26 February 2004

Why intelligence was not the reason we followed America to war

I think the best we can say is that the Government did not sufficiently weigh the diplomatic, military and political risks of America's proposal to invade Iraq before providing a de facto commitment. The challenges of building diplomatic support for an unprecedented exercise of military power were underestimated.

And little thought was given to the aftermath in Iraq beyond a Micawberesque assumption that the US would make it work somehow.

And what of the first policy judgement: that we needed to support the invasion to protect our alliance with the US? This is a respectable argument. It sometimes makes sense to go to war to support an ally, if you expect them to support you when your turn comes. It would have been unwise to say no to Washington about Iraq. But we did not need to rush to say yes either.

In March and April 2002, when our views were first sounded, Australia would have done better to start asking questions: what are the long-term objectives in Iraq? How are they going to be achieved? How will diplomatic support be built? How long will the occupation of Iraq have to last?

It now seems clear that there were no good answers to these questions in Washington in early 2002, or even early last year.

Asking them might have not only helped Australia make a better informed decision in Iraq: it might also have helped America.

Hugh White is director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. These are his personal views.

Read the whole thing, especially where he discusses the role of intelligence and suggests no intelligence would have dissuaded the Howard government from joining the war.

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