"The Howard government actively discouraged official advice on whether Australia should commit to the Iraq war and was given no such advice, senior public servants who ran the departments of Prime Minister and Defence have revealed... These revelations are contained in The March of Patriots: The Struggle for Modern Australia [by The Australian's editor-at-large Paul Kelly]... Defence Department head Ric Smith said: 'The message from [John Howard and Alexander Downer] by that time (November 2002) was that they did not want strategic advice from the Defence Department. This reflected a conviction that ministers knew the issues and would take the decisions for or against the war'." (Howard Ministers took no advice before joining Iraq war, Paul Kelly, The Australian, 4/9/09)
According to The Australian's editorialist, Howard's was an agonising choice: "In March 2003 he and his ministers had two decisions to make: first, how best to serve Australia and second how we could best help the Iraqi people... The choice Mr Howard faced was stark - invade Iraq or leave its people to suffer." (A difficult decision: John Howard had to set the strategy on invading Iraq, 4/9/09)
Funny how Kelly's article portrays Howard as having made up his mind to invade Iraq by November 2002, while the editorialist has him still undecided in March 2003, but it's the idea that concern for the suffering of the people of Iraq was the real decider for him that beggars belief.
It's time to recall that smoking document of the Iraq war, the Downing Street memo, which emerged from a meeting at 10 Downing Street in July 2002 in which Prime Minister Tony Blair and his 'war cabinet' discussed the coming attack on Iraq: "We see the British intelligence chief, just off the plane, report how in Washington war is 'now seen as inevitable'; how it will be 'justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD'; and how 'the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy'. We watch the British foreign secretary point out that 'the case [for war] is thin' - 'Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran'* - and then listen as he suggests a way around this inconvenient fact: 'We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors... [to] help with the legal justification for the use of force'. And we watch the prime minister immediately grasp the point of such a plan, and hear him agree that 'it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors'." (The Secret Way to War: The Downing Street Memo & the Iraq War's Buried History, Mark Danner, 2006, p xv) [*The Australian 's editorialist has Saddam "boast[ing] about [his] arsenal."]
IOW, "The memo... shows that even as President Bush told Americans in October 2002 that 'he hope[d] the use of force will not become necessary' - that such a decision depended on whether or not the Iraqis complied with his demands to rid themselves of their WMD - the President had in fact already definitively decided, at least 3 months before, to choose this 'last resort' of going 'into battle' with Iraq. Whatever the Iraqis chose to do or not do, the President's decision to go to war had long since been made." (ibid p 5)
Hmm, so while those cynical Yanks and the Brits had long since decided to knock off Saddam come what may, and were busy 'fixing' the 'intelligence and facts' around that decision, John Howard's chief concern was for the Iraqis groaning under the Saddamist yoke. No yoke! And anyway, it's not as though the allied invasion of Iraq was bad for the people of Iraq per se, because, as the editorialist says, "an unacceptable number of innocent Iraqis died at the hands of religious zealots more interested in murdering Muslims than in fighting the US." So there!