RICHARD BUTLER. Iraq 2003: the Fabricated War of Choice

Gordon Brown has revealed a report showing that US intelligence Agencies knew Iraq did not have WMD and told the Bush Administration so. The invasion of Iraq was a war of choice, preferred by Bush, and Blair which Howard joined with alacrity.

Former UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has revealed the existence of an internal US intelligence report which vitiated the basis on which the US justified the invasion of Iraq in 2003: that Iraq continued to hold weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Simply, this report stated that it did not.

Brown states that this report was withheld from the UK and claims that if its existence had been known, the UK may not have joined the invasion. There is no reason to doubt his first claim; too much supporting evidence for it exists.

On the latter claim, there is also much evidence to question it; especially the knowledge that Prime Minister Blair overruled objections to the proposed invasion, including those of Lord Goldstone, his chief legal advisor, and the unequivocal undertakings he gave President GW Bush in their meeting at the Crawford Ranch, in April, 2002, almost a year before the invasion.

Prime Minister Howard was also an early and enthusiastic participant in the anglospheric hubris that was then in full flight. He was apparently not really interested in verifiable facts, just in being on board and, signaled to Bush, reportedly without any methodical discussion within the Australian Cabinet, that Australia should be counted in.

It is important to note that, while the Chilcot enquiry in the UK concluded that the decision by the Blair Government to take part in the invasion: was not justified by the facts available to it, did not constitute  a proportional response and, that diplomacy had not been exhausted, Chilcot did not have knowledge of the US intelligence report Brown has revealed. Its conclusion would presumably been even sharper had it done so.

The US decision to invade Iraq was a war of choice based on claims it fabricated: The final report I furnished to the UN Security Council, in 1998, as Head  of the UN Special Commission to disarm Iraq, stated that the Commission had accounted for virtually all of Iraq’s WMD capability. In answer to questions, within the Security Council, I stated that remaining ambiguities were not significant.

Four years later, following exhaustive study and some renewed inspections, my successor, Hans Blix, stated that he stood by the conclusions of the ”Butler report”, and famously stated, publicly on the alleged ambiguities, –  the notion that some weapons made in the past were unaccounted for –  he said, “ unaccounted for, does not mean that they exist”. He doubted that these residual weapons did, if they ever had.

This was Blix’ and the UN’s position, on the eve of the invasion. The US ignored the exhaustive work of the UN. The Security Council considered the US’ case and rejected it, rendering the invasion which then followed, to be in contravention of international law.

It is now fulsomely documented that Vice President Cheney and  Defence Secretary Rumsfeld, required US intelligence agencies to produce justification for the invasion based on Saddam continuing to hold and produce prohibited WMD, including nuclear weapons.

On the latter, secretary of State Condoleeza Rice pitched in with her infamous warning “ we don’t want a smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”, and across the pond, Tony Blair warned in the Parliament, that Saddam could hit Britain with nuclear missiles “within 45 minutes”.

The war of choice rested on lies and the document now cited by Brown is further proof of this.

It’s bleedingly obvious to point out that the answer to the question – why didn’t the invading forces find any WMD, is –  because there were none. The UN had destroyed them.

Last week, a hearing was held in the Congress on the US Authorisation  of the Use of Military Force Act, enacted after 9/11. This gave expression to concern within the Congress that those extraordinary powers, adopted at an extraordinary time, may now be too broad, and should be reconsidered. The Trump Administration argued that they should be retained. The hearing was inconclusive.

In Australia, we have no such hearings even though every commitment of forces the Government has made, particularly since Howard’s decision on the invasion of Iraq, saw no Parliamentary debate, yet alone authorization, and was made without assent by the Governor General, as is required in our Constitution.

What Howard has said about his decision, in 2003, is that he now realises that the intelligence material, on which it was based, was faulty.

Far more Important than Howard’s capacity for self serving dissembling, is the question of, for how much longer we will tolerate a situation in which the power to declare war is accepted as being within the gift of the Prime Minister alone.

And, there is the constant background cacophony of our politicians proclaiming that we are bound by the US Alliance to follow the US in whatever war it choose to wage. The obligations of the ANZUS Treaty are continually misrepresented for this purpose.

Ms Bishop may proclaim as loudly as she chooses that we have an independent foreign policy, as she did only two weeks ago, foreshadowing what will be in her White Paper to be issued shortly. But the reality will remain our clientism of the US, as long as such a crucial decision of whether or not we go to war is decided upon in the way it has been, since Howard’s decision of 2003, and we remain joined to the US “hip to hip”, in Turnbull’s version of the Alliance.

Brown’s revelation comes in the year of the centenary of: the Sykes-Picot Agreement, through which Britain and France divided up the vast former Ottoman territories, the Australian Light Horse charge at Beersheba, the Balfour Declaration, with its now tragically empty undertaking on the rights of the Palestinian people.

One can justifiably ask, what reckoning can be given of historic western intervention in the Middle East? Why are our forces there today, for example, bombing Syria.

Perhaps creditable reasons can be adduced, sometimes, but we cannot make that assessment when we are subjected to lies about it; matters too secret for ordinary people to comprehend and, above all, when the decision making process we now employ is that of the “Captains’ pick”.

Finally, It must be recorded, that the current phase of western intervention in the Middle East, beginning with the invasion of Iraq, gave birth to ISIS.

It would appear that it remains true that, if something is done for the wrong reason, it produces the wrong answer.

Richard Butler AC, former Ambassador to the United Nations, Executive Chairman of UNSCOM, the UN Special Commission to disarm Iraq.


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5 Responses to RICHARD BUTLER. Iraq 2003: the Fabricated War of Choice

  1. Bill Reid says:

    ‘It is essential to recognize that the claim made by Saddam’’s representatives, that Iraq has no WMD, is false. Everyone concerned, from Iraq’’s neighbors to the UN Security Council and the Secretary-General of the UN, with whom Iraq is currently negotiating on the issue, is being lied to …

    If it is decided to take military action against Saddam it will be crucial for it to be for the right reasons. There are, in fact, three: Saddam’’s flagrant violation of human rights; his continuing refusal to comply with international law as expressed in binding decisions of the Security Council; and, his violation of arms control obligations and treaties.’

    Extracts from:

    Statement at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Washington, D.C. July 31, 2002 by Ambassador Richard Butler; Former Executive Chairman of UNSCOM;
    Diplomat in Residence, Council on Foreign Relations

  2. David Maxwell Gray says:

    The hubris, grandiosity and yes, even narcissism, of recent Western leaders, including many of our own recent Prime Ministers, provides weight to the argument in favor of much more considered processes than leaving it to the Prime Minister to decide about the next military conflict we enter. It is just so hard to trust them to reflect properly.

    Add to that the peculiar fawning tendency of our Prime Ministers to want to ingratiate themselves into an “alliance” with US presidents, politicians and bureaucracies (remember “all the way with LBJ”? and its modern equivalents) and we have a recipe for virtually continuous military engagement in other peoples’ wars. Further, the structural mistakes in the democratic role of the US president, having highly constrained domestic power, but very unconstrained authority externally, particularly as head of the US military in formal terms, provides a bias for the President to be warlike. Look at Obama’s record.

    Our politicians should be representing Australia’s long-run interests. It is hard to see our involvements in the Middle East as being directly in those interests.

    Our strategic interests, both commercial and military, are most likely predominantly in Asia, and the military experiences in the Middle East add only tangentially to the expertise required in Asian conflicts and diplomacy.

  3. James O’Neill says:

    This valuable article is incorrect on one point. There was a parliamentary debate, in February 2014. It was during this debate that Howard tabled the legal advice he had received on Australia joining the Iraq war. As abysmal as that advice was, and Chilcott among others have exposed the legal machinations that went on, at least it was there to be read and debated.
    The situation is very different with the Syrian War. Abbott (the then PM) and Bishop both lied about waiting for legal advice before making a decision when they had had that advice for r a year. The big difference with the Iraq legal advice is that DFAT have refused a FOI request for tha advice. I suspect it is because the advice would have been that our involvement in Syria is contrary to international Law.
    If we had an Opposition worthy of the name both of these disgraceful episodes (Iraq and Syria) would have been debated long and hard. Being joined at the hip with the Americans is, as should be blindingly obvious, not in Australia ‘s national interest.

  4. derrida derider says:

    “Brown states that this report was withheld from the UK and claims that if its existence had been known, the UK may not have joined the invasion. There is no reason to doubt his first claim; too much supporting evidence for it exists.
    On the latter claim, there is also much evidence to question it; especially the knowledge that Prime Minister Blair overruled objections to the proposed invasion”

    Blair might have attempted to still go ahead but if that report was known to Cabinet the attempt would have made him an ex-PM a lot sooner. As it was he had to drag both Cabinet and party kicking and screaming into war – only the predictable support of the Tories, longing for an imperial past, allowed his government to survive.

    Which greatly strengthens the point of the article – the danger of sending the country to war on a PM’s whim. Though at least Blair had the minimal decency to have a parliamentary debate (never mind how outrageously he misled the House in that debate).

  5. Evan Whitton says:

    John Howard was not called Jackie the Lackey for nothing.

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