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.
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.”
But 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.
In 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.