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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Richard Butler AC Former Ambassador to the United Nations, Executive Chairman of UN Special Commission to Disarm Iraq, Professor of International Affairs.

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