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Reader ripostes: Zombie institutions and Iraq

Reader ripostes: Zombie institutions and Iraq
Published 27 Mar 2013 

Below, Iraq commentary from Alison Broinowski and Richard Broinowski. But first, Tony Grey responds to Malcolm Cook's post on Zombie-like international institutions:

According to Greg Sheridan the Commonwealth is a zombie-like international institution that has no future — but is it? Since 1999 the United States has been trying to build a Community of Democracies but it doesn't seem to be getting very far even in Washington. While the State Department (and Freedom House) have been doing their thing foreign policy wonks in Washington have been pointing out the dire need for a 'League' or 'Concert' of Democracies as if the Community of Democracies initiative doesn't exist. Perhaps they should just cut to the chase and join the Commonwealth.

Alison Broinowski: [fold]

Of course, Dr Palazzo is right. Australia invaded Iraq because the US did, and would not have if it didn't. Australia had intelligence that showed little likelihood of usable or transferable WMDs in Iraq, but the Howard Government chose to ignore it because the US and UK did. Australia defied the Security Council even while claiming that it was breaches of SC resolutions that put Iraq beyond international law. Howard unilaterally and without consultation expanded the legal scope of ANZUS to fight with the US against 'terror' anywhere the US chose.

More to the point, as in previous wars, Australia was not dragged unwillingly to join the small coalition that invaded Iraq, but secretly volunteered, even urged the US to give us a role. We did so again when we went into Uruzgan province. We know that while Howard was denying any plans for war to the parliament and the people, far from being reluctant, he was engaged in planning with the US at least as early as July 2002. This was obvious from what various US officials said, even at the time, and is documented in my two books, Howard's War (2003) and Allied and Addicted (2007).

Why has Australia repeatedly put itself forward to participate in British and American wars, even when Australia was not threatened and when those we fought were not our enemies? ANZUS now obliges us, says Dr Palazzo. No it doesn't. The answer is that both sides of politics have always believed Australia cannot defend itself and have found the solution, first in relying upon the British navy, and then in 'keeping the US involved in the region', that means, hoping the Seventh Fleet will defend Australia.

But because a succession of American leaders have warned that our security is our own business and that the US will defend its own interests, not ours, Australian governments remain nervous. They keep volunteering for American wars, including illegal, undeclared, and disastrous ones, in the hope that this will build up a sense of obligation in Washington. Their latest effort at tying the US giant down in the desert is to offer (yes, offer) more and more access to bases, now stationing American troops in Australia for the first time since World War II. If they won't defend anything else, as Coral Bell acutely perceived in 1988, they will defend bases.

From President Obama's recent statement to the Pentagon, it is clear that the US no longer has the capacity, let alone the will, to engage in long-term campaigns anywhere in the world. Surely Australians should realise what that means for our defence and security planning and our engagement with our Asian neighbours, and act accordingly.

Richard Broinowski:

Alexander Downer's defence of Australia's participation in the American invasion of Iraq should be challenged on several grounds.

First, Richard Butler's private assurances to Downer that Saddam was hiding WMDs was speculative (and wrong). Many other observers working on the issue, like David Kelly, Scott Ritter and Rod Barton, had strong doubts. Mr Downer, like Mr Howard, was determined to join the American invasion, and used whatever evidence they could, tenuous though it may have been, to support the case.

Second is Mr Downer's moralistic posturing about Saddam being the world's worst dictator. Who is he to judge? There were and remain a lot of 'kleptocratic' and murderous dictators around the world, and much selective indignation among the moral police about how bad they were. Secretary of State Sumner Wells told President Roosevelt in the late 1930s that Anastasio Somoza, the blood-thirsty Nicaraguan dictator, was a bastard. 'Yes' said Roosevelt, 'but he's our bastard.'

As for Saddam's war against Iran, both sides were complicit. When the Ayatollah Khomeini ousted the Shah in 1979, he called for an uprising by Shiites against the Ba'athists in Baghdad. In response, Saddam initially appealed to the Ayatollah for peace. He only attacked Iran when border incidents, initiated by both sides, escalated. And judging from Donald Rumsfeld's visit to Baghdad as Ronald Reagan's special envoy in December 1983, Saddam enjoyed US moral (and certainly, material) support for waging war.

Third, Mr Downer says he goes along with foreign policy realists to a certain extent, but excludes evil tyrants like Saddam from pragmatic consideration. He says that in certain cases, like Iraq, he stands up for the idealistic values which inspired the UN Charter. But the UN Charter outlaws the threat or use of force by one nation against another, and requires member states to settle their disputes by peaceful means. Only the Security Council can authorise the use of force to maintain international peace and security. The exception is self-defence, but this has to be in response to a direct and immediate threat. Neither the United States or Britain, let alone Australia, faced such a threat from Iraq.

Meanwhile, Messrs Downer and Howard, and all those in Canberra who in 2002 supported the Iraq invasion on the grounds that it was legitimised by UN resolutions, have perpetuated a great falsehood. Resolutions 678, 687, and especially 1441 of November 2002, did not give authority for the unilateral invasion of Iraq. If Iraq remained in material breach of an obligation to cooperate and disarm, 'serious consequences' would follow. Two requirements were clearly implied: evidence of material breach, and a new resolution sanctioning invasion. The evidence was not found before the invasion, and no sanctioning resolution was passed. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the BBC in 2004 that the invasion was not in conformity with the UN Charter and thus from the UN point of view, illegal.

Fourth, there is absolutely no evidence that Saddam's overthrow led to the break-out of democracy across the Arab world. Destabilisation and regime change in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, let alone Syria, answer to different, domestic, dynamics. The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in December 2010, and rapidly spread across north Africa before migrating to the Persian Gulf. As I said in a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald rebutting another of Mr Downer's justifications of Australia's participation in the Iraq War, it was a rebellion against the accretion of wealth by a few, and the lack of work opportunities of the many, rather than the downfall of a comparatively distant dictator in Iraq.

It does Australia a disservice for former leaders to persist in justifying a war that has been globally and authoritatively discredited. 

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