P.O. Box 2205



7 September 2003


The Hon Alexander Downer MP

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade

Parliament House



Dear Alexander


Some time ago I heard you remark in the course of a radio interview that you did not know what those people who had opposed war with Iraq now thought about it.


I have been remiss in not writing sooner to let you know.


I wrote to the Prime Minister in February to say, among other things, that the war ‘would not work.’ I see no reason to vary that view now. Though the close-up war aims have been pretty ambulatory and in those terms an answer to ‘did it work’ is a bit elusive and a terrible distraction, in terms of core principles of enhancing international and national security, the impact of the war has been for the worse. As regards Iraq, you took a badly governed country and turned it into an ungovernable country.


I said in a speech in Nowra on Palm Sunday that “… Australian commitment to this war represents the single greatest error of strategic judgment in the history of Australian government.”


I have found no reason to alter that judgment.


Around 20 years ago, when the present Israeli Prime Minister was Defence Minister, he was opposed, as is his nature, to negotiation, and especially was then opposed to negotiating with Arafat, who was then in a weak position and wanted to negotiate. So Israel invaded Lebanon. Getting into Lebanon was a piece of cake, as was getting into Iraq more recently, more or less. Back then, ONA’s representative came to the Foreign Affairs division heads meeting and told us that Israel’s neat aims were these and those and Israel would be out of Lebanon in such and such brief time. “No,” I said, “they will be stuck in Lebanon for a very long time, and they will import into Israel all the problems of Lebanon.” I have seen no reason since to alter that judgment either.


I have become increasingly of the view since 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.


You will of course be able to say: “See, I told you terrorism was rising and we had to act.” But at some point you will have to acknowledge some responsibility for that: validating the use of violence to pursue personally defined righteous objectives, then steering the focus of foreign policy to a singularity of security mind-set such as we had in the 1950s.


In asserting a right to invade Iraq, you asserted a doctrine of old-fashioned exclusive state powers. But we live in a world much changed, the role of the state and individual altered by processes of globalisation. 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 security mantra you impose will have a pervasive and persistent effect comparable to that of McCarthyism through the 1950s and beyond.


I am also still of the view that since September 2001 we have been watching events and strategic responses unfolding as at the outbreak of war in 1914:

• Delusions of moral rectitude.

• Defence of imperial status quo.

• Nothing but narrow military options.

• Resort to alliances, hostility to thought.

• Vilification of the enemy, climate of fear and promotion of paranoia.

• Simplistic notions of victory, expectations of speedy end.

• Failure to address real wider issues.

• Enveloping sea of violence.


John Kennedy asked his National Security Council members to read Barbara Tuchman’s history of the onset of the First World War - to consider the problems arising when policy options are largely military. Such wisdom contributed to war avoidance when the Cuban Missile Crisis arose.


Tuchman, later, in the Viet Nam period, wrote a book called The March of Folly regarding the tendency of states to pursue deliberately courses of action contrary to national interest. This is manifestly a time when your government, and the United States Government, is acting in such a manner.


For the most part, all our lives, and all our foreign policy and national identity, are the sum of small decisions. There are rare moments when leaders have the opportunity to shift and shape the way nations think about life and the world. This is one of those moments. Your contribution will be measured by history. It lacks vision.


Yours sincerely



Dennis Argall

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