AFTER 3 1/2 years, it is clear
that the Iraq intervention has fallen far short of its architects'
stated intentions. Nonetheless, it is possible to see the whole
enterprise now as misconceived without concluding that the Australian
Government was wrong to join it.
That is because the most important
consideration for Australia was solidarity with the US. That
this consideration was not the most prominent reason given publicly
for our involvement in Iraq is not surprising. To do so would
just trigger charges by its opponents that the Government was
uncritically following its ally and not assessing the issue independently.
But the fact is that any Australian
government, at least over the past 30 years, would want to stand
by the US in such an enterprise, unless it was blatantly wrong
and offensive to a clear majority of Australians. And the Iraq
decision was neither.
A recent Lowy Institute poll showed
increased Australian public scepticism about the Iraq intervention.
That will certainly have continued to increase in the weeks since
the polling was done. But the Lowy poll also showed that support
for the alliance with the US remains high. Over the years there
have been fluctuations, but even when Australians criticise the
US, most of us want the reassurance of the security alliance.
Australian governments can and
do oppose US policy on many issues where our interests are seen
to be involved, or where Australian public opinion is strongly
critical. But, with few exceptions, leaders on both sides of
politics have been acutely aware of the abiding desire of most
Australians to be on side when the alliance is explicitly, or
in effect, brought into play.
At this stage, it will become
increasingly difficult for Prime Minister John Howard and his
ministers to defend the decision of the US and its allies to
invade Iraq in March 2003. There was consultation, but this was
essentially a decision taken in Washington.
Efforts to obtain UN Security
Council endorsement failed in the early months of 2003 and the
Bush administration went ahead with limited support, which has
dropped away as the security situation has deteriorated. Britain
and Australia still maintain a military presence on the ground.
Whatever their leaders may say, they are acting essentially out
of loyalty to the alliance's undisputed senior partner.
For Australia, the involvement
has not been costly. We have only a very small force there and
we have lost no one in combat. The Bush administration has been
lavish in expressions of appreciation.
The Howard Government is said
to have achieved the closest relationship Australia has had with
the US, and the free trade agreement and enhanced intelligence
access are mentioned as fruits of that. Not everyone sees the
FTA as a triumph but Australia is clearly in high favour in Washington,
For several reasons, the alliance
with the US was and remains for Australia a more important factor
in the Iraq issue than our interests in Iraq or in the Middle
For one thing, the value of Australian
support in the alliance context has been increasing as the coalition
of the willing has dwindled, as the US has been unable to achieve
its political and security goals in Iraq, and as the Bush administration
is being forced to address a need for substantial policy changes,
including phased withdrawal.
Under these circumstances, for
Australia to abandon the enterprise would not only forfeit the
goodwill and enhanced status achieved as a result of the original
decision. It would be a setback to the alliance and would be
We should continue to support
the US on the ground while participating in its deliberations
on the future of the Iraq enterprise. When that issue is resolved
one way or another, and when foreign and security policy settings
in Washington have changed, perhaps rather fundamentally, it
will still be remembered that we stood by the alliance when push
turned to shove.
And most Australians will still
rightly feel that our interests lie in preserving it. The more
strident criticism should be reconsidered from that perspective.
after the 2007defeat
of the Howard government, the incoming ALP government led by
Kevin Rudd fulfilled its election promise to alter strategy by
withdrawal of ground troops from Iraq - but compensating with
a more active role in Afghanistan (and increased casualties)
... arguably in part to demonstrate its continued in-principle
commitment to the Australia-USA alliance. ..... G.Bolton