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Letter re Australian government support for attack on Iraq
24 July 2002
Hon Alexander Downer MHR,
Re: Australian support for US position on Iraq
We write following strong statements from Mr. Howard and yourself of support for the US Government's position in relation to a possible military strike against Iraq.
We noted that, on his most recent visit to the US, Prime Minister Howard emerged from talks with members of the Bush Administration announcing his understanding of the US doctrine of "preemptive strikes" and committing Australia to support for a possible US military strike against Iraq.
We were alarmed that Mr. Howard was apparently prepared to commit Australian troops to such military action ahead of any debate within Australia's Parliament and ahead of indications of any support within the Australian community for such a policy. We are disturbed that such important elements of our foreign policy are apparently being formulated on an ad hoc basis, in the heat of the moment following talks with members of the Bush Administration.
We refer also to your own statement that "a policy of appeasement [towards Iraq] is a policy that's going to allow Saddam Hussein to develop weapons of mass destruction". With respect, Minister, it is premature in the extreme to be speaking at this stage of "a policy of appeasement". Such language would be appropriate only if Iraq had already demonstrated a degree of belligerence such as a threat to invade or to use weapons of mass destruction against another state, or against ethnic minorities within Iraq.
Scott Ritter, former UNSCOM weapons inspector has recently said that the time frame since UNSCOM exited Baghdad would not have allowed the Iraqi regime sufficient time to rearm to the extent claimed by the Bush Administration. Even the Chair of the US Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee, Senator Joseph Biden, has recently stated that "the Bush Administration has yet to reveal evidence to justify an attack on Iraq".
To be speaking at this stage of "a policy of appeasement" before any such threat has been proven places us - alongside the Bush Administration - as one of the belligerent parties. Indeed, we believe that to use such language is itself a provocative and alarmist act.
While Colin Powell may have described his talks of 11/7/02 with you as an "easy discussion", others in the international community may be left with questions following Australia's alacrity to agree so readily with the US posture on a "preemptive strike" against Iraq. By hastening to announce Australian support for the US positioning for strikes against Iraq, we run the risk of diminishing our reputation and influence within the international community. We note with regret that some (both domestically and internationally) have already begun to talk of "obsequiousness" on our part towards the US.
We must also raise with you the question of the strategic impact of attracting to ourselves such notoriety within the international community following our immoderate haste to support the Bush Administration on this matter. It is clear that Mr. Howard's and your own statements have not gone unnoticed within the Arab world. In the light of Iraq's threatened retaliation (to cut by half their imports of Australian wheat), it would be fair to assume that Australia's unseemly haste in supporting the US position has not gone unnoticed by members of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
We respectfully urge a greater degree of moderation in public statements on this matter and for decisions such as these to be taken to the Parliament. Decisions such as these ought not to be made by members of the Executive without reference to our broader democratic institutions. It is important that, on any decision to commit Australian troops to military strikes against Iraq - or indeed against any other nation state, the Australian Parliament should be fully informed and consulted. Anything less leaves your Government open to the charge of eroding the very democracy that the putative strikes are purportedly designed to defend.
And finally, we draw to your attention the exemplary statement of the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams who, while still Archbishop of Wales, said that military action against Iraq could only be supported if such action were sanctioned by the United Nations. We can only concur with the Archbishop and respectfully urge that the Australian Government should also adopt a similar stance.
We thank you for your kind attention and look forward to your response.