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The Touching Innocence Of Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly’s piece in The Australian, 10 April-2004 entitled “Damage In Isolation” contains an odd criticism of Mark Latham’s foreign policy speech to the Lowy Institute made on the 7 April previous. Kelly writes

“[Latham’s speech] says nothing about the value of the US role in the world or the US as a force for good. Nothing.”

By “a force for good” Kelly presumably means that the USA is devoted to foreign policy goals incorporating the furtherment of democracy and human rights around the world, the relief of suffering, humanitarian aid and so on.

In contrast, in the same article Kelly considers China to be something less than a force for good and chastises Latham and the ALP for “a touching innocence about China that seems devoid of critical assessment.”

But who is the innocent: Latham or Kelly? Is the US really “a force for good”? Since Kelly’s article on Latham was written in the broader context of Latham’s call to return Australian troops from Iraq I will restrict my comments to recent US policy and actions there.

The US actively supported the murderous Saddam Hussein during the period of his worst crimes including his mass killings of Kurds by gas attack.

Throughout the 1980’s the US provided military equipment to Saddam along with strategy advice and intelligence, acted decisively to prevent Iranian victory in the Iraq/Iran war, donated billions of dollars in financial aid, sold Saddam chemical agents including VX Nerve Gas and Anthrax and underwrote his Ballistic weapons programs. The CIA even calibrated Saddam’s Mustard Gas weapons for use against Iran.

The USA blamed Iran, not Iraq, for the notorious Halabja gas attacks knowing the truth to be different. Even after a U.S. delegation travelled to Turkey at the request of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in mid-late 1988 and confirmed that Iraq “was using chemical weapons on its Kurdish population” the State Department was urging closer relations with Saddam In Sept. 1988 the Reagan administration overturned its own Senate’s “Prevention of Genocide Act” which would have made Iraq ineligible to receive U.S. loans, military and non-military assistance, credits, credit guarantees, and items subject to export controls. In Oct. 1989 President Bush signed National Security Directive 26 providing Iraq with a further $1bn in aid amongst further significant support.

The US was not in the least concerned about the mass killings of Kurds under Saddam. The US at the time was pro-Saddam in order to prevent the rise of Iran as a regional hegemon. The Kurds were completely expendable in the face of the Iranian threat to the greatest strategic asset in the world, namely, Middle East oil.

The US committed numerous atrocities during the first Gulf War including the following:

• Cluster bombing in civilian areas
• Deliberate withholding of medicines and medical equipment from hospitals
• Destruction of civilian water supplies
• Use of radioactive weapons

Contrary to US and British claims, the no-fly zones instituted after the first Gulf War were not designed to protect the Kurds or the Marsh Arabs, Turkish troops and aircraft regularly entered the northern no-fly zone covering Iraqi Kurdistan to bomb and kill in the Northern zone while the US and British stood aside.

Similarly, in the Southern zone, Iraqi troop movements were not prohibited, not even Iraqi military helicopters, only Iraqi jets. Hence, US and British planes circled overhead or stayed grounded while Saddam marched in with customary brutality to crush the 1998 rebellion.

The consequences were devastating. Hussein’s forces levelled the historical centres of the Shiite towns, bombarded sacred Shiite shrines and executed thousands on the spot. By some estimates 100,000 people died in reprisal killings between March and September. Many of these atrocities were committed in proximity to American troops, who were under orders not to intervene. The extra concession to allow Iraqi military helicopters into the Southern No-Fly zone but not the Northern was obviously made to facilitate Saddam’s massacre of the Marsh Arabs. (Peter W. Galbraith, “The Ghosts of 1991”,”)

The trigger for the latest US invasion of Iraq was the infamous 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre, not concern for democracy or human rights. The US Administration moved quickly to make political capital out of the sorrow and anger amongst the public to blame the attacks on Iraq in a knowing untruth and so justify their invasion.

Many of the charges about supposed Iraqi WMD’s “dangled in front of [the media] failed the laugh test,” the editor of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists commented, “but the more ridiculous [they were,] the more the media strove to make whole-hearted swallowing of them a test of patriotism.” (Linda Rothstein, editor BAS, July 2003).

The propaganda assault had its effects. Within weeks, a majority of Americans came to regard Saddam Hussein as an imminent threat to the US. Soon almost half believed that Iraq was behind the 9/11 terror. Support for the war correlated with these beliefs. (Noam Chomsky, “Preventive War ‘the Supreme Crime’: Iraq invasion that will live in infamy”,

In September 2002, Donald Rumsfeld explicitly tied the need to invade Iraq to the 9/11 bombings in this testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Senator Mark Dayton: “What is it compelling us now to make a precipitous decision and take precipitous actions?”
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld: “What’s different? What’s different is 3,000 people were killed.”

Former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack got enormous media exposure in late 2002 for his book “The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.” During a typical CNN appearance, Pollack explained why he had come to see a “massive invasion” of Iraq as both desirable and practical:

“The real difference was the change from September 11th. The sense that after September 11th, the American people were now willing to make sacrifices to prevent threats from abroad from coming home to visit us here made it possible to think about a big invasion force.”

Western power is not committed to democracy in Iraq. In calling for the “people of Iraq” to overthrow Saddam following the first Gulf War, President Bush was really calling for a military coup – another Saddam, but an obedient Saddam. This is admitted by the US itself and seconded by the British:

“We clearly would have preferred a coup. There’s no question about that,” – Bush’s national security adviser Brent Scowcroft Interview on ABC News, 26 June 1997

I don’t recall asking the Kurds to mount this particular insurrection ….We hope very much that the military in Iraq will remove Saddam Hussein” – British Prime Minister John Major, ITN interview, 4 April, 1991

“..for very practical reasons there was never a promise to aid an uprising. While we hoped that popular revolt or coup would topple Saddam, neither the U.S. nor the countries of the region wished to see the breakup of the Iraqi state. We were concerned about the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf.” – President Bush and Brent Scowcroft, Time Magazine, 2 March

In summary the US is willing to countenance mass killings including the extermination of a half a million children, use radioactive weapons, cluster bomb in civilian areas, destroy civilian water supplies, deprive civilians of medicines, sell Nerve Gas and Anthrax, build the Ballistic weapons program of a megalomaniac dictator, back military coups and lie to its own population and the world community. And that’s just in Iraq.

Latham has excellent reasons for not eulogizing the US as a force for good. It is Kelly that is the innocent, but I am not certain that this innocence is “touching”.

Kelly is a very influential journalist with access to a large newspaper readership and appears regularly as a mainstream commentator on national TV. His views on US, Iraq and Australia reach into every home. As such his views on the proper attitude of Australia politicians toward US policy (rhapsodous praise) have the potential to influence the entire polity. It is therefore alarming that Kelly’s naivety is so far removed from the truth about US realpolitik and imperial ambitions.

Kelly does not settle for quiet agreement or even a lack of criticism in regard to US foreign policy. The proper attitude for Australian politicians in regard to the USA in Kelly’s view is unrestrained applause.

Latham didn’t describe the US as a ‘force for evil’ or less emotively, ‘an outlaw terrorist state’. He just didn’t say they were a force for good. Does Kelly expect our pollies as a matter of obligation or respect for the Australia-US alliance to repeat US propaganda verbatim regardless of what they may or may not believe?

Perhaps as Editor-at-large of The Australian Kelly is beholden to his employer, Rupert Murdoch, to toe his line in political articles. Did Kelly attend the Cancun conference for Murdoch editors and commentators addressed by Bush’s National Security Adviser Condaleeza Rice ? A directive to present the US as “a force for good” sounds like just the sort of “editorial guideline” you’d expect in an internal memo or media briefing paper. Unfortunately the results of this appalling ”innocence” impact disgracefully on our ability to make informed votes and hence the practice of our democracy.

Turning now to the actual use of the phrase “the price is worth it,” we come to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s reply to Lesley Stahl’s question on “60 Minutes” on May 12, 1996:

Stahl: “We have heard that a half a million children have died [because of sanctions against Iraq]. I mean that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And–you know, is the price worth it?”

Albright: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.”


Paul Kelly, “Damage in Isolation:, The Australian, April 10, 2004,,5744,9233174%255E12250,00.htmlLast Accessed, Apr-21-2004-04

Eric Herring, “The No Fly Zones in Iraq: The Myth of a Humanitarian Intervention*, via, Last Accessed 15-Apr-2004
Sarah Graham-Brown, “No-Fly Zones: Rhetoric and Real Intentions”,, Last Accessed Apr-15-2004
Norman Solomon, “Exploiting Anxiety: The Political Capital of 9/11”,, Last Accessed Apr-15-2004
Peter W. Galbraith, “The Ghosts of 1991”,”, Last Accessed 15-Apr-2004

Center For Co-Operative Research, “US Support for Iraq in the 1980s”,, Last Accessed 15-Apr-2004-04-15

Noam Chomsky, “Preventive War ‘the Supreme Crime’: Iraq invasion that will live in infamy”,, Last Accessed 15-Apr-2004

George Bush Sr. and Brent Scowcroft, “Why We Didn’t Remove Saddam”, Time 2 March 1998, posted on, Last Accessed Apr-15-2004

Rahul Mahajan, :”’We Think the Price Is Worth It’: Media uncurious about Iraq policy’s effects- there or here”,, Last Accessed Apr-15-2004


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