House debates

Monday, 16 October 2006

Prime Minister

Censure Motion

2:58 pm

Photo of David HawkerDavid Hawker (Speaker) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That this House censure the Prime Minister for:

sending Australian troops to war in Iraq on a lie;
contributing to the spread of radicalism spawning a new generation of Islamic terrorists;
committing Australian troops to a war with no end; and
exposing Australians to an increased risk of terror at home and abroad.

There is nobody in the United States administration or the British administration, from the leadership of the United States administration through to the leadership of the British administration—and I dare say the public servants that advise this government—who now believes that going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do; none of them. All of them profoundly regret it. All of them understand completely, along with Sir Richard Dannatt, that the decision to go to war in Iraq has, more than any other act over the course of the last few years, produced a situation which has encouraged, exacerbated and given succour to the worst elements in the Islamic fundamentalist movement who aim to commit terrorist acts against us.

This and all those other activities associated with it has been the single biggest recruiting device. The Abu Ghraib scandal and the fights between the Shiites and the Sunnis—the whole panoply of disaster that has surrounded this war—has put those of us in the West who are struggling for a decent outcome to protect ourselves and to encourage a victory for mainstream Muslims on the back foot. When you look at those comments by Sir Richard Dannatt, before he had to expand on them a little later, you actually see a senior policy maker—in public, extraordinarily—getting to grips with the consequences of what it is that they have done. Comments like that we have to:

... get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems.

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I don’t say that the difficulties we are experiencing around the world are caused by our presence in Iraq, but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them.

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We are in a Muslim country and Muslims’ views of foreigners in their country are quite clear. As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited into a country, but we weren’t invited, certainly by those in Iraq at the time ... the military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in.

…         …         …

Whatever consent we may have had in the first place may have turned to tolerance and has largely turned to intolerance.

He goes on:

I think history will show that the planning for what happened after the initial successful war-fighting phase was poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning.

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The original intention was that we put in place a liberal democracy that was an exemplar for the region, was pro-West and might have a beneficial effect on the balance within the Middle East. That was the hope. Whether that was a sensible or naïve hope, history will judge. I don’t think we are going to do that. I think we should aim for a lower ambition.

It was in agony that Sir Richard Dannatt spoke about the circumstances in which his British soldiers—many of whom have been killed—find themselves. You get the same sorts of responses, I might say, from various American generals. Some of them have the view that things could have been better if you had put in a huge number of troops. Many of them have the view that they should not have gone there in the first place. All of them now attest to the sorts of pressures that were on generals, defence department officials and intelligence officers to produce an outcome in advice that set a particular political course—the political course that was followed by John Howard, the Prime Minister of this country, among others. One thing that this Prime Minister has done is to act in a way to encourage the United States into this disaster. I have said before that he may well be the ally that this particular administration wants, but he is not the ally that the United States needs.

There is no more proof positive of that fact than what we have seen here today. He comes into this place with slogans: ‘You don’t cut and run’ and ‘You don’t haul up the white flag.’ There are never any exact historical parallels, but there are always historical lessons. I remember those sorts of phraseologies used around the period of the Vietnam War in the 1960s. What was being suggested then, arising out of the political justifications being presented by the leadership of the various nations as they sent their young men to war and to their deaths, bore no relation to the actual politics on the ground, the real situation on the ground and the things that were happening which were determining the outcome of the war.

The same is happening here. The war that is talked about by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs is not the war that is taking place. What is taking place on the ground now is a full-blown ethnic struggle. The proportion of it that relates to al-Qaeda has increasingly become a minor component. What the United States is being invited to do and what we are being invited to do—what the Prime Minister is being invited to do—through the troops that are on the ground is to play some role in adjusting the political relationship between those two forces which have absolutely nothing to do with the global struggle on terror and everything to do, in the answers that we provide, with endangering our reputation further in the Islamic world and our capacity to build allies in the Islamic world and to protect our own people because we can establish those right relationships. It is causing large numbers of people in Iraq to be killed and causing substantial numbers of American forces to be killed as well.

I have on my heart all the time those 3,000 young Americans who have been killed and the 14,000 young Americans who have been maimed—more than a division’s worth of American soldiers. These are ordinary folk—the Alabama National Guard and the New York National Guard—and the best of Americans. These are the best young people in the United States: people who are prepared to put their lives on the line for a cause. If you put them in a situation like this where they know that the judgement that is being put in place by their politicians is putting them on the line, you will produce a situation in the United States where the sort of view of further overseas commitments that emerged after the Vietnam War will emerge again. That will be to the detriment of the security of this nation and our people.

Remember the world before John Howard and others helped in the process of putting pressure on President Bush to go to war? Remember the world after 9-11? The world was full of sympathy for the United States. We activated ANZUS and NATO—the first time that both of those treaties had been activated—in Afghanistan. Supporting the United States in Afghanistan was not just its old traditional allies; the successor of the Soviet Union put pressure on the ex-Soviet states around the borders of Afghanistan to allow American and other allied bases to operate from within those borders.

Despite centuries of Chinese objection to being encircled, the Chinese took the view that putting bases in those places was acceptable as far as the Chinese government was concerned. Immediately after 9-11 we even saw the late Chairman Arafat—who I will not hold a candle for, I might say—out there giving blood to deal with the problems of the wounded arising out of the 9-11 struggle. We found all of the Islamic powers endorsing the action in Afghanistan. Never has the United States stood so large or had such immense sympathy in the public mind.

Everything has been trashed. We had opportunities, as a result of that, to win this war and win it quickly; to deal with the minority Islamic fundamentalist movement; and to ensure that those Arab states which have the biggest role to play, along with Pakistan, were able to easily stand alongside us without having their religious commitment questioned in the streets by their people. All of that was before the Iraq war was in place—all of it. Since the Iraq war and events like those at Abu Ghraib—which even President Bush identified as a continuing and serious problem for him—all of that has now been fatally undermined by the decision that was taken by this government.

The war that goes on in Iraq is a war that does not have the sorts of consequences that the Prime Minister outlined. That component of it associated with al-Qaeda has tended to drift. That component of it associated with ethnic cleansing and divisions between various tribes—between the Shiite and Sunni groups—has come massively to the fore. That is what we are increasingly engaged in.

I can tell you the strategic outcomes of the war in Iraq, and the strategic outcomes continue to be both emphasised and developed: (1) the power of Iran has increased massively—that is the first consequence; (2) the various circumstances in which the United States and its allies need to act have been compromised—that is, our capacity to influence affairs in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. All of those states, our good friends, are now holding us at arm’s length, understanding that to reach out and grab our hands at this point in time puts their own regimes under threat. That is, of course, when we are not lecturing them on the need that they have to establish democracy in their own kingdoms at the same time as they are trying to handle the uprising elements amongst their own populations.

You have a situation developing around Israel where, increasingly, massive pressure is being brought to bear on Israel, as Iran is able to flex its muscles in a way it has never been able to do before and as we intervene decisively in the Shiite-Sunni balance in the gulf in favour of the Shiite community. Nobody talks like this in this country, but these are the realities. We talk about this as though we are dealing with some sort of dispute between France and Germany in the early part of the 20th century. We talk in a culture and in terms that have absolutely no meaning in the actual situation now on the ground.

There is no understanding amongst policy makers about what they are handling in Iraq. As they steadily come to understand it, they walk back in horror and come to conclusions like those of people like General John Abizaid, General Peter Pace and William Patey, the former British Ambassador to Iraq and now the chief of the British defence forces. You can see them struggle with their consciences on what it is that they are asking their young men to do, in circumstances where they no longer believe that the political and strategic judgements being made by their political leaders are the correct ones.

There has been no role in international affairs played by this Prime Minister more meretricious or rotten than this one. You have to understand this about this Prime Minister: firstly, he and his ministers—and they are so darned proud of it—turned a blind eye to what the Wheat Board was doing. They rorted a set of terms of reference for the royal commission, so they are all going to get off scot-free. We have been saying it, and the member for Griffith has been pointing it out for months. They have rorted it so that they get off.

The one thing that President Bush got absolutely right in his judgement—we disagreed with the consequences of it; whatever we believed about WMD, we did not think this was the way to deal with it—was that the sanctions regime on Iraq had been traduced. It had been traduced by you lot—the government. That is exactly what had happened. This is one major factor which sent the United States to war, very much against the interests now, as it turns out, of their own people and very much to the security detriment of this nation.

I will not accept any excuses from the government. I have seen the documents that went to Gareth Evans. I know darned well the sorts of reports that were coming up to ministers at that point in time. It would not have changed when we left office. Gareth Evans dealt with those problems. Gareth Evans was a serious person as foreign minister, not like this weak individual that we have here running affairs for us now. That is the first indictment of their actions in undermining their ally’s situation.

Here is the second. I can recollect well in the middle of 2002 being in Washington with the then leader of the Labor Party and going around getting the briefings on what was going on inside Washington at the time. I learned then, as he learned, about the deep doubts that existed with senior figures in the Department of State, including some of the closest and most loyal friends that this country has ever had. We got that understanding, so why wasn’t the Minister for Foreign Affairs getting it at the time?

I believe he was. The reason that he acted as he did was that he saw an opportunity to embarrass the then Leader of the Opposition by saying that he was some sort of wimp, that he was not prepared to go to war, and that the Labor Party always scuttled away from that. There was not an interlocutor then who did not wish they had taken the sort of advice that was being offered by Mr Armitage and Mr Powell. One person in the state department said to me, ‘We have gone down this road and we have got Iraq, which we will do like that, of course’—with a snap of the fingers—‘now what do we do with it?’

Then there is the fight itself. When you are in a fight, Mr Prime Minister, as we were when we were in Vietnam, you take responsibility for the whole fight. When we were in Vietnam, taking responsibility for the whole fight, we had things like the Australian civil aid project and all sorts of bodies going out there attempting to pacify the country. We took a different view of the way in which we ought to conduct our operations and the tactics that we ought to pursue within our department in the area for which we were responsible for covering from the view the United States took. We had a different tactic. We thought things through. We felt obliged to think through the issues that confronted us and the right way to fight the war in Vietnam. I do not think it was the right war to fight. Nevertheless, we had a differing point of view from that of the United States.

What advice did the Prime Minister give the Americans about dealing with the looting which took place after the additional win? You see, the looting was what actually wrecked Iraq in the immediate aftermath. The US defense secretary said at the time that freedom is a ‘bit messy’ and you must expect a bit of this. Was the Prime Minister on the phone saying: ‘Mr Rumsfeld, that will not do. We are involved in this as much as you are. You do this sort of thing and you will not be able to set up an administration.’ Then what role did you play in advising how they should handle ex-members of the Baath Party when they trashed the police and the army, depriving themselves of the capacity to maintain any sense of law and order?

You ought to read the book Fiasco, Mr Prime Minister; it is a worthwhile book to read, because fiasco is your policy. A fiasco is what you are responsible for. You cannot run away from it just because you have got few troops there, compared to the Americans, and just because they are the dominant player in this. When you accept moral responsibility you accept it not only for the fight but also for advice about this conflict. What is the upshot, Mr Prime Minister, of all you have done for this country with this?

Order! I ask the Leader of the Opposition to address his remarks through the chair.

Through you, Mr Speaker, what is the upshot of all of this? Our ally has had the oxygen sucked out of its foreign policy. Our ally is not as strong as it was. Our ally finds itself, throughout the Middle East, unable to play the predominant and substantial role that it used to be able to play—thank you, John Howard! What else do we find? We find that our position is less secure that it was. I do not believe in beating these things up. We are a safe country and I have said it many times, but we owe that to our geography and the character of our society. We owe nothing of it to this government, nothing at all.

Even because you happen to be relatively safe compared to other countries that find themselves in this position, you can be made less safe. These things are not absolute; they are relative. We are much less safe, much less influential and much less effective as a result of what this Prime Minister and this government have done. This Prime Minister and this government have played a small but substantial role in creating a set of conditions which has played right into the hands of terrorists. They are always fond of quoting terrorist websites and the joys they have as we commit ourselves to more and more actions in Iraq. More events like this just build up their numbers. They have got a thing or two to say about all this and it is not all that dissimilar from the things that the Prime Minister says. But we ought to be much more cautious about it when we see them.

We are not as safe a nation as we should be. The Prime Minister stands up and says that he stands for the security of the Australian people. I am afraid to say, the Prime Minister does not. The Prime Minister has materially undermined the security of the Australian people by the decisions he has taken and is therefore deserving of censure. (Time expired)

Is the motion seconded?

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

Mr Wilkie interjecting

The member for Swan is warned!


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