What's in it for Howard?

Philip Ferguson plf13 at it.canterbury.ac.nz
Wed Mar 26 23:32:22 MST 2003

Tom wrote:
> There has been some speculation about this among the Aussies on the list. I
> had a conversation last night that cohered my thoughts. I suggest 3 reasons
> of varying weight that help explain Australia's participation in the war:
> 1. The traditional strategy of sending troops along on great power
> adventures, in hopes that the great power will then bail you out if your
> local imperialist interests are threatened in SE Asia and the Pacific. I've
> argued this often.
> 2. Howard is trying to negotiate a free trade agreement with the US, and
> hopes to get leverage for that. Many have pointed this out.
> 3. My new thoughts: Iraq is Australia's biggest wheat customer; but
> American growers are hoping to get back into the Iraq trade when Tommy
> Franks runs Baghdad. The Australian Wheat Board apparently has "assurances"
> the Aust growers won't be carved out, but I guess if Howard hadn't sent
> troops to this war, they would be carved out for sure.

I think there may be a couple of other factors.

I doubt, for instance, that 2 and 3 have all that much weight.  After
all, NZ government wants a free trade deal with US as well, but have
stayed clear of signing up to Bush's war.

One important factor, along with Tom's #1, is that since WW2, Aussie-US
relations have been especially close.  Australia was more committed to
Vietnam than NZ, even introducing conscription.  Both Australia and NZ
at the time had conservative governments (Libs in Oz, National in NZ),
so the difference clearly wasn't about different kinds of governments.

It seems to me that Howard-style Liberals are a bit on the backward
side, like Dubya-style Republicans, when it comes to grasping new world
realities post the Cold War.

Over in NZ, the National Party (our equivalent to the Libs) have not
been pushing for NZ involvement.  The only party here which wants NZ to
be there is ACT, a small 'new right' outfit founded mainly by a chunk of
Labourites in the early 1990s and currently which has 8 or 9 MPs.

The Labour government here has recognised, much more than Howard, the
massively destabilising effects of Bush's unilateralism on the
imperialist world order.  (At the same time, the Labour government here
is totally complicit in the UN sanctions and has a frigate in the Gulf
escorting US Navy ships, ostensibly as part of the 'war on terror', but
it all helps the US in some way.)

What we are witnessing, it seems to me, is the beginnings of the
break-up of the post-WW2 system of Western alliance.  Inter-imperialist
rivalry is coming to the fore, and the war on Iraq is as much about that
as it is about oil or anything else.  In this situation, ruling classes
throughout the West are having to choose sides or, as in the NZ case,
working out ways of creative straddling.

The Aussie ruling class is opting to align with the US hegemon,
regardless of whether there is anything in it in the short term for
them, in terms of economic benefits.  I don't think we need to find any
immediate economic benefits in order to explain their behaviour.

After all, the US capitalist class collectively is going to find this a
very expensive war.  Only a few of their number are going to benefit in
any immediate material sense.

Philip Ferguson

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