Classic Ellis: The Osama Moment, 2007

Wednesday 29th August, 2007, midnight

Last night a Blood Moon went into eclipse, a further sign of the End Time for the apocalyptically inclined. Ice was found on Mars. Geoffrey Robertson lectured Brisbane on Australia’s lost freedoms. Hamas was accused of sneaking suicide bombers (disguised, I guess, as people) into Greater Israel. The Peloponnesian fires, unabated, were fought by one man, Georgios Dinopoulos, with three hundred litres of wine. Three Iraqi soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb. And a surly George Bush, having shucked off Gonzalez, the last of his Texans, prepared to argue that the Surge was working, and anyone who proposed to save the US troops’ lives by bringing them home was their enemy. A few more years, a few more airborne battles . . .

The mistake Bush makes (and this has only just occurred to me) is to mix up wars of the mind with wars for territory, for land, for the wealth of that land in oil or treasure, mix up colonial conquest and heathen conversion. In World War 2, say, you invaded a territory, you subdued it, you held it, you proclaimed it ‘liberated’, you ran up its long-loved flag and you motorcaded in flower-strewn jeeps down its boulevards waving magnums of squirting champagne. In World War 1 you drove the Germans back into Germany. In the Korean War, you drove the Chinese back into China.

But what’s happening now, what’s happening all over, are wars for the mind, and you can’t fight those with invasion, tanks and mortars, helicopter-gunships, cluster bombs, H-bombs, bayonets and kicked-down doors. If you could, America could be made Muslim in a couple of years by gun-waving Saudis and Indonesians. And no-one can imagine that happening.

So what does the US do in Iraq? It conquers a neighbourhood, blows up a suburb, drags struggling men out of attics and basements, tortures them with dogs, menstrual blood, anally-inserted neon tubes, asking who their comrades are and where the weapons are and if they come from Iran. And it imagines this helps its cause, which is to liberalise, democratise and secularise a hyper-religious country and make its religions, after a thousand years of sectarian slaughter, kiss and make up. To bid its women remove the veil (much as you might bid nuns walk topless down the Via Veneto) and make its component tribes forgive each other for past massacres and sit down together, break bread and reason together, and form governments together.

And to make them do this you blow up their neighbourhoods, apologising for the occasional beheaded child, have edgy young soldiers unschooled in their language bully them at checkpoints, lock up their breadwinners, refuse them (I presume) insurance payments for their smashed-up homes and bullet-riddled furniture, and call this liberation from tyranny.

It would have been liberation from tyranny if Saddam had been, say, a Syrian strongman who had invaded their country. But he was one of them. He was born there. It was a war aim as stupid as liberating Britain from Churchill – himself a famous killer of many Britons in needless wars (in Turkey and so on) – or liberating the US from FDR.

If Chiang Kai-shek’s China (to put it another way) had invaded FDR’s America to save it from the socialist cripple’s myriad evils, hanged him after a show trial in which two of his judges were sacked and three of his lawyers shot dead on their doorsteps (Clarence Darrow, presumably, and Felix Frankfurter and Jerry Giesler), then urged Americans to hurry up and become fascists, Buddhists and vegetarians, and cursed them for their ingratitude after torturing forty thousand New Yorkers in Attica you would have a fair comparison, and a fair precedent for the US rule of Iraq.

You don’t win hearts and minds with guns and bombs, with obliterated home towns and cancelled pensions and the sacking of half a million civil servants, with an invasion by thirty-two Christian countries of a Muslim one. You can’t, in short, win a war for the mind with weapons designed to wage a war for territory.

Territory doesn’t mean much any more. Territory can be conquered, but in a global world, with computer images of kidnapees beheaded in unknown locations, territory matters little now. The battleground is the mind.

And the Americans are spending ninety million a day – that’s a hundred and ten million a day in real money – on things that mutilate children, and the fraught young men in uniform who point and fire them, when that day’s money might build four high schools and pay all the teachers in them for two years. Teachers who might win a few hearts and minds for secularism, democracy, liberalism, the profit motive, the American way. Teachers who might well save some souls. And the next day they’re spending another ninety million, on guns and bombs and the scared young fools who hurl them around, to win a few more yards of territory, of dirt, of bloodstained dirt and rubble they can lose the following day.

Territory isn’t what war is for any more; discuss. And wars aren’t fought with guns any more, but words and sermons and sound-grabs and prayers and songs. So Americans won’t, and can’t, win wars any more. Ergo, America is powerless now. And pretty uninfluential. Discuss.

Wednesday, 5th September, 2007, 10.30 p.m.

Bush has arrived in Sydney, and harbourside shops and cafes are cursing their loss of business. Horse flu is threatening New South Wales stud farms, which would like some government money, please, to cover the inconvenience of making this year only hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of millions. Two Belgian gas workers have dug up some Aussie soldiers in a field, and experts with DNA tests are finding out who they are. A tiny Palestine village has won a court case and forced the building of the Fence elsewhere, so they can walk to their family orchards and farmlands unassassinated.

Bush is ‘embarrassed’ by reports of the Chinese military hacking into the Pentagon computer, and will raise it with Hu Jintao tomorrow. The dingo is accused of wiping out the Tasmanian tiger. Pavarotti is gravely ill.

Thursday, 6th September, 2007, 11 p.m.

Pavarotti has died, causing Mike Rann to ring and say, ‘I want to die like Pavarotti, Ellis, surrounded by my squabbling mistresses and gun-waving bastard children, my servants stealing the furniture and cursing my lifelong selfishness. I’m really looking forward to it now.’

Rudd has upstaged Howard in greeting with a deft and mannerly oration in perfect Mandarin the Chinese leader Hu Jintao who invited him to go to the Olympics ‘as my special guest’.

And . . . Chas Licciardello, dressed as Osama bin Laden, has breached security and approached unimpeded George W. Bush’s massively guarded hotel; and he might have got into it (or been shot dead on the front steps) had he not outed himself after his car was waved through.

All it took, Julian Morrow explained while being arrested and taken away (Osama, ignored, trailing glumly after him), was a hired limousine, a Canadian flag, and two of the Chasers, him and Andrew Hansen, trotting beside it in sober clothing and occasionally murmuring into their video cameras which they pretended were walkie-talkies.

Whether they will suffer life imprisonment or be out in time to host next Wednesday’s program is hard to say. They have certainly shown our 160 million dollars’ worth of security precautions, Orwellian in their scope and dreariness, were a waste of money and shown Howard moreover to be a maladroit host of international shivoos, which may only be satire or, as it is lately known, sedition and they may get only ten years.

Howard looks a goose either way, and Turnbull, I suspect, will be Prime Minister by Monday.

Friday, 7th September, 2007, 9.30 p.m.

Putin has turned up, and all the world’s leaders posed on the Opera House steps. Bush has called APEC ‘OPEC’ and described Australian troops as ‘Austrian soldiers’. The calls for Howard to step down are mounting.

Saturday 8th September, 2007, 3.30 a.m.

Evan Williams, back from Tasmania where he and Janet honeymooned forty-nine years ago, said he was now sure Howard would go and Costello would steal attention away from Rudd and be ‘hard to beat’. ‘He’ll promise a referendum on Australia becoming a republic, let Haneef back in, close down Baxter and Nauru, declare or imply he never believed in it, win back the Doctors’ Wives, and narrowly scramble back.’

‘Well, he could,’ I said. ‘Or if he lost the contest, Turnbull could. Or Abbott. Or Brough.’

‘Brough could.’

‘Downer couldn’t.’

‘Downer couldn’t.’

‘Though he’s been playing the magnanimous commentator lately. As though he’s the heir apparent.’

‘Surely not. He can’t win. The others could.’

Annie thinks Howard won’t go. ‘He hates Costello too much. He won’t give him even a fortnight as Prime Minister. He hates him too much. He’d rather be tossed out by the nation, which he can accuse of being fooled by Rudd’s trickiness, than by his party, which . . .’

‘He serves.’

‘He serves. The party that rightly, wisely chose him, and therefore must be equally wise to now . . .’

‘Tap him on the shoulder.’

‘That’s right. That would be to admit he doesn’t.’

I’m not sure which way he’s leaning. I’m not sure Howard is either. But a bloke on the ABC yesterday morning, Annie claims, said ‘a reliable insider’ had told him that Howard on September 13th would call an election for November 3rd, so the flu-depleted Melbourne Cup three days later (will it be cancelled? possibly not) then diverts attention from Rudd’s last push, and the interest rates go up after polling day not before it.

On the radio the BBC just reported Bush saying if North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons he’ll ‘end the Korean War’. About time too, mein fuhrer. The Sixty Year War, the historians will call it, working out the figures. American determination gets there in the end. Very courageous, Minister.

The enormity of what the Chasers have done to Howard may prove – or am I wrong? – the Tipping Point in stuffing his career. They showed his government is no good at national security. They let Osama in and Haneef out. They spent billions erecting plastic walls in Sydney, herding Afghans into Woomera, building Baxter and Nauru, defaming Andrew Wilkie, paying out Cornelia Rau. Traumatising into madness the aghast naval officers who turned back into stormy seas women and weeping children under orders, and on that night of the SIEV-X let hundreds drown. Invading Iraq illegally and traumatising other servicemen – like Peter Collins – there too. National security and economic management were all they had, and Costello’s miscalculated three billion did for them on the economy. And the Chasers’ cheery Osama Moment has done for them on security. Really done for them.

  1. It all seemed like window dressing to me at the time, and it seems that way still; Workchoices did for Howard and his merry men.

    Workchoices, and the “10 to 13 year rule” whereby governments get kicked out at that stage, unless a divided and/or incompetent opposition lets them stay on.

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