The views expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect those of the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.
The 10th anniversary of the US-led war with Iraq has occasioned an outpouring of commentary, both here and in the US. I was not a witness to the Iraq War; I did not serve there nor have I ever visited Iraq. I did, however, have the privilege of researching and writing extensively on the course of the war as a part of my duties with the Land Warfare Studies Centre.
Following Sam's instruction I will admit that I supported the war, and in some ways still do, but I will also admit that its post-invasion phase was managed so badly as to create a modern tragedy.
The Iraq war was a catastrophe for both the US and Iraq. As I studied it, however, I needed to make sense of the war from an Australian perspective. I needed to find the logic that led to Australia's participation, to place Australia's decisions within the broader dimension of its national security policy in order to judge the wisdom of the nation's participation in the US-led invasion.
One of the aspects of recent commentary that I have found most disturbing is the sense of victimhood — that Australia was betrayed or duped into participating, or that the country was somehow misled by the US, particularly by inaccurate or disingenuous intelligence. That the intelligence proved faulty is beyond doubt, but this is also irrelevant. Australia entered the war with its eyes open and made a rational decision based on securing its own interests.
As I argued in a 2012 issue of the Infinity Journal (login required), Australia joined the war to advance its own policy objective: to improve its relationship with its great power protector. It achieved this goal with great skill and at very little cost, and showed that it is possible for a junior partner to advance its strategic interests within a coalition dominated by a great power. For Australia, what mattered most was not what was happening in Baghdad but in Washington.
It can and should be asked whether this was a valid reason for going to war. It is also of some concern that, in deciding upon its role in the occupation of Iraq, Australia may have been too clever in its risk management and wasted some of the goodwill it earned from its participation in the invasion. But if Australia is to continue to base its national security policy on the enduring friendship of a great power, then perhaps Prime Minister John Howard had little choice other than to join with the US in 2003. Should Australia continue to found its national security policy on such a friendship? That is another question, and one that should also be asked.
Photo by the Australian Department of Defence.