A crowd of concerned community members packed Marrickville Town Hall last Sunday afternoon, 19 March, to mark 20 years since the beginning of the war in Iraq and reflect on how lessons learnt from lies told then, might inform current debate around the build-up to war on China.
The turnout on one of the most oppressively hot days of the passing summer was testament to the strong opposition to any such war with the nation’s largest trading partner.
Indeed, the hundreds packed into the sizable hall were indicative of many more in agreement but not in attendance.
Planned since January, the meeting brought together by Marrickville Peace Group convenor Nick Deane had been made all the more pertinent by the announcement of the details of the AUKUS enhanced security arrangement on 14 March, which has left many shocked over its implications.
The AUKUS (Australia, the UK and the US) pact involves our nation acquiring nuclear-powered submarines (SSN), which will serve to prop up the US and UK arms industries, will result in the need to dispose of radioactive waste and will have an offensive, rather than defensive, purpose.
And the message from speakers was clear: similar to the lies about weapons of mass destruction that led Australia into the war on Iraq, a falsehood about an increasingly aggressive Beijing is being employed to lead us into war with China, whilst the real purpose for the hostility remains hidden.
Securing US imperial power
The Marrickville War or Peace meeting commenced with veteran Australian journalist Mary Kostakidis interviewing Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to US state secretary Colin Powell, who went on to become a key critic of the US war in Iraq and the lies that led to it.
Wilkerson, who was chief of staff over 2002 to 2005, outlined that advice coming from sixteen US intelligence agencies, including the CIA, led the US to war with Iraq via their October 2002 national intelligence estimate, “which was pretty firm on weapons of mass destruction”.
In discussing the US as an imperial power, Wilkerson stated that US “security and foreign policy today… is to make sure the United States has no challengers in the world” and he added that his nation is “perfectly prepared to use military power to stop” any such challenge.
According to the colonel, the assertion that China is threatening democracy in the self-governing territory of Taiwan being the official reason for the US contemplating a war, conceals the real reason for Washington’s aggression, which is Beijing’s economic might having surpassed that of the US.
And with China now having become a superpower, just like the US, Wilkerson suggests that what the world needs is for the pair to work together, especially in the face of rising climate and nuclear threats. And he added that any attempt by the US to regain lost power in the Indo Pacific is futile.
“China panic” in the media
The US invasion of Iraq “was based on the same fatal focus that is directly American foreign policy in Asia today, 20 years on”, said former Australian foreign affairs minister Bob Carr. And he elaborated that the focus of the US, then as now, has been on “primacy”.
“America’s goal is to see that no power can challenge its primacy in the world and that was the spirit that drove the invasion of Iraq,” the Labor politician continued.
Carr then said that in 2017, he began to notice a shift in government rhetoric about China, with then PM Malcolm Turnbull suggesting the US needed to bolster its military presence in Asia, while then foreign minister Julie Bishop had remarked that China would never be a democratic nation.
This shift has since been followed by years of media reporting that supports the idea of a more aggressive China, which Carr referred to as “China panic” coverage, with stories regarding Chinese students spouting ethnonationalism and an alleged move to build a Chinese base in Vanuatu.
“A deliberate China panic in the media. Where was it coming from? Who was driving it? Why were some journalists being favoured?” Carr asked.
“I believe that the biggest factor in this China panic – driving this consistent massaging of the Australian media – were people in the Australian security agencies, who believed their counterparts in Washington were disappointed and fearful that we may not go all the way with the US in China.”
Selling out to the States
The latest China panic reporting, and the most aggressive, is the Sydney Morning Herald’s Red Alert series that consists of the masthead having brought together a panel of experts, who are all China hawks, and on inquiry, finding that they consider Beijing might attack Australia within three years.
AUKUS consists of Australia acquiring eight nuclear-powered submarines, three bought from the US and five more built in collaboration with the UK, which, as former PM Paul Keating explained at the National Press Club, are designed to attack China and are not for defensive purposes.
“We are standing here… to recall one of Australia’s worst days, the day when we started a war of aggression,” said Australians for War Powers Reform president Dr Alison Broinowski. “We joined a small Coalition to invade Iraq and we left that country in physical, social and economic ruin.”
“No Australian government has inquired into why we did it or reported on what we did,” she continued. “We could do it again.”
Broinowski then made clear that Australians don’t want “another expeditionary war”, which we would lose, “with or without the United States or Japan”, and she further raised the point that the US has unfettered access to many local bases, including capacity to store six nuclear-capable B-52s.
And the former diplomat delivered three demands to government: to cancel the AUKUS agreement, to “restate our commitment to international law and treaties that prohibit the threat or use of force against other countries” and to not join any US-led coalition into war against China.
Hardwired into the US war machine
In ending the proceedings, Greens Senator David Shoebridge explained that as the group in the Marrickville hall were gathering together, “the most powerful forces in the media, the weapons industry and the political class” are joining together in “baying for war”.
The Greens justice spokesperson underscored that as the recent AUKUS announcement has shown, Canberra is right now at risk of following Washington into war against China based on lies, in a similar manner to the way that our government followed the White House into the conflict in Iraq.
“The Albanese Labor government is seeking to permanently handcuff us to the United States military’s aggressive war fighting plan,” remarked Shoebridge. “It’s AUKUS-in-handcuff for the Australian treasury, the Australian people and the Australian military.”
“We are being taken to the next war, paid for by us, at the unquestioning direction of the United States.”
The 2014 Force Posture Agreement between this nation and the US has already resulted in a permanent rotation of up to 2,500 US troops in the north of the country, along with having provided enhanced interoperability between the two countries’ air forces.
And the AUKUS agreement further provides that the US and the UK will have established a permanent nuclear-powered submarine presence in the west of the country by 2027.
In referring to what Deane had said on opening the meeting, Shoebridge suggested that the crowd use the Marrickville meeting as a launchpad for a nationwide peace movement.
“What we can say in five years’ time is, ‘Yes. I was at that meeting. I was there when we started the campaign that not only knocked off the AUKUS subs but changed our national direction from war to peace,” Shoebridge said in conclusion.
“Because the New York Times ultimately apologised for its warmongering in the leadup to the Iraqi invasion. And 20 years on, we need an urgent reminder of that lesson.”
“We don’t want another apology. We need to stop another war.”