OK, so John Howard read federal parliament's report - Intelligence on Iraq's WMD - which showed that a sanctions-weakened Iraq was about as much of a threat to world peace as Monaco, and simply ignored its findings. So why then did he take us to war against Iraq in 2003?
Apart from all the bull in Howard's Lowy Institute speech about everybody, but everybody, at the time having a near gospel belief that Saddam was such a mean and ornery fella he just had to have a stash of WMDs under his bed (and the more so for saying he didn't) and you're left with the odd statement or two that tells us why we really went in. Here they are in chronological order:
"[C]entral to a proper understanding of why the US acted as she did over Iraq, and the implications that had for a close ally such as Australia, is to recognise [her] vulnerability [to more terrorist attacks]."
"Australia's decision to join the coalition in Iraq was a product both of our belief at the time that Iraq had WMD, and the nature of our relationship and alliance with the US."
"Although the legal justification for the action taken against Iraq was based on her cumulative non-compliance with UNSC resolutions, and a properly grounded belief that Saddam possessed WMDs, a powerful element in our decision to join the Americans was, of course, the depth and character of our relationship with the US. Australia had invoked ANZUS in the days following 9/11. We had readily joined the coalition in Afghanistan; Australia had suffered the brutality of Islamic terrorism in Bali. There was a sense then that a common way of life was under threat. At that time, and in those circumstances, and given our shared history and values, I judged that, ultimately, it was in our national interest to stand beside the Americans."
Got the picture? When you're in love, you stand by your man, OK? It's really that simple(-minded). End of story.
Now, having definitively solved that little mystery, there are other revealing threads in his speech worth following up.
For example, in addition to all the ducking and weaving on WMDs, Howard gleefully invokes the spectre of Osama bin Laden and the Islamo-fascist hordes in blithe disregard for bin Laden having long ago written Saddam off as a "socialist infidel."*
As much as he protests, "I never believed that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attacks nor did president Bush or, to my knowledge, Tony Blair. Such a claim never formed part of the public case put by the Howard government for our Iraqi involvement," Howard flogs the 9/11 attacks for all they're worth:
"Americans thought that their country would be attacked by terrorists again, and soon. To many in the US why wouldn't a rogue state like Iraq supply dangerous weapons to terrorist groups?"
Bringing it closer to home, he invokes the bomb in our own backyard - Bali - and the prospect of "home-grown threats to our peaceful society," conjuring nightmare visions of flinty-eyed, bearded men in flowing white robes bearing nuclear/chemical/biological suitcase bombs, personally packed by a certain "loathsome dictator" who rules over an "outlaw regime/rogue state," and who will go to any lengths to kick down our white picket fences and trample all over our carefully manicured lawns. And who, of course, has more WMDs - gospel! - than you can shake a stick at.
But what the bugger doesn't let on is that Americans didn't automaticaly think of Iraq after 9/11. They had to be 'taught' to think about it. They had to be 'educated'. Enter the neocons:
"The 'Get Iraq' campaign... started within days of the September bombings... It emerged first and particularly from pro-Israel hard-liners in the Pentagon such as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and adviser Richard Perle, but also from hard-line neoconservatives, and some journalists and congressmen. Soon it became clear that many, although not all, were in the group that is commonly called in diplomatic and political circles the 'Israel-firsters', meaning that they would always put Israeli policy, or even their perception of it, above anything else." (Pro-Israeli, anti-Arab campaigns could isolate America, Georgie Anne Geyer, uexpress.com, 25/10/01)
Of course, don't expect Howard to go there.
Finally, some other gems... very John Howard:
"The claims of some that life in Iraq was better under Saddam than it has been since, defy belief."
The claims of some? Iraqis perhaps? But then again, what would they know?
"To have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, for a new [UN] resolution added weight to the moral and political case being built for a military operation."
LOL, even if the UN won't give you the green light you need, you're still ahead merely for trying!
"It was inevitable that after Saddam had been toppled a degree of revenge would be exacted, but a stronger security presence would have constrained this."
Inevitable, eh? You mean Rumsfeld didn't really have to send in the likes of Colonel James Steele, "a US veteran of of the 'dirty wars' in Central America to oversee sectarian police commando units in Iraq that set up detention and torture centres... [conducting] some of the worst acts of torture during the US occupation and [accelerating] the country's descent into full-scale civil war"?**
"[T]he removal of Saddam's regime provided the Iraqi people with opportunities for freedom not otherwise in prospect."
What is it with these born-to-rule bastards? Remember Abbott's campaign slogan - 'Hope, Reward, Opportunity'? As the experience of Iraq should tell us, when a guy in a suit starts banging on about opportunities it's time to batten down the hatches.
[*Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden, ed by Bruce Lawrence, 2005, p 184; ** Iraq - searching for Steele, Foreign Correspondent, 2/4/13]