The fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq has provided plenty of reflections on the consequences and correctness of that decision. The Easter long weekend is probably as good a time as any time to read back over some of what was said at the time of the invasion. One quote from around that period which is worth revisiting is that of former Prime Minister, John Howard, who was reported on 29 March 2003 as saying that ‘a war timetable of several months “sounds stretched to me”.‘
I believe in this beautiful country. I have studied its roots and gloried in the wisdom of its magnificent Constitution. I have marvelled at the wisdom of its founders and framers. Generation after generation of Americans has understood the lofty ideals that underlie our great Republic. I have been inspired by the story of their sacrifice and their strength. But, today I weep for my country. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.
Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination. Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein, we seem to have isolated ourselves. We proclaim a new doctrine of pre-emption which is understood by few and feared by many. We say that the United States has the right to turn its firepower on any corner of the globe which might be suspect in the war on terrorism. We assert that right without the sanction of any international body. As a result, the world has become a much more dangerous place.
His speech to the US Senate was followed by one by Senator John McCain:
I respectfully disagree with the remarks of the Senator from West Virginia. I believe the President of the United States has done everything necessary and has exercised every option short of war, which has led us to the point we are today. I believe that, obviously, we will remove a threat to America’s national security because we will find there are still massive amounts of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Although Theodore Roosevelt is my hero and role model, I also, in many ways, am Wilsonian in the respect that America, this great nation of ours, will again contribute to the freedom and liberty of an oppressed people who otherwise never might enjoy those freedoms.
The speeches being made in the Australian Senate around the same time also make interesting reading. On 18th, 19th and 20th March 2003, the Senate debated the matter, even though the decision had already been made and Australian troops were already on the ground in Iraq. A motion was eventually passed which, among other things, said that the Senate:
- believes that in the absence of an agreed UN Security Council resolution authorising military action against Iraq, there is no basis for military action to disarm Iraq, including action involving the Australian Defence Force;
- insists that there should be no commitment of Australian troops to a war in Iraq outside the authority of the UN;
- concludes that Australian involvement in a war in Iraq without UN authorisation is not in Australia’s national interests nor in the interests of maintaining international peace and security;
- condemns and opposes the decision of the Australian Cabinet and the President of the United States of America (Mr Bush) to commit troops to an imminent attack on Iraq.
(Click on this link for the full text of the motions and amendments moved and this link to see the final votes and what was passed). It was the first time in Australian history that our troops had been committed to war – let alone been part of starting one – without the support of the Australian Parliament.
Some speeches from that debate include:
A speech by Senator Robert Hill – then Defence Minister and Leader of the government in the Senate, now Australia’s Ambassador to the United Nations:
This morning the Prime Minister announced that Australia has joined a coalition led by the United States which intends to disarm Iraq of its prohibited weapons of mass destruction. The government has now authorised our defence forces, which were predeployed in the gulf to acclimatise and contribute to the campaign to pressure Saddam Hussein into compliance, to take part in coalition operations.
This decision has been taken in a world environment changed forever by the events of 11 September 2001. The world faces new and previously unknown menaces. Old notions of aggression and responses to aggression do not necessarily fit our new circumstances. Yet one thing remains constant: the responsibility of governments to protect their citizens against possible future attacks, wherever they may come from.
A speech by Senator John Faulkner – then Opposition Leader in the Senate, now Special Minister of State in the Labor government:
Australia should not be involved in this war. This war is wrong, and today is a black day for Australia. Yesterday, on a small island in the Atlantic Ocean, without the sanction of the United Nations, three nations made a decision to go to war against Iraq. Australia was not one of them. Mr Howard, in fact, was not invited to attend. Australia is being dragged to war by the decisions of others. This is a sad moment in our history. For the first time ever, we are ignoring the will of the international community and the United Nations. This is the first time that Australia has gone to war in such circumstances. We say, clearly and categorically, our troops should be brought home now. Mr Howard has dragged Australians into an avoidable war against their will and against the national interest.
The implications of this war will reverberate across the globe. It will make Australia less safe not more safe. Our natural inclination is for bipartisanship, so it takes an awful lot of provocation for us not to offer it. But the case for war has not been made. No credible link between Iraq and al-Qaeda has yet been established. It has not been established that Iraq’s weapons pose an immediate threat to Australia and our allies. We believe that it is morally wrong to go to war when a peaceful solution is possible. Many thousands of innocent people may be killed by this war, and these are human beings not `collateral damage’.
A speech of mine as Leader of the Australian Democrats:
we have not one person amongst the coalition parties who is willing to stand up—stand up for Australia, stand up for the majority of the population and stand up against what many of them know is clearly wrong and clearly not in Australia’s interests. In a Newspoll today, 71 per cent of Australians indicated they are opposed to war without United Nations sanction. This would have to be the first time in history that a government has deployed our troops in the face of such massive public opposition. …..
Many, many experts in the Australian community—former defence chiefs, former heads of the defence department, former military chiefs with immense experience, former diplomats, members of the defence community, members of the security community and members of the veterans community—have displayed widespread opposition and condemnation of the approach and policy of this government. Today former Australian ambassador to the United Nations, our last ambassador to the Security Council, Richard Woolcott, called this war `a tragic culmination of a flawed policy’, `a deception of the Australian people’ and `an unnecessary military involvement’. He said “this is the worst and most damaging foreign policy decision in half a century or more. It is gross deceit to say this war is in Australia’s national interest. Clearly it is not.”
A speech by Bob Brown as Leader of the Australian Greens:
We live in a difficult and trying world. The potential for destruction is unprecedented. But until we have leadership that is prepared to make this a fairer world, we cannot expect it to become a more settled world. Until we have leadership that will put butter before guns, we are in a more dangerous and less happy world. If we are going to export democracy and liberty we should exercise it at home. It is no good having democratic leaders at home who are dictators abroad. We live on a globalising planet; we live in an age of globalisation. That does not just mean economic globalisation. In fact, it means economic globalisation least of all. This is globalisation of human history, human advancement and the search for security and happiness in the future. You do not get that by the invention of—and spending of money on—more and more weapons of mass destruction, when there are so many people in need on this planet. Today, the Prime Minister has made an egregious mistake out of his own hubris.
Slate has published a series of essays to mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, asking a number of writers who originally supported the war to answer the question, “How Did I Get Iraq Wrong?”
A couple of essays I found most interesting were by Timothy Noah, entitled “Wrong Question. How did Mary McGrory and Barack Obama get Iraq right?”
Five years after this terrible war began, it remains true that respectable mainstream discussion about its lessons is nearly exclusively confined to people who supported the war, even though that same mainstream acknowledges, for the most part, that the war was a mistake. That’s true of Slate’s symposium, and it was true of a similar symposium that appeared March 16 on the New York Times’ op-ed pages. The people who opposed U.S. entry into the Iraq war, it would appear, are insufficiently “serious” to explain why they were right.
when I wrote the essays that go to make up A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq, I was expressing an impatience with those who thought that hostilities had not really “begun” until George W. Bush gave a certain order in the spring of 2003.
Anyone with even a glancing acquaintance with Iraq would have to know that a heavy U.S. involvement in the affairs of that country began no later than 1968, with the role played by the CIA in the coup that ultimately brought Saddam Hussein’s wing of the Baath Party to power. Not much more than a decade later, we come across persuasive evidence that the United States at the very least acquiesced in the Iraqi invasion of Iran, a decision that helped inflict moral and material damage of an order to dwarf anything that has occurred in either country recently. ……..
The past years have seen us both shamed and threatened by the implications of the Berkeleyan attitude, from Burma to Rwanda to Darfur. Had we decided to attempt the right thing in those cases (you will notice that I say “attempt” rather than “do,” which cannot be known in advance), we could as glibly have been accused of embarking on “a war of choice.” But the thing to remember about Iraq is that all or most choice had already been forfeited. We were already deeply involved in the life-and-death struggle of that country, and March 2003 happens to mark the only time that we ever decided to intervene, after a protracted and open public debate, on the right side and for the right reasons. This must, and still does, count for something.
Hans Blix, head of the UN inspections team in Iraq in the lead up to the war, has a piece in The Guardian.
Finally, click on this link to read a blog by a young Iraqi woman known as Riverbend, who started recording some of her experiences on her back in August 2003. Reading through some of the entries she wrote over the years, right up until her family finally fled into Syria as refugees in 2007 helps remind us that this isn’t just a political dispute, it is something that has very real human consequences for many many people.