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Responsibility for all comment here is taken by me, Dennis Argall
formerly Australian Ambassador to China

This page contains a body of writing I placed here in 2003-2004 criticising the commitment to the war in Iraq. Tragically every aspect of the Iraq situation has continued to deteriorate. Resort to violence has not worked.

It is not what we say we believe in but how we behave from day to day that shapes the world.





Australian commitment to this war
represents the single greatest error of strategic judgment
in the history of Australian government.

Nowra rally speech, Palm Sunday 2003

...we believe that what has been done in our names
is morally, politically and strategically wrong
Wollongong rally speech, 3 July 2004
pdf format here

In commenting on a joint statement made on 8 August 2004 by 43 former senior defence force members and public servants, a National Party member of the Australian Parliament De-Anne Kelly said to the media:

I think we have to ask the question, these doddering daiquiri diplomats, would they have done any different?... The world has changed too from the comfort zone they lived in. We're now post-Bali, post-September 11, frankly they should keep their opinions to themselves.

Mr Warren Entsch, another National Party MP, said:

There's a lot of disgruntled old men there that would have certainly had an axe to grind against this Government and the Prime Minister in particular.

Prime Minister Howard said his critics must understand that the world has changed since the World Trade Centre attacks.

"Every single person who signed that statement had retired from service well before the 11th of September, 2001." Mr Howard says [media reported] many of the signatories are long-standing critics of the Government and what they are saying is not new.

Long ago, Martin Luther King said:

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

More recently, Norman Mailer said:

Fascism is more of a natural state than democracy. To assume blithely that we can export democracy into any country we choose can serve paradoxically to encourage more fascism at home and abroad. Democracy is a state of grace that is attained only by those countries who have a host of individuals not only ready to enjoy freedom but to undergo the heavy labor of maintaining it.

On 17 February 2003, in reply to the letter in which the PM sent us all fridge magnets with the national security hotline number, I had written to Prime Minister Howard saying: "... the single clearest thing evident to me is that an attack on Iraq won’t work."

On Palm Sunday, 13 April 2003, I said in a speech that:

It has been suggested by some that, because we are in a place with a significant number of service families, we should from loyalty fall in behind this commitment to war... However as citizens in a democratic country we have not just a RIGHT but an OBLIGATION to be vigilant - VIGILANT that the use of force - the sending of members of our armed forces to fight - only occur:
FIRSTLY - on the basis of wise judgment
SECOND - as a very last resort 
THIRDLY - to advance international security and reduce armed conflict, and
FOURTHLY – all that must be consistent with broad Australian national interests.
I put it to you that our going to war in Iraq has FAILED ALL FOUR of those tests.

I went on to say that: "Australian commitment to the Iraq war represents the single greatest error of strategic judgment in the history of Australian government" [13 April 2003 speech]

On 7 September 2003 I wrote to Foreign Minister Downer saying:

I have found no reason to alter that judgment [as to the single greatest error] ... I have become increasingly of the view... that it is in the nature of modern war that it tends, more than anything else - certainly it does not tend to ‘victory’ - to import into the righteous invading countries the problems you seek to eliminate by invading... Your assertion of effectiveness of violence in international policy drifts down to validate the use of violence by non-states in international affairs, and increasingly by individuals in national and sub-national affairs, and indeed, I suggest, in domestic life. We are dealing not just with a narrow national security issue but a large ethical dimension.

The August 2004 statement by the Gang of 43 was to state that "it is wrong and dangerous for our elected representatives to mislead the Australian people." The way in which the Prime Minister has distorted the issues was clear in a speech he gave on 19 May 2004. I commented on this in a letter to the Prime Minister next day.

Throughout the development of this writing in 2003-4 I had made comparison of the response to 9/11 with the outbreak of World War I, in 1914. I set this out more extensively in a speech in July 2004. I went on in that speech to make a number of proposals for a more constructive international policy.

All that relates to the Iraq war and the impossible 'War on Terror'. We have other sideshows, notably North Korea, which has become a justification for the Howard Government committing Australia to support the US strategic missile defence system. I commented on this on 28 February 2004.

So who listens? Here is the Prime Minister, on ABC Radio, 18 August 2004, regarding the matter of what a former defence officer told him about the 'children overboard':

"He can have any public servant he likes. I know who spoke to me and I know what they said when I spoke to them. "


Because the Iraq war is a tragedy without prospect of any early end and because we will continue to be confronted in the media by the costs in mainly young lives in the American forces and of those foreigners taken hostage, I draw your attention to this counter of deaths as a result of the war, a database established and maintained by a group in Britain: the basis of their calculations is there for study.

Data for civilian deaths in Afghanistan are elusive.
They do not seem part of the NATO repertoire.
NATO and allied defence force deaths are terrible numbers.
Regarding civilian numbers, try this search for recent information, and see links here, here and here.

The bitter shadows of all this killing,
entangled with problems in the world economy,
will last for generations.



At the tenth anniversary of our invasion of Iraq earlier this year, none of those who led us down that stupid, stupid street apologised. Perhaps we did not demand it. This decade has seen extraordinary change in technology that wraps around and absorbs people; very hard to get people out of self-preoccupation.

National insecurity and, I suggest, national pessimism and propensity to turn against democracy, suburban rage and resort to violence all seem to me to be causally related to decisions of our government and others to whack people because they know they are right and it is their right: which pretty adequately also defines gang warfare and domestic violence, on a big rise since 2003.

And more boneheads seem to want a wider war, or same war on new front in Syria. Israel's strategic desire to see moslem against moslem is working, more and more weapons will fall into unpredictable hands.

UPDATE, 6 December 2012:

Jitters now and who knows what just ahead: here comes the US Government's 'fiscal cliff'. Also this current link.

In 2013, the race of the allies to get out of Afghanistan without too many more casualties and evolution of clever explanations of a situation likely to implode, politically, ethnically, economically and in institutions proudly set up as symbols of a new Afghanistan. We leave behind destitution, bitterness, corpses, corruption and upheaval postponed.

War does not work, but we live in a strange world of continued genuflection to US military power, while the US economy and US government budget sink through crisis after crisis. Among the major factors in US government financial crisis is the cost of wars, so we display this information from costofwar.com.

The costs displayed are those to the US alone,
not total of NATO, Australia, etc.
References to community are to
communities in the United States.

See bottom of left column for war costs in deaths. The mayhem in the global economy, the overwhelming problems financing the US economy and the poison from the killing and destruction in these masterful wars will poison human progress for generations.

Do read some of the thoughts of Craig Murray former British ambassador.

And delve into the minutiae of how a corporation like Halliburton has guzzled money from war and will cease to do so... I suppose you move on, perhaps not least to coal seam gas wars.

UPDATE 2011: The end of American intervention. From the Huffington Post 18 December 2011, thus from mainstream despair... but why was it not evident a decade ago:

Arianna Huffington: Sunday Roundup
This week, the Pentagon marked the official end to the war in Iraq with a brief ceremony in a secure part of the Baghdad airport -- helicopters hovering protectively overhead. Although Defense Secretary Leon Panetta later declared that the cost paid by America was "worth it," a look at the price tag offers a more sobering assessment: 4,487 U.S. military personnel killed, over 2,000 U.S. government contractors killed, over 40,000 American troops wounded, over 100,000 Iraqis killed, at least 2 million Iraqis displaced from their homes, and a final tab that could ultimately reach $4 trillion doled out by U.S. taxpayers (a far cry from the $50 billion to $80 billion the Defense Department originally predicted it would cost). And beyond the cost in lives and treasure are the less quantifiable costs we'll be paying for years to come, including the strengthening of Iran and the weakening of America's moral standing in the world.

The same issue of the Huffington Post linked to a New York Times report about young veterans facing 30% unemployment.

As I look back at Australia over this decade, there is more to despair about... a decade of increased casual acceptance of violence not just in foreign policy perspective but also in daily life and in too many instances, domestic life. A shift to faith from thoughtfulness, faith in the virtue of personal belief, the cornerstone of irrational resort to violence. Watching the 2012 presidential campaign in the US shows the mayhem consequences to the extreme. This is a good place to follow it all.

We are leaving Iraq and Afghanistan ungovernable, Australia becomes less governable also... and the silence now of people before vocal, who should be very concerned about the decision to base US Marines in Darwin, is disturbing. Whatever the notional merits of that decision, where is the debate? The decision seems to derange some: an intelligent retired non-commissioned officer of the defence force asserted vehemently to me this week that the policy of this Labor government is to cut defence spending by opening all the bases in Western Australia to occupation by US forces.




Compare the cost of war with borrowing, note China's contribution, on same scale as cost of war. See this article on China pulling the plug. See how the Tea Party would close the tap.

Compare that cash flow to war with the G8 commitments to implement the Millenium Development Goals at Gleneagles 2005. (I've had to change the link - the UK government page no longer exists, like the commitments).

Don't hold your breath on implementation of all that... Read some of the writing of Stephen Lewis. Don't give up on Africa, don't give up seeking sane national policy.

Out there are many people like you and I who are searching for the right to restore a vocabulary of national interest and global decency not based on fear and hatred and wild generalisations about good guys and bad guys and fighting evil. Talk to each other. Start at home.



The new conventional wisdom is that we have to put Iraq behind and concentrate on Afghanistan because we should have done Afghanistan properly instead of Iraq. Thus speaks some new kind of virtue, really restatement of a 2003-2004 argument, never really convincing, needing fresh coherent review.

Instead it seems sort of an excuse for American withdrawal from Iraq (we may leave Iraq but don't doubt, we still can biff!) This is inadequate in any kind of reasoning and flies in the face of the realities of history, the nature of anti-insurgent war and the regional political realities.

The imperial dream of conquest in Afghanistan is not new, the British began to fail in 1839. It has been a well known principle in anti-insurgent warfare that the numbers of anti-insurgents have to be many times more than the insurgents, well ah, what the number is certainly was not clarified by Vietnam. And there is the key point that the ones you seek to kill may be much nicer people than those who replace them, something the Israelis don't get, but has been argued here regarding Afghanistan (well that's not the original link but relevant). The now not accessible article argued that command strategy in Afghanistan looks unlikely to work. There is no reason, in my view, why it should. It is a fool's errand, in a place foolish to invade, it is the wrong place to be most seriously concerned.

Pakistan's survival by non-military means, is the real issue. See here, here and here for opinions on why the new American Afghanistan strategy is not helpful for Pakistan. How inspiring it is to know that one international cricket star (first of those three 'here' links) can think about real matters. Thank you Imran, though the wikipedia contributors do not love you...

Well, those links on Pakistan are old, the devastation of Pakistan is now well down the track, and not to be understood through crappy conventional western mentality blurts from dark suited security wanks wonks.










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