Michael Green served on the US National Security Council staff from 2001-2005 and is now Senior Vice President for Asia at CSIS and a non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute.
Kudos to former Prime Minister John Howard for giving a straight assessment of the Iraq War on the 10th anniversary of the conflict. Howard said he would not 'do a McNamara' (a mea culpa like that of the spiritually broken American Secretary of Defense after Vietnam), but neither did he shy away from the tough issues.
Howard hits on the key point that most critics ignore or forget: the ALP, the Democratic Party leadership in the US, and virtually every intelligence agency in the world was convinced Saddam Hussein had WMD.
One point Howard did not mention was that even Saddam's own corps commanders thought he had WMD. Early in Operation Iraqi Freedom, US signals intelligence picked up senior Iraqi officers pleading with Baghdad to release the WMD so that they could be used against coalition forces. In interviews after the war, some of Saddam's inner circle confessed that they maintained the Potemkin village of a weapons program in order to deter the Iranians and sustain the loyalty of their own military.
It was chilling to know that senior Iraqi officers thought Saddam would use WMD against coalition forces, though not surprising since the Iraqi Army had used them against the Kurds before. Unfortunately, the intelligence dossier on Iraq's WMD programs was built in part on the belief among Saddam's own generals that they had access to such weapons.
Howard also notes that the dire predictions of damage to Australia's relations with Indonesia from participation in the war were wrong. I remember traveling to Canberra in 2003 ahead of President Bush and hearing an almost unanimous view at a roundtable of academics on this point. Yet under the Howard Government, Australia forged an excellent relationship with President Yudhoyono. US and Australian counter-terrorism cooperation with Jakarta actually increased after Iraq, breaking the back of the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist cells that threatened Australians, Indonesians and Americans.
In similar ways, academics in the US made (and continue erroneously to make) the claim that the Iraq War damaged American relations with Asia. In fact, public opinion polls taken in Japan, Korea, India, China, and Indonesia all indicate that the US was more popular in those countries at the end of the Bush Administration than at the end of the Clinton Administration.
In a 2008 survey on soft power in Asia conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a majority of respondents in the region argued that US influence in Asia had increased over the previous decade. The only place in the Chicago Council survey where a majority of respondents argued American influence in Asia had decreased was in the US itself. No surprise there, since American critics of the Iraq War in academia and journalism have been erroneously projecting their own views of the war onto analysis of Asia since 2003.
Howard also rejected the idea of saying 'no' to Washington on the Iraq war. That's the subject of part II of this analysis.
Photo courtesy of the Defence Department.