Public First Program


Shane Elson


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+61-4-1349 7828

March 2007 # 5

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Back to Editorials 2007

The Politics of Convenience and Liability

I was listening to the radio the other day when news came on about David Hicks’ appearance at the kangaroo court in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I thought the best journalists in the country would be discussing the unjust court setting he was appearing in. Perhaps I set my expectations too high. Instead of descriptions of the conditions under which he was being tried being described it was like listening to the spring fashion show. Ninety five percent of the bulletins were about what he was wearing, what he looked like and how he spoke.  The remaining five percent was on the fact that two of his three defence council were kicked out of the court by the judge. This got me thinking. What I came up with was what I want call the ‘politics of convenience and liability.’

If you cast your mind back there are hundreds of cases where someone or some nation was at first a convenient ‘friend’ who, in the minds of those in power, later became a liability. The first one to spring to my mind, given my Judeo-Christian heritage, was Jesus.

He burst on the scene and was, at first, considered little more than a nuisance. As time went by the leaders of his nation saw him as a lightening rod who could deflect away some of the hassles the Romans were giving them. However, it didn’t take long for them to realise that he was a challenge to the very power structures that kept them well fed, well paid and in the governor’s good books.

By the time he’d upset just about all the power structures around him he was considered a liability and so, in the name of convenience, was handed over to a kangaroo court lauded over by a weak and immoral man who was persuaded to make an example of him. The rest of the story we will hear next week in churches all over the land. What about contemporary examples of the politics of convenience and liability?

Back in the nineteenth century the US had just about bought up all of Cuba. The little island just off Florida’s coast was proving rich pickings for the cashed up US companies who enjoyed low cost labour, cheap prostitutes and fine sunshine. It was a political arrangement that proved very convenient for many powerful men at the time. However, a rich media magnate, William Randolph Hurst had other plans. Keen to prove his own and his mate’s powerful reach, Hurst used his media power to invent a war.

The Spanish influence in South America was seen to be waning and so the time seemed ripe for a fight. Hurst used his press to whip up domestic fear of a huge, but fabricated, Spanish armada anchored just off the US coast. When there were no facts to back up his claims, he invented them. When there was no aggression, he made up inflammatory claims and credited them to the Spanish. In short he created a politics of convenience to suit the aims of imperial US power.

After the so called “liberation of Cuba” things on the tiny island began to change. But not as the US had expected. Economic developments and imperial demands began to backfire and within 50 years Castro came to power on the back of various revolutionary movements. The US did not really know or understand the revolutionary mindset and eventually Castro was ostracised and turned into a liability as was his nation. In a climate of fear, whipped up in a cul-de-sac of ignorance, lies and fear mongering, President Kennedy approved the Bay of Pigs invasion and set the CIA to the task of carrying it out. The transformation of Cuba and Castro from convenient friend to political liability was complete and remains alive today.

Moving back into Australia’s region of the world, we find another example of spin being used to justify war and truth turning a convenience into a liability. The Vietnam War was a direct result of domestic US political spin used to justify the most horrific war of the last century. The French retreat from the peninsula left a “Western” vacuum in the region and using the guise of the “communist threat” the CIA conspired to find an incident to justify their political and business master’s desire for war. Using the fictional “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” to justify an invasion, US President Johnson launched a “scorched earth” war on the Vietnamese.

The US media swung behind “our boys” but it was a few brave journalists who began to expose the lies and do the body counts. As the news got out that the war was being lost and tens of thousands of US “boys” were dying the convenience of the war in stocking the coffers of the military industrial complex, became a liability. The shocking pictures of mutilated, burning bodies, the films of wounded and dying US troops and the public backlash they created pushed the US and it’s allies to withdraw. A convenient war, when exposed to the truth, became a political liability.

So what does this have to do with David Hicks? Well, just a few short years ago he was being referred to by our political leaders as a “terrorist” who had no name and was, therefore, referred to as “that man.” He was branded a traitor who should be locked up for the rest of his life. The more extreme among us called for him to be put to death. 

Yet, in the intervening five years since his arrest – captured and handed over while retreating to a safe place by the very forces “our boys and girls” are now fighting in Afghanistan – he was sent to the gulag we know as Guantanamo Bay. In that five years the most powerful nation on earth and its sycophantic Australian minions, have not been able to find a single crime that he has committed. Not being prepared to let that stand in their way, they made up a crime, custom fitted it to match the spin they had created and back dated it in order to justify the unjustifiable. 

The growing public outcry over this kangaroo court meant that Hicks, once a political convenience to justify the imaginary “war on terror”, was fast becoming a liability to the political future of the Howard government. As the scheming, lying, corrupt pack of thieves that make up our government was unravelling, they needed a diversion. So Hicks, once more, became a convenient excuse to divert our attention from the Howard government as it falls apart under the strain of its own internal bickering over the spoils of power.

Hicks, once a convenient focus of hatred as a “traitor”, who then became a political liability as we realised his treatment was unjust, has now become a convenient distraction from the politics of destruction rife within the Howard government. However, it could all unravel as the unjust system plays out its course. Having no evidence of any crimes, the US court will, in a day or two, get Hicks to stand up and “confess” a litany of crimes he has supposedly committed.

Whether he will remain a convenient excuse or become, once more a liability, will be revealed in what he says and how he is treated once he as said it. Like so many before him, and it is no consolation to him or his family at present, history will show truth and justice to be on his side and how the politics of convenience and liability were used to destroy him.

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