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John Howard should apologise… for his naivety if nothing else

Guest writer, Arthur Plottier looks at the Chilcot report and its implications for one of the Iraq War’s strongest advocates, then Australian Prime Minister, John Howard.

He writes:

The much anticipated Chilcot Report, a British public enquiry into that nation’s role in the Iraq war of 2003, has been released. The inquiry was headed by Sir John Chilcot, a Privy Counsellor and former civil servant who was appointed by former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown in 2009.

This report will doubtless generate a great deal of debate and expectation over what John Howard should do regarding Australia’s involvement in that war.

The Chilcot report exposes findings against then British Prime Minister Tony Blair which also affect John Howard and his government. Today, Tony Blair accepted full responsibility for the flawed intelligence that led Britain into the war. But said if faced today with the same situation as he faced then, he would make the same decision.

The report concludes:

There was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein.

  • The strategy of containment could have been adopted and continued for some time.
  • The judgments about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – WMDs – were presented with a certainty that was not justified.
  • Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam were wholly inadequate.
  • The widespread perception that the September 2002 dossier distorted intelligence produced a “damaging legacy”, undermining trust and confidence in politicians.
  • The government failed to achieve its stated objectives.

Commenting this morning on whether John Howard should apologise to the Australia people for his role in committing Australian troops to the invasion, Julie Bishop said,

“That’s a matter for former prime minister, John Howard. But the Australian Government, both Labor and Liberal, the Australian Government — the Australian Parliament would take responsibility. “[The decision] was based on information, the best information that we had at the time. I was in the party room. I recall very well the information that was presented to us. It was the best information that was available. And we took a decision at the time. Of course the Government takes responsibility for the decisions the Government makes.”

simon-crean-dataBut Julie Bishop’s response is misleading. Back in 2003, Simon Crean was the ALP leader of the Opposition and he stated in parliament at the time:

The statement by the prime minister is his argument for war, not a plan for peace. It only took the prime minister until only the second page of his statement to conclude that the only possible outcome is war. There are several things on which we agree. Our total support for the brave men women of the Australian defence forces and their families. Non-proliferation is a critical security issue. Saddam Hussein must disarm.

The issue of Iraq cannot be seen in isolation from the broader security issues that confront the Middle East, particularly the need for peace in Israel and Palestine.

The authority of the UN must be upheld.

But this statement is a justification for war, not a plan to secure the peace, and it is on this point that the prime minister and I fundamentally disagree.


johnhoward_wideweb__430x299In his speeches at the time, Howard said: “Iraq has a usable chemical and biological weapons capability which has included recent production of chemical and biological agents; Iraq continues to work on developing nuclear weapons. All key aspects – research and development, production and weaponisation – of Iraq’s offensive biological weapons program are active and most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War in 1991.”

None of these arguments were true. John Howard’s eagerness to be a part of George Bush’s war ignored advice from his own intelligence agencies. He should apologise to the Australian people for his naivety if nothing else.


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  1. Steve Laing -

    Unfortunately the word sorry just isn’t in his vocabulary, as we already know. He will still be in denial even when the War Crimes Tribunal sends him down. He has rationalised his appalling behaviour, as all good Liberals continue to do – passing the buck, and spreading the blame.

  2. Shevill Mathers

    The actions of Bush Blair and Howard have created a refugee catastrophe on a global scale far in excess of what they originally falsely tried to stop.

  3. David

    They had to get Saddam’s Gold, and Quaddafi’s. 7 countries in 5 years, if I recall General Wesley Clarke’s briefing? Everything else was irrelevant…

  4. Peter F

    We will have to wait nearly 30 years for the truth to emerge from Cabinet Papers, if they are not ‘lost’ .

  5. Brett Anderson

    Howard, Blair and Bush are responsible for the continuing unrest in the middle east and the rising of terror organisations as a result of the Iraq war. The millions injured and killed is blood on their hands.

  6. keerti

    It’s a bit long ago to remember accurately, but I do recall that the then weapons inspector stated categorically that he had found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction and that he resigned from his post over the issue. There were at the time several in-depth reports from the SBS which made it clear that we were being sold a lie. Huge demonstrations in London, the US and Australia were so poorly reported in the press and on television that they may as well not have happened. To any thinking person at the time it was clear that there had to be a motive other than that stated and the likely one was oil. It is true that many people in Iraq were suffering under Saddam’s brutal regime. Any pretense that this could be a further reason for the intervention was completely annihilated by the bombing of Iraq which in the first three days is reputed to have killed 200,000 people, men women and children. there was no attempt whatsoever to limit civilian casualties. regardless of the reson being stated <"to rid the world of Hussien, to the people of Iraq their country was attacked and many became "radicalised", a term whichsomehow is supposed to make people defending their countyr wrong? Howard of course is unlikely to have the balls, having been found out completely, to apologise.

  7. Freethinker

    Thank you John for posting.

    Does not look good for Howard what Australia’s former chief of army Peter Leahy have said: should not “blindly” follow its ally the United States into war. (which I agree 100%)
    “Frankly, some of the decisions the United States, our senior partner in our strategic alliance, have made over the last 20 or 30 years have been a bit crook,”
    “I think it does give us this really important guide to the future, that we need to be able to take independent, sovereign decisions based on our own national interests and what the strategies might be.”

    The speech of Simon Crean at the press club also made some points against the involvement of Australia in the war. He said,
    As I speak, we are a nation on the brink of war.

    A war we should not be in.
    A war to which 2,000 of our fighting men and women were committed many months ago but were told about last Tuesday.
    A war to which we are one of only four countries prepared to join the US in putting troops on the ground, despite claims of a coalition of up to 30.
    A war which, for the first time in our history, Australia has joined as an aggressor.
    Not because we are directly threatened.
    Not because the UN has determined it.
    But because the US asked us to.
    Regarding the UN 1441 resolution he made the comment:
    One of John Howard’s excuses for this war is the claim that resolution 1441 authorises a unilateral attack on Iraq.
    It does no such thing.
    Resolution 1441 was passed on the specific promise that the matter would be returned to the security council for decision about any military action to enforce it.
    It unanimously set out a process for disarming Iraq through the UN. It said that:The resolution would never have received unanimous approval if it gave authorized military action without a further resolution.

    Source and more information about the ALP position :

  8. michael lacey

    # The deaths of 1.4 million Iraqis as a result of the illegal 2003 war of aggression ordered by President Bush Jr. Prime Minister Blair, with little Johnny full support! He should be held to stand accountable for these crimes including the ongoing mess ad destruction it caused!

  9. richard grant

    John Howard has a history of twisting the facts to suit his cause and repeatedly lies.

  10. Wayne Turner

    Labor MUST demand it,cause Howard won’t do it off his own back,and the Libs MSM certainly won’t demand it.Plus,most of the ignorant public won’t either 🙁

  11. AngryAnt

    Naive? John Howard can surely be labelled many things; but “naive”. No, no he knew. Bush knew, Blair knew that they were over-egging the intelligence. John Howard was calculating, misleading and culpable in leading our country into a bloody, bloody mess that has made the world a less safe place. He ought to admit it but he never, never will.

  12. Jack Russell

    Howard was NEVER naive!

    He knew EXACTLY what he was doing, and why – AND he did it from a position of protected privilege and power!

    He deserves to be dragged out of his luxury cocoon and subjected to unrelenting public shaming until his expiry date.

    His crimes are NOT something that should be forgiven – OR forgotten!

  13. Athena

    Naivety or protecting Rupert’s oil wells?

  14. stephentardrew

    Naivety? Try that one in an Australian court and see how far you go. War is war and you never ever go to war on false evidence. The onus was on you Howard. He failed hundreds of thousand of innocent people who died at his hand. I am sick of DPP charges for the battlers and absolution for the powerful and wealthy. This is not democracy. It is not a matter of revenge it is a matter of fact and consequences for actions called justice. Stop the minimising and obfuscation or, as sure as day meets night, it will happen again.

  15. totaram

    John Kelly: I know you are probably a very kind person, but saying that JWH was naive, is a step too far. He should go to prison, even though not many Australians died in this action. I don’t need to add anything to what all the others here have said. Andrew Wilkie will have all the detailed information on this and he has been telling it like it is since then.

  16. wam

    Australians can safely ignore the troubles of Tony Blair because, despite the evidence of lying, about education and medicare, by the rabbott, in the 2013 election, it is unthinkable that John Howard would have known of and lied about:
    The Tampa incident
    Children overboard
    Weapons of mass destruction
    The wheat board bribes to Saddam
    The fact that these ‘incidents’ may have helped him hold on to power was, surely, an unintentional and a purely coincidental occurrence that could have happened to any liberal politician.
    It is a measure of shorten political care for colleagues that he will stand by howard. and to his credit he should ignore my letter:

    “Katter’s philosophy shows his ignorance of economics so he has an excuse but labor??? They are wimps, who are too frightened to take the rabbott/joey from lying about the debt crisis to spending $billions overseas for planes and boats and hasty free trade agreements. Then when he got knifed, the new turncoat spends $50 billion for french subs.
    All on labor’s AAA debt so no wonder there is a hiccup in the rating.
    Perhaps turncoat and the offspring of a little car may have some trouble blaming labor this time.
    Although labor is not good at driving home an advantage, so may miss the opportunity to show just how inept economists, the coalition has been since the end of the century.”

  17. Florence nee Fedup

    Not sure we have to wait 30 years for cabinet papers to be released. Abbott broke that convention when he released such to the Pink Batts RC.,

  18. Angry Old Man

    Naïveté does not enter into it. This was a wilful act of aggression by the Coalition of the Willing upon an innocent populace.

  19. JohnB

    From June 2003 – ABC AM transcript:
    Former United Nations Chief Weapons Inspector Richard Butler says Australians should be demanding a public inquiry….
    ALISON CALDWELL: The Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on AM this morning that he’d recently spoken to the officials from the Office of National Assessment, and he was satisfied as they were, that their intelligence was solid. He doesn’t see the need for an inquiry or a review.

    RICHARD BUTLER: I heard him this morning speaking on AM, and I was flabbergasted. With his usual haughty pomposity he said, “Well, you only look into something if something went wrong. Nothing went wrong here, we won’t be looking into it.”

    What an evasive piece of nonsense. ONA, our own national office, Office of National Assessments is a place from which a senior officer resigned in the run-up to the war because he said that I will not participate anymore in this manipulation, Andrew Wilkie.

    And by the way, on the same day today, front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, Senator Robert Hill the Defence Minister, Alexander Downer’s direct colleague in this matter, he’s saying that there should be an investigation of whether or not these intelligence materials were accurate….

  20. John Kelly

    Totarum, I don’t believe a word John Howard told us about Iraq and I never did. Call it intuition but I could see the dishonesty written all over his face every time he spoke about it. I also know he would never apologise, never admit he was part of a criminal conspiracy. No, I never thought he was naive, either.

  21. Angry Old Man

    @John Kelly

    Amen, comrade.

  22. mark delmege

    WMD’s were only ever a ruse. Anglo perfidy in Iraq goes back a long time – just like today in Syria. The worst part about it is that the ABC and SBS are now completely mute on what is happening in the world. Instead we get wall-paper and fairytales. And no politician in Australia – not Labor not the Greens noone is allowed space or has the courage to tell the truth. Which is why social media is so important. And its why the major parties have lost traction with the people. I voted for someone who I didn’t even respect but it was a poke in the eye to the established order and I’m sure a lot of people did similar.

  23. Fedup

    I having been screaming out about this for years and years and everyone thought I was stupid. John Howard, Tony Blair and GW Bush should be charged with crimes against humanity. If it wasn’t for these three bastards the world wouldn’t be in this stinking mess today. The actions of these three lying politicians unleashed the horror of ISIS on the world today. The Chilcot report made that apparently clear and Tony Blair has all but admitted the truth about going to war on Bush’s Lies!

  24. Freethinker

    The Wilkie witch-hunt

    “One of the more unpleasant practices of certain members of the Howard Government is the strategic leaking of material to friendly right-wing columnists to damage troublesome individuals. The reputation of asylum seekers is often sullied in this way. A similar technique has apparently been used to discredit Andrew Wilkie.”

    This what Wilkie have to say in another article:
    ‘Intelligence” was how the Americans described the material accumulating on Iraq from their super-sophisticated spy systems. But to analysts at the Office of National Assessments in Canberra, a decent chunk of the growing pile looked like rubbish. In their offices on the top floor of the drab ASIO building, ONA experts found much of the US material worthy only of the delete button or the classified waste chute to the truck-sized shredder in the basement.”

  25. FEDUP

    Apologise my arse. John Howard, Tony Blair and GW Bush should be tried for crimes against humanity. It was their lies on Iraq that caused ISIS to be unleashed upon the world and this is the reason why we have this stinking refugee crisis around the world today! I hold them fully responsible and have been saying this for many many years and I will keep on saying it!

  26. Tony

    Howard and Blair are Complicit in mass murder led by The Jethro Bodine President of USA George Bush Jnr. Shame on all of them.

  27. Freethinker

    The 3 of them should be send to the ICC but unfortunately we have two laws and it depends in which side of the fence the criminals are.
    Kissinger come to my mind.

  28. Frank

    We all knew in our guts at the time it was bullshit. And we also new it was Daddy Bush’s unfinished business. All they did was poke their large stick into an Ants nest that has now made the world very unstable. They also killed thousands. It was all about oil control also.

  29. Peter F

    The difference between Howard and Abbott is that Abbott couldn’t hide his true self. I marched against this war, the only time I have done so in my life. The media treated it as a non-event. The learned nothing from the Vietnam experience.

  30. Frank

    Peter F; Yes Howard was sheep in wolves clothing. He loved power and fame like the rest of them, Remember the humiliating loss at the end. It was all about him in the end. His flawed thinking and arrogance is breathtaking. For me he is our worst Prime Minister ever.

  31. FedUp

    Then on top of that he went to the following election with more of his lies of the “Children Overboard” He is, was and should be the shame of all Australians. The Liberals believe they have some God given right to lied to the Australian people and the cover it up afterwards. They are still lying today, up until they get caught out in their lies the comes the coverup again. I hope all three leaders are brought to trail over this. Especially GW BUSH! The sad part is the USA are still lying. It always was, always will be their excuse to extend the war in Iraq because it is still over OIL! The USA NEVER do anything unless there is something in it for them! And we all know what that is?

  32. jimhaz

    As I have a strong Pragmatic Ethics bent, again I find myself the contrarian.

    I’m happy for anyone involved in the fabrication of evidence, and knowingly promoting that fabricated evidence to go to jail or be shamed in some significant manner, but not for going to war.

    Bush is probably another story. I remain uneasy about possible wilful ignorance in relation to 911, which was the basis for why other countries were willing to participate in the coalition of the willing in one form or another. I suspect many leaders had an idea the WMD intelligence was a bit suss, but were willing to accept it to bring the public along, though most chose not to put troops on the ground. We have ANZUS history.

    I would have made the same decision to join (being fooled by both Hussein’s proclamations about WMDs and the false intelligence) though it would be dependent on the intelligence given in relation to post regime change. Why, because the UN seems impotent in relation to prevention.

    In my head, dictators are the most evil beings that exist. This is because freedom of thought and action (within standard socially evolved limits), is the most important thing a peope can have, and dictators harm that to a great degree over large numbers and sometimes for many decades. The Big Bad coalition of the willing have many other faults, but they do not repress, torture or kill us to any untenable degree.

    If we are to evolve into a cohesive world then the worst have to be taken out as early as possible. The degree of current and projected harm needs assessed by real intelligence, but the assessment should not be limited to military action only if they have or plan to have WMDs. It must also depend on how much harm they are doing to their own people, and how ambitious the dictators actions are internationally.

    Assessing flow on effects is extremely difficult. Regardless of the ideals of the left, all countries will always act in what they see as their best strategic interest, no matter what party is governing. So economic issues like oil supply or pricing will play a role. As does geopolitics of course, and that constrains most military actions such as taking out the North Korean regime early enough. This time they had a block of countries so they could take this action. Small countries need powerful friends and that comes at a cost.

    That is the reason I supported it on forums at the time, and I haven’t changed my view as a result of the terrible consequences. I just sense that even if the Hussein regime was to inevitably fall via internal means, then the equivalent amount of bloodshed would still have occurred. The environment Hussein and religion created in Iraq bred the viciousness into other tyrannical types in Iraq. We’ve seen this scenario elsewhere, such as Assad’s Syria. I also suspect after 911 Al-quada like groups would have expanded regardless of Iraq.

    Nor am I convinced that a clash of civilisations is avoidable, and if it is not, then it might be better for the impact to occur in these times. Is not the degree of Islamic terrorism,and our naturally offensive reaction to it, that clash of civilisations in action in front of our eyes?

    I do not study geopolitics as I do not know what information is objective or simply missing. Lets face it to form an objective view we’d have to know so much more than we do. At the very least we’d need to have studied the long term strategic defence analysis. If Bush ignored most favourable strategic intelligence recommendations for all parties and was simply obsessed with vengeance, then that is another story.

    The way I see it is that non-advanced countries are the ones that will have to change to be more like western countries, as Asia is doing fairly successfully. If they are aggressive, then that creates an impetus to induce change from external parties. This is not a right or wrong issue it is just that we have evolved further in technical and social terms.

    I don’t wish to defend this point of view further. I’m not saying I am right, I’m just saying it is my position.

    It could very well be that my position is one corrupted by impatience and arrogance. For impatience, it is likely that if we had off just sat back and waited for what communications technology does to broadening the minds of the young the middle east might have slowly changed to be more modern socially. For arrogance, yes I do not value life the way others do. That is because there are 7b of us and we are trashing the planet, so we need to evolve quite fast, cultural clashes need to be ironed out, so that we have a better chance of moving ahead cooperatively. Catalytic events like war induce change – for instance there is actually now a lot more interaction between the clashing cultures, which may result in a faster social moderisation of the middle east and thus less fear and rejection of cultural difference in the west.

    I suppose what I am objecting to is the one sided nature of the responses for what I see as a very complex strategic decision where no action may have resulted in equal or perhaps worse outcomes over a long period – it’s grey not black and white.

  33. Freethinker

    jimhaz you are saying:
    “In my head, dictators are the most evil beings that exist. This is because freedom of thought and action (within standard socially evolved limits), is the most important thing a peope can have, and dictators harm that to a great degree over large numbers and sometimes for many decades. The Big Bad coalition of the willing have many other faults, but they do not repress, torture or kill us to any untenable degree.”

    Are you aware of the support to Latin America dictators and the teaching of torture by USA?
    Are you aware that Kissinger a Noble peace winner is protected by USA and not let him go to courts in South American countries for his crimes to humanity?
    Are you aware for the support by Margaret Thatcher and from Nixon to R Regan to Pinochet and other dictators in the “Operation Condor”
    This so called coalition of the willing and the International Crime Court for that matter have selective values, they are against dicatators and regimes on the “other side of the fence” but the ones in their side are OK.
    That hypocrite attitude by them get makes my blood boil.

  34. Möbius Ecko

    No it’s not black and white jimhaz and you eloquently put a long post on a fence sit. It was your last paragraph that had me pondering.

    What worse outcomes over a long period?

    I know this will be pure conjecture but I’m at a loss to figure out what long term consequences there would have been if Iraq wasn’t invaded for its oil. Vested interests wouldn’t get access to the world’s second biggest oil reserves or over a trillion dollars in no contested US contracts for one. The region not being destabilised and the rise of even worse radicalism another?

  35. Fedup

    So what you are saying that our worlds would have collided regardless of the what had happened after 9/11. I say it’s all bloody bullshit. All you are saying is that you half believe the reasons for going to war in the first place and that ISIS ould have risen regardless! I say bullshit to that also! You sound to me like you have to be diplomatic in your responses and try to visualise the reasons Bush made for going to war. I find you insulting and a coward. The facts are there plain in black and white. That’s like saying oh gee Hitler was a bad person but I can understand why he did what he did! Bush instigated this war, he started the war, he is still there making excuses on why they have to continue the war and to hell with the rest of the world. We have to look after the oil. That’s what it was about in 9/11 and it’s still what it’s about today! I for one am sick of hearing excuses and sick of listening to idiots trying to make sense out of any of it. After the Chilcot report came out even Blair himself apologised for rushing to judgement. Too little too bloody late and the world is paying the bloody price and will continue to do so forever. I hope all three leaders are tried for crimes against humanity and I will continue to speak out until they are!

  36. frank7778Frank

    jimhaz: I don’t think there is any such behaviour as wilful ignorance. Maybe WILFUL Lying

  37. jimhaz

    @ mobius

    [..the rise of even worse radicalism another?]

    Yes, this one. Radicalism under ambitious leaders with oil money. The Saudis regime are an example – they purposefully keep the masses poor. This may also be the long term strategy of the West and why they have been so chummy over the years.

    As for oil supply:

    “As recently as December 2012, Iraq provided the United States with approximately 14.3 million barrels of oil out of a total of about 298 million barrels imported, or 4.8 percent of our total imports. And as this chart indicates, we were importing the highest amount of oil from Iraq before we went to war to oust Saddam Hussein.

    Furthermore, the United States fully supported the United Nations’ oil embargo against Iraq, imposed when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, despite the reality that we were far more dependent on imported oil then than we are now. We continued to support it even when it was revealed that the eventual softening of those sanctions, known as the oil for food program, revealed that Russia, France and a number of other nations were collaborating with Saddam Hussein to violate sanctions in return for billions of dollars of ill-gotten gains. Of the 52 countries named in a report compiled by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker detailing the scandal, only 28 even wanted the evidence, and the United States led the way in prosecuting those implicated.”

    If America went to war in Iraq mostly for oil, it would stand to reason that we would maintain a stranglehold on both their supply and production. Ten years after the war began, China has emerged as one of the main beneficiaries of a relatively stable Iraqi government and a country that, after two decades, is poised to become the world’s third largest oil exporter. Trade between Iraq and China has doubled almost 34 times, soaring from $517 million in 2002, to $17.5 billion by the end of last year. If current trends continue, it will replace the U.S. as Iraq’s largest trading partner.”

    Anyway that’s enough. I don’t want a to and fro session. I’m not strongly convinced enough of my view in relation to “righteousness”, but do not think discussing it further will change the way I look at it. Is not really a matter of historical facts, where context can be lost, but situational circumstances as I recall them being at the time.

    @ Fedup

    So you are.

    [you half believe the reasons for going to war in the first place]

    It was more about the public and political atmosphere at the time due to 911. Of course this is going to have an effect on decision making.

    It is just a fact of life that if you are powerful and get attacked out of the left field that you’re going to hit back hard and somewhat recklessly. It happens in the lives of ordinary people and certainly in those attracted to power games and domination.

    I’m happy for Howard and Blair to be hated for other reasons, including the principle that a leader should not lie to the public, but not for the decision they made. I see it as something that perhaps 50% of the population (of Howard’s age bracket at least) would have made in the same circumstances. The Australian public elected a conservative, and as such a decision is highly likely given conservative values, it’s really their problem – blame them.

  38. FedUp

    No I will not blame the people for electing a lying two faced politician. The blame for this lies right at the feet of Blair Howard and Bush. You can dress it up all you like. People have to be held responsible for the horrors they create and the damaged done over lies! We have been electing lying politicians for bloody years. God we just elected one back into office!

  39. John Adams

    Did we all know that Howard sent our SAS troops into Iraq before war was declared, and they conducted a Turkey Shoot of elimination of Iraqi forces using sophisticated night weapons under cover of darkness? The night of 18 March 2003?
    Some of the SAS were afterwards awarded medals by Howard back at their Perth base, for bravery.
    Because of the illegality of the operation, they couldn’t be named and were called such as “Troop X”.

  40. mark delmege

    Jim you make false assumptions. For starters …The US doesn’t need to import Iraqi oil for domestic purposes – US oil companies only have to control the production and distribution to world markets to make mega bucks.
    Besides the invasion was a failure in every respect. But seeing it as an isolated event is the biggest mistake. And the Chilcot report is hardly going to shed any light on an historical perspective of the decades of Western manipulations and war against Iraq – one in which Australia with both Liberal and Labor governments willingly connived.
    Just look at those who headed the Chilcot Inquiry and you will understand why. Or maybe you won’t.
    As for your ‘Pragmatic Ethics’ I think it is more a case more of wilful blindness to the ways and means of empire. I could be far harsher in assessing your ethics…

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