | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. Graham,
    I also have no prob with Afganistan or Bosnia.
    But we have a prime minster who in 2003 says suddam is responsible for the deaths of 300,000 people.
    And then we proceed to kill 150,000 iraqis. Ok i’m not just counting civilians, but i’m including all people killed. And to top it off, we used Cluster Bombs and Napalm on cities.
    Thus it must be a good thing the americans are not accountable to the International Court.
    As for NATO, incase you hadn’t noticed its almost dead – cooperation between Europe and the USA isn’t as easy as the when Clinton belatedly responded to the Kosivo crisis.
    We even turned back iraqi asylum seekers in 2001 saying their country was fine, to return home, and 2 years later be at the blunt end of a coallition of the killings brutal onslaught.
    Even if i add all the people the terrorists have killed in the last 3 years, i can only come to a figure 1 / 10th of the number of muslims killed in Iraq by us.
    Make no mistake – this is the Christian Crusades all over again.
    It is nothing more then a religously motivated war of choice.

    Comment by alphacoward — February 1, 2005 @ 12:34 pm

  2. For me, it wasn’t the fact that the coalition invaded Iraq with no good reason (or no real evidence to prove their reasoning), but that they went in with very flawed plans for the subsequent occupation and rebuilding of Iraq. Reading an article in todays Oz by Lawrence Kaplan it sounds as if very little has been done in Iraq mainly due to the lack of security in the place. The vote is a symbolic victory for Bush and co. but what real effect does this have on a nation that doesn’t even have the proper infrastructure to run the new ‘democracy’?

    Comment by matt byrne — February 1, 2005 @ 2:18 pm

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