Monday, 16 October 2006
On 6 March 2003 I moved a motion in this House:
That the House:
- recognise that President Bush has flagged 14 March as the deadline for a decision to be made on an invasion of Iraq;
- recognise that such a decision could well be taken in defiance of a veto by any permanent member of the UN Security Council;
- recognise that such a strike could constitute a breach of international law;
- recognise that chief UN weapons inspector … said … that Iraq is cooperating proactively …
I immediately moved that the House should consider a motion that, while agreeing with the Prime Minister’s statement on our armed forces and the role that they play in our defence, it could not and should not support our engagement in Iraq without the specific endorsement of the UN Security Council. I said at the time that that motion was supported by the Australian people, concerned as they were about the likely illegal war. Five hundred thousand people subsequently went to the streets to say exactly that.
I said in that debate that, despite the so-called debate in parliament on Iraq, it was always intended to be nothing more than a motion to note the Prime Minister’s statement. Nowhere in this parliament did we have a full and open debate on Iraq at the specific time when it was crucial to do so. We had British MPs challenging their Prime Minister, with 199, I think it was, voting against the Tony Blair Iraq stance, and we had a vote in the American House of Representatives and Senate on the very same issue. But there was none of that here, where we had such overpowering and continuing opposition from the Australian public to our engagement in Iraq.
America has humiliated itself in Iraq. It was a pre-emptive strike based on deliberate lies, dragging us in, in defiance of 80 per cent of Australians and, importantly, the UN Security Council. There was an ugly and cruel dictatorship in Iraq prior to the war. It has been replaced by an ugly and cruel civil war. The PM asked what we are supposed to do now—do we leave the Iraqis to look after themselves? The Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shiites have historically not been able to look after their joint interests. Probably only a three-nation state will solve that dilemma. But the US is unable to either stifle the current insurgency or effect any outcome that would lead to that three-nation solution. An allied defeat in Vietnam did not bring an end to the region, nor to America’s role in the world, apart from the failure of the US to learn the lessons from the disastrous Vietnam campaign. Its military-politico judgement was severely dented in Vietnam, and so too has it been in Iraq.
Terrorism can be defeated with right and justice, not selective pre-emptive strikes. That is exactly the situation that we have now, where we have exacerbated rather than helped solve that situation. The involvement in Afghanistan and the first Iraq conflict in 1991 was endorsed by specific UN resolutions. But the Iraq pre-emptive strike was not, whatever the attempt by the UN to try and salvage an outcome from the wreckage to help the Americans with a subsequent resolution. A majority of Australians in 2003 said no; a majority now believe it is still wrong. There has been no plan by the Americans. We have just blindly followed their request and embroiled ourselves in an imbroglio that I said at the time was a repeat of the Vietnam situation.
The situation is getting worse. Anywhere from 60,000 to 600,000 Iraqi civilian deaths has been the result. The survey of the Johns Hopkins medical centre on this must give some credibility to that latter figure, whatever statements are made to the contrary.
Australia had a role to play in brokering peace in the Middle East. Instead, it has blindly supported the deeply flawed American position—so discredited, so lacking objectivity. Indeed, I think it was Paul McGeogh—or one of the Fairfax journalists—who wrote after the start of the recent Lebanon conflict, or indeed the pre-emptive strike against the Lebanese people, that Condoleezza Rice was ‘dawdling’ her way to the Middle East. Why? The US delivery of its latest batch of Hellfire missiles was still being delivered. She did not arrive until such time as those missiles were in place to be used against the Hezbollah—and, indeed, to be so tragically used against innocent civilians in the Lebanon.
How, under those circumstances, can America be seen as any objective broker of peace in the Middle East, for heaven’s sake? How can it engage in pre-emptive strikes in Iraq—or elsewhere, as it may be tempted to do—and maintain any credibility as a broker of peace, along with Australia, Great Britain and any other country that wants to join such a folly? The Iraq engagement has exacerbated rather than assisted the Middle East crisis. The head of the British Army is right, whatever Mr Blair’s frantic spin to try and correct it. We should get out of Iraq. The US have created the mess, told the lies, spun the falsehoods. They and they alone can determine how and when they exit. We should get out now.