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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Malcolm Fraser's inquiry into Iraq invasion

Why did Australia invade Iraq?  It doesn't make any sense, especially when the excuse turned out to be a lie - there were no weapons of mass destruction.  Apparently Britain felt the same way and in 2008, former PM Gordon Brown set up an inquiry known as the Chilcot Inquiry, named after its chairman, Sir John Chilcot.

It began on 24th November 2009 and ended on 2nd February 2011 but in July 2012, the British Foreign Office successfully over-ruled a judge's finding to release details of a conversation which took place between Tony Blair and George W Bush days before the invasion, saying it would present a "significant danger to British-American relations."

Now Malcolm Fraser is leading the charge for an Australian inquiry and he's backed by an impressive list of people who agree with him.  Former Defence Force personnel, 30 leading academics in politics and law, retired senior diplomats and experts in the field of war and conflict have all signed a statement that says it's time to find out why, so we can stop it from happening again.  Fraser writes:

"In retrospect what we now see were frantic efforts to create the prerequisites by manipulating intelligence assessments to fit the case, with all the sophistication that task required.  The general public had become confused as to whether the weapons of mass destruction allegedly being developed or held by Saddam Hussein existed and were being placed in a state of readiness to justify both  'national interest' and 'self-defence claims. 

"In all this, the Australian government may have thought it had no choice if it were to retain the confidence of the US but was this a misjudgement?  Did the government really think through the issues independently and the implications for our standing with Asian neighbours?  Did it really evaluate the intelligence presented to it and ignore its flaws?  Did it want to?  Did it really consider the legal issues surrounding the proposed invasion objectively or was it not really interested?" 

"I do not believe that any one person in Australia should have the power to take this country to war, especially when due process has not been followed.  We know the war was begun on a lie, we know the evidence was fabricated.  We know that, certainly in Britain and the US, they knew that the claims about Saddam Hussein's WMD were in many respects false and yet they still went to war on that basis. 

"I think the more important point is to have a look at how we make the most important decisions governments make, which is the decision to participate in military operations to put people in harm's way and to invade another country.  I think it is the quality of the decision making process that is the central issue here."

But Mr Fraser is at odds with many Australians.  This week we are celebrating the good news that our politicians have finally nutted out a policy that will hopefully stop asylum seekers coming by boat.  But Mr Fraser is throwing cold water on the Houston panel's recommendations saying they are "racist" and in some ways worse than John Howard's Pacific solution.  When he says things like that, we wish he would keep his nose out of politics, shut up and retire gracefully.

But his idea for an Iraq inquiry is a good one.  Sticking by your mates is one thing but waging war on a country you have no conflict with, is something else entirely.