What's With That?
New Zealand has a few things to be proud of. Sure, we lost yachting's greatest trophy to a country that does not have a coastline. Sure, we may get kicked out of the World Cup cricket. We may not even win any rugby this year. But there is one arena in which we can beat traditional rivals, Australia and England. What we do have is a Prime Minister who could win a celebrity death match against any other leader in the western world.
I don't mean a boxing type showdown (though I'm sure Helen "I eat mountains for breakfast" Clark could kick John "flabby white guy" Howard's ass.) I mean in the game of international politics and diplomacy. Lined up against John Howard and Tony Blair, Helen Clark takes the trophy every time.
As we speak, world leaders are walking a tiny little tightrope, trying to form a position on the war in Iraq. In doing so, they must try to find a balance between all sorts of conflicting desires. Should they act on the opinion of the voters, should they act on what is in the nation's best interest, or should they look at the ethical issues involved and act on their own personal principles?
In the final analysis, Helen Clark is one of the few leaders who has found any sort of balance between these competing motivations. In speaking out against a United Statesled war on Iraq, she is not only taking a principled stance, but is representing the majority opinion in New Zealand. Furthermore, she has managed to stay on-side with countries like Australia, which do support the war.
After last week's meeting with Mr Howard, the two smiling prime ministers emerged from the boardroom beaming brightly, patting each others' backs and "agreeing to disagree". By comparison both England and Australia are floundering. Too eager to pimp themselves off to America, neither Mr Blair nor Mr Howard has found the right balance between what they perceive to be in their country's best interest, and representing the views of their people.
Both have failed dismally to rally popular support for a United Statesled war, and yet both are pressing ahead in their eager lapdog obedience to President George W. Bush. And that is the horrible thing about the game of international diplomacy and politics not a single one of the game's rules is binding. Leaders are able to ignore the people and leaders are able to ignore the international laws, treaties and organizations they have signed and supported over the years.
The game George Bush is playing has no rules whatsoever. He may ignore the American population and he may ignore the United Nations. Noone can stop the United States from doing what it wants. Iraq is worse than Vietnam. There is not even a purported ideological basis to this interventionist war. There is, instead, simply a proposed, tenuous and, as yet, unproven link between Saddam Hussein, weapons of mass destruction (such as those owned by the United States) and terrorism.
Countries that back America are doing so out of selfinterest, not a belief in the cause. The countries that go to war with Iraq will not be an "alliance of the willing" but an "alliance of the mercenary".
In disregarding the United Nations, Mr Bush trashes the work of a dozen presidents before him who have spent time, money and energy striving towards an idea of international cooperation. In a game that already had few rules, Mr Bush is destroying the few flimsy agreements and understandings that existed.
Around the world, politicians are beginning to truly question the actions of the leaders who would go to war. In England, Mr Blair's MPs have begun to vote against him. One minister has said she will resign if England goes ahead with the invasion. In Australia, the story is much the same. A senior analyst, privy to security information, has said that there is no definite proof against President Hussein, and has resigned from his post.
In the United States a senior diplomat, John Kiedling, has handed in his resignation. In his letter of resignation addressed to Colin Powell, Mr Kiedling wrote: "I am resigning because I have tried and failed to reconcile my conscience with my ability to represent the current US administration."
If only George W. Bush would do the same.
Melanie Bunce is a Dunedin student. She contributes a regular column
to the Otago Daily Times. This item appeared on Friday, March 14, 2003.