Sunday, May 08, 2005

IRAQ/COMMENT: Terror and Vaseline

Recently, neo-conservative columnist Janet Albrechtsen wrote an article for The Australian on Iraq. Her article reflected the standard neo-conservative view and was a continuation of a series of desperate and futile justification of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Dr Albrechtsen is supposed to be an expert on the topic. She must be. She holds a doctorate in law. She is a columnist for a major broadsheet. She must know. Or so we are led to believe.

The reality is that Dr Albrechtsen is just one cog in the great neo-Con con that is the new foreign affairs establishment. And like most players in this establishment, her credentials are not exactly worth writing home about.

Dr Albrechtsen has previously written simplistic articles attempting to prove the legality of the Iraq war by analysis of the wording of UN Security Council Resolutions. But her analysis can be easily swept aside when one considers her qualifications or lack thereof.

Dr Albrechtsen holds a PhD in law. True. But what kind of law? We know she began her journalistic life writing freelance columns for the Australian Financial Review. Was she writing on international law? Or was she writing on corporate responsibility?

Believe it or not, there is a difference. The principles used to read and understand the Trade Practices Act (a common subject for commercial law researchers) are much different to those used to understand an international treaty. Anyone who has completed even a basic course in elementary international law will be able to tell you that applying common law principles to international law is like applying Vaseline to bread in order to make a peanut butter sandwich. Vaseline may spread like butter and may even look like butter but certainly doesn’t taste like butter.

Yet in this neo-Con propaganda war, knowledge of international law and foreign relations is not a prerequisite for expertise. Prior to the most recent invasion, the Australian published an open letter supporting the legality of the war and allegedly signed by a host of ‘international law experts’. This was in response to a similar letter written by international law professors across Australia opposing the legality of the war and published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The letter published in the Australian contained an impressive list of names. Amongst them was Mark Leibler, partner of a major commercial law firm based in Melbourne. Mr Leibler’s expertise in law cannot be denied. But in what kind of law?

You don’t go to a psychiatrist for treatment of skin infections. And you don’t go to a dermatologist for depression. Yet the Australian went to a tax expert on a question of public international law. And in case anyone rushes for a defamation textbook, I am not suggesting that Mr Leibler allowed himself to be promoted in this way. I am sure that someone of his calibre would not have willingly allowed himself to be presented as an expert in an area that he may have limited knowledge in. The fault probably lies not with Mr Leibler but rather with those who arranged the open letter.

When pro-war propaganda machines like News Limited use experts in other fields to comment on areas beyond their expertise, they effectively undermine the entire pro-war Coalition. The use of non-experts to justify killing people merely confirms the extent of the dishonesty and ignorance used to justify the entire campaign. Politicians lied by talking about weapons of mass destruction. And newspapers and their columnists showed what could at best be described as intellectual dishonesty by writing and quoting beyond their expertise.

And we are told that this war was an essential part of the war on terror and other adjectives. You cannot expect to win a war against mindless violence with articulate yet mindless ignorance. And you cannot expect to win hearts and minds by telling lies and covering them up with more lies. Just ask Tony Blair.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf