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Australia Alone As Bush War Ally in Asia

by Marwaan Macan-Markar

Little Good News For Bush From Iraq War "Allies"
(IPS) BANGKOK -- When seen from Asia, the looming war against Iraq appears to have all the hallmarks of an Anglo-Saxon adventure.

So far, Australia is the only Asia-Pacific country to staunchly line up with materiel behind U.S. President George W Bush's plans for an impending attack against Iraq.

From Monday, Australian Prime Minister John Howard will be on a week's tour abroad to lend his voice behind this military cause -- which in Canberra's case has meant being the second country, after fellow Anglo-Saxon Britain, to commit troops to strengthen Washington's military build-up around Iraq.

Howard's trip will begin at the White House, where he is scheduled to meet Bush. Then, he heads to London to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Bush, however, has still to convince other Asian countries to stand up and be counted in the way Australia has -- Canberra has sent 2,000 troops now gathering on the borders of Iraq, the largest combat force sent overseas for a hostile mission since the Vietnam War. On Saturday, 14 Australian fighter jets left to join Australian troops in the Middle East.

"You have to do what you think is in our national interest," Howard told the Australian newspaper 'The Sun Herald' in an interview published over the weekend. "Part of the eternal Australian challenge is that we are a Western country in the Asian-Pacific region with strong links with Europe and North America."

"I am totally resolved that what we're doing is correct. I'm absolutely committed to it and I think it is the right thing," he said, adding that he was aware of divided opinion within Australia about participation in the U.S. 'war on terror' and conflict with Iraq.

Australia aside, the task before Bush in the region is a varied one, given the range of positions displayed across Asia to a U.S.-led strike on the armies of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

China, member of the UN Security Council, is a key indicator of the non-Anglo-Saxon view in the region towards the war. By the weekend, it was still holding on to a political resolution through the United Nations than a military one. After Bush called Chinese President Jiang Zemin Friday to secure UN backing for a war with Iraq.

Meantime in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri is coming under steady pressure from the political establishment and sections of the public to oppose the invasion of Iraq.

Typical of the anti-war voices is that of Amien Rais, speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly, Indonesia's top legislative body. On Friday, after conducting prayers in Jakarta, the country's capital, he told the media that he was lobbying for the Indonesian government to reject Washington's plans.

"According to Speaker Amien Rais, if the United States and its allies are really determined to attack Iraq, the world community should know that Indonesia had categorically rejected the idea of a military invasion," reported Antara, Indonesia's state news agency.

Under similar pressure is the Pakistani government. On the one hand, Islamabad has gone on the record declaring that it is for the United Nations to decide and that it favors a negotiated settlement over the issue of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Yet the space for Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to change that stance -- and back the United States -- keeps getting chipped away by the actions of the country's opposition political parties, backed by Islamic bodies, liberals and even leftists.

The country's largest opposition alliance, the Muttahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), is at the vanguard of this campaign, writes Nasim Zehra in Saturday's edition of the 'Arab News,' an English-language daily in Saudi Arabia.

"The MMA leadership met with German, French, Russian and Chinese ambassadors in Islamabad to convey their opposition of U.S. policy," she said.

Even Japan, which appeared a certain backer of the U.S. policy on Iraq, is still to go public with an announcement that it will be throwing its weight behind Washington.

"The hesitancy stems partly from a lack of consensus in the ruling coalition over the wisdom of military conflict, especially since France, Germany and Russia are pushing for a delay in the start of hostilities," the 'Asahi Shimbun' newspaper said Saturday.

What is also worrying Japan, it adds, is that any open support of the U.S.-led strike could result in a "backlash from Iraq's neighbors, who provide most of this country's petroleum imports".

India, though, is unequivocal on where it stands on Iraq, a traditional friend of New Delhi. It is opposed to unilateral action by the U.S. government to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein.

The Indian position, in fact, was hailed over the weekend by French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who was in the sub-continent on a three-day visit. "Our positions are extremely similar, we have common points of view and I think that it's very important for France and India to exchange a view and to express a joint message in favor of peace," Raffarin told reporters in New Delhi.

In fact, these views and more are expected to feed into a stronger message against Bush's military goals when leaders from 114 developing countries gather later this month in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, for the 13th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) meeting.

Activists affiliated with the Malaysian government are collecting signatures for an anti-war position to be presented at the NAM summit, to be held from Feb. 20-25.

There, speakers could very well use the movement's key pillars on international affairs to boost their arguments against attacking Iraq. These include respect for territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in domestic affairs and peaceful co-existence.

Against the backdrop of a skeptical region, the Bush administration will find Howard -- who is also stopping by Indonesia to discuss Iraq with Megawati -- a welcome sign of relief.

But according to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Australia is just being Washington's "sheriff" in Asia.

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Albion Monitor February 9, 2003 (

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