From The Australian March 23, 2006 by Greg Sheridan ...
...THE Iraq war was the right war against the right enemy at the right time, and waged for broadly the right reasons. There is no need to apologise about it. Notwithstanding many mistakes in execution in the peace-keeping phase, provided the coalition of the willing retains its nerve there is every chance of achieving a reasonable outcome still.
Success is not guaranteed. Nothing is guaranteed except blood and toil and trouble. Aspects of the operation after the conventional fighting have been spectacularly incompetent. But the decision to go to war was the right one.
...Most of the analysis on the third anniversary of the invasion has failed to consider the obvious question: what was the alternative? The tenor of most of the discussion presumes that there was some stable, satisfactory status quo in the Middle East with which we could have persisted happily for the next 10 years, and only the fevered visions of the neo-conservatives, in the secret service of Israel, led us into the folly of Iraq.
It just ain't so.
It is almost impossible to deal with the complexity of the situation but it had several key features.
As a welter of post-war official inquiries in the US, Britain and Australia have shown, Saddam Hussein did not have the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction we thought he had, but everyone of consequence in the world - whether they were pro or anti the war - thought he did. The inquiries also show that he had weapons programs which he intended to resume five minutes after sanctions were lifted. .... French, German and Russian intelligence all thought he had WMDs. .... Saddam would certainly have resumed his nuclear program as soon as he could. British intelligence believes to this day he was seeking uranium from Africa. That intelligence was unconfirmed but not baseless. ... Statesmen in Washington, London and Canberra didn't get to decide in hindsight in 2006. They had to act with available information in 2002-03.
But why do I still believe it was not only the right decision but taken for broadly the right reasons? Surely containment of Iraq was working. This is not so. Sanctions were unsustainable and were breaking down. It was never envisaged, when Iraq was expelled from Kuwait in 1991, that the Iraqi people would have to live forever under the privations of sanctions. We were constantly told that sanctions cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives. If that is true, then the war, in ending the necessity for sanctions, has brought huge humanitarian benefits.
Containment was unsustainable in other ways. Saudi Arabia had told Washington it could not host US troops much longer. Those troops were necessary to stop Saddam once more menacing Kuwait and the Saudis. It's true that by 2003 Saddam's army had been weakened. But a year or two without sanctions, given today's oil prices, and he would have been able to threaten Kuwait and Saudi Arabia again.
As Bob Woodward makes clear in Plan of Attack, the Saudis repeatedly urged the Bush administration to move against Saddam. The underlying message from the Saudis was clear: remove Saddam or ultimately we'll have to make our peace with him.
As Harvard's Daniel Goldhagen has argued, the single most beneficial military operation since World War II was Israel's 1981 demolition of Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor. Without the Israeli action - unilaterally, almost universally condemned - Iraq would have invaded Kuwait in possession of nuclear weapons. It would then have been impossible to dislodge, and would have dominated the Gulf.
Saddam's strategy never changed. He was on the brink of overcoming sanctions and would have resumed his path to run the Gulf, a strategic nightmare.
Nor should his connections with terrorists be trivialised. As former Iraqi government documents are discovered and translated, it seems Saddam had substantially greater connections with terrorists than was previously thought. His time in office was littered with massive miscalculations: invading Kuwait before he had nuclear weapons, believing the US would never finally attack him in 2003. Given his intimate involvement with Palestinian terrorism, and his grandiose historical vision, it is plausible that he may have provided WMDs to terrorists.
The darkest and maddest of conspiracy theories are nourished by the fact that many of the senior figures in the Bush administration had written about Iraq before they took office. This is seen as evidence of bad faith, that they always intended to invade Iraq and that WMDs, and the heightened threat after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, were merely a pretext. This is not true. It just shows that since 1991, Iraq had been a big policy problem for the US, and all the strategic players had tried to grapple with it. Bill Clinton made numerous war-like speeches about Saddam's threat, fully believed Saddam had WMDs, changed US policy to one of seeking regime change in Iraq, took smaller military action against Saddam and prepared for much bigger action.
As to the alleged dire political consequences of the Iraq invasion much could be said, but suffice to note that the Westerners against whom greatest hostility has been expressed in the Muslim world are the Danes, over an issue that has absolutely nothing to do with Iraq or the US.
Since the invasion, the Iraqis have voted three times, an utterly unique experience in their history which they have embraced with enthusiasm. Is it wrong that Iraqis vote?
Australian policy on Iraq cannot possibly be described as a failure. Howard backed a tough, necessary and unpopular action. He won domestic support for it. Like most leaders who closely supported Bush in Iraq, he was handsomely re-elected. Part of Canberra's calculation was alliance management, and as a result of our Iraq commitment Australia has never been stronger in its relationship with the US. Nor is there a scintilla of evidence that this commitment has harmed us in Asia. Howard designed our military commitment to be meaningful, intense during the conventional fighting, but overall small in size. While doing the right thing in principle, we have reaped maximum national interest benefit.
The US-led coalition probably needs to be in Iraq for a long time. None of this stuff is easy, but provided we don't lose our nerve, it can be done. Perhaps that makes me a neo-conservative. So be it.