Gutless or brainless?

14 Feb

Updated 5 pm

John Howard is on the attack.

JOHN HOWARD: The debate here in Australia over the last two days has been centrally about what would happen in Iraq …


JOHN HOWARD: … if coalition forces were withdrawn? What would happen to the cause of terrorism in the Middle East? What would be the security consequences for Australia?

And we have the extraordinary situation where I am attacked because I’ve had the courage to express my views on the consequences of that. The Leader of the Opposition, in typical fashion, is trying to maintain an attack on us without having the courage to express his views as to what would happen if coalition forces were to withdraw in March of next year.

That is the central security issue, Mr Speaker, and the reason why the Leader of the Opposition is remaining silent is I suspect that he knows in his heart the real answer to that question is the same as the one that I have given, Mr Speaker, and that is that Iraq …

(Sound of MP heckling)

SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Order, the Member for Grayndler! The Member for Grayndler!

JOHN HOWARD: … would descend into chaos, and Iraq would descend into chaos, and terrorists around the world would be emboldened.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But the Opposition now feels on fairly solid ground in the debate over the Iraq war, and Mr Howard’s counterpunch prompted this response from Mr Rudd.

KEVIN RUDD: Prime Minister, as this is a matter of national interest, which goes to our country’s long-term future, will the Prime Minister now accept an invitation from me to a nationally televised debate within the next month, at a time and place of the Prime Minister’s choosing, on the future direction of Australia’s policy in Iraq?

An offer Mr Howard declined.

Last night on the 7.30 Report Howard continued to label Rudd gutless, and this morning on Radio National’s AM Rudd returned fire.

KEVIN RUDD: The question, which arises from that is, how do you best ensure that Iraq does not turn into a strategic defeat for the United States? The current military strategy after four years is rolled-gold failure, a rolled-gold defeat, one for Mr Howard has been the cheerleader in chief from the rest of the world. Therefore, the debate in the United States in recent times has turned around in terms of what do you do by way of alternative strategy to make sure that, that defeat doesn’t occur, not just in terms of American global military prestige, but also in delivering an outcome for the Iraqi people.

A civil war lies at the core of this. Mr Howard hasn’t had the courage to admit there’s a civil war going on. Mr Howard has said for a long time, that even the Vietnam War, was in fact not a problem. I would simply say that it is time Mr Howard had the courage to admit that he has got these things radically wrong.

I suppose this unseemly procession of ad hominem arguments and emotive claptrap since the Obama declaration — though I would exclude Mr Rudd’s response there from those categories — is inevitable in the context of electioneering, but much of it is actually beside the point. John Howard has long been obsessed with people’s “ticker” and “guts”, hasn’t he? Perhaps he is drawing on his own experience and insecurities. Rudd was very aggressive this morning, but he rightly pointed out that the issue was not courage but the Prime Ministerial brain. The question is which of the alternatives being seriously debated in the USA and elsewhere at the moment is most likely to lead to the least worst outcome in Iraq. We’ve had “victory”, remember, just a few weeks after the initial invasion.

This is a debate John Howard has attempted to suppress, and continues to attempt to suppress, by throwing red herrings about “guts” all over the shop. One could say “guts” is willingness to admit one made bum choices some time ago…

Rather than rehash all that, I refer you to the “Iraq” search in my key searches, which are now in the left-hand side bar.


Just read a piece by Bill Moyers on TruthOut: Discovering What Democracy Means.

We are often asked whether our kind of journalism matters. People are curious about why we give so much time to novelists, playwrights, artists, historians, philosophers, composers, scholars, teachers-all of whom we consider public thinkers. The answer is simple: They are worth listening to…

We know who the enemies of democracy are. In his Jefferson Lecture the late Cleanth Brooks of Yale identified them as the “bastard muses” propaganda, which pleads, sometimes unscrupulously, for a special cause or issue at the expense of the total truth; sentimentality, which works up emotional responses unwarranted by, and in excess of, the occasion; and pornography, which focuses upon one powerful human drive at the expense of the total human personality. To counter the “bastard muses,” Brooks proposed cultivating the “true muses” of the moral imagination. Not only do these arm us to resist the little lies and fantasies of advertising, the official lies of power, and the ghoulish products of nightmarish minds, they open us to the lived experience of others – to the affirmations of a heightened consciousness – to empathy. So it is that when Lear cried out to Gloucester on the heath: “You see how this world goes….” Gloucester, who was blind, answered: “I see it feelingly.”…

As I watch and listen to our public discourse today, it seems to me we are all “institutionalized” in one form or another, locked away in our separate realities, our parochial loyalties, our fixed ways of seeing ourselves and others. For democracy to prosper it requires us to escape those bonds and join what John Dewey called “a life of free and enriching communion” – to become “We, the People.” … It would be hard to argue that we do so today, except in isolated examples. Our public conversation is mediated by politicians who have mastered “sound bites” sculpted from polling data, by “pundits” whose credibility increases with the frequency of exposure despite being consistently wrong, and “experts” whose authority depends not on reason, evidence or logic but on ideology and affiliation. The public, J.R. Priestly observed, “has been transformed into a vast crowd, a permanent audience, waiting to be amused.”…

I sadly think of [former Secretary of State] Colin Powell addressing the United Nations in February 2003, with his artist’s renderings of those trailers that were supposed to be mobile biological warfare factories; and I think of all the rest of the cooked intelligence that sold so many of our public intellectuals on invading Iraq. It was too crude to even qualify as false wisdom on the Socratic model, really, but the resulting disaster – as great a blunder as Vietnam to which many of the same mistakes could be assigned-would result from relying on the knowledge of self-interested experts and deluded leaders. When they sentenced Socrates to death, he reminded them that they were proving how groundless knowledge made it impossible to escape from doing wrong. Succumbing to wishful thinking that leads to disastrous self-delusion, he pointed out, is the only real death. “When I leave this court,” he said of his jurors, “I will go away condemned by you to death.” But his accusers, he told them, “will go away convicted by truth herself….”…

A stock broker who makes bad picks doesn’t last too long. A baseball player in an extended slump gets traded. A worker made redundant by cheaper labor abroad or by a new machine – well, she’s done for, too. But four years after the invasion of Iraq – the greatest blunder in foreign policy since Vietnam – the public apologists and advocates of the war flourish in the media, while the costs of their delusions accrue in body counts and lost treasure. A public that detests the war is relegated to the bleachers, fated to watch from afar the playing out by political and media elites of a game that has been rigged.

Yet the salvation of democracy requires a public aroused by the knowledge of what is being done to them in their name…

I trust your intelligence to see the relevance of that to what we have been witnessing in and out of parliament in the past few days.

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One response to “Gutless or brainless?

  1. Antony Shen

    February 18, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    I know you don’t like Channel Seven. You might want to watch this short clip from today’s Weekend Sunrise: Riley Diary. (downloadable, QuickTime 7 required.)

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