Trust is a priceless commodity
Well what an extraordinary year this has been so far. For a start one of the most stupid and dangerous US Presidents in living memory has invaded, pre-emptively, a sovereign state, without UN endorsement, for reasons that have now been completely discredited - Iraq obviously did not pose an imminent threat to us all with any massive arsenal of weapons of mass destruction; nor obviously was Saddam Hussein co-operating with Osama bin Laden.
Along the way of course thousands of civilians and soldiers have been killed; tens of thousands more have been wounded, injured, maimed, orphaned and terrorised; the fragile Iraq nation has been pushed over the edge into near-anarchy; and close to 150,000 coalition troops have become bogged down in a frustrating, dangerous and contentious quagmire of indeterminate duration.
Significantly, hatred of the West in the Middle East and beyond has now been stirred up. Already Iraq has become a magnet for Jihadists, like what was the case during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s.
The irony of Iraq having now become part of the so-called War on Terror is of course simply staggering. After all, despite political manipulation to the contrary, Iraq was completely unrelated to the September 11 terrorist attacks, other than it being one of those misunderstood places that after 9/11 made many Americans feel angry and vulnerable; manipulation strikingly similar to how Howard has, for his own political purposes, leveraged off the anger and insecurity fuelled by the Bali tragedy.
The implications of the US's recklessness of course goes far beyond the immediate. Perhaps most worrying for me remains the way in which Bush's ill-considered adventurism is surely encouraging the further proliferation of WMD, especially in Syria, Iran and North Korea. After all, acquiring WMD is all that such countries can now strive for if they are to deter US aggression.
But enough picking on Bush for a moment, because just about every criticism of Bush can be applied to our own Howard. After all, he's the one tripping over himself to sign up to every half-arsed idea coming out of Washington. His decision to sign onto this crazy US scheme of boarding North Korean shipping by force is an especially memorable cracker. Shame it'll amount to acts of war by most sensible standards.
Mind you, Howard's latest nonsense pales in significance to the way in which he has obscenely distorted the broader Australia-US alliance relationship; so much so that current Australian foreign policy is hostage to the government's belief in supporting the US at any cost, normally now at the expense of the other pillars of Australian security, such as the UN and regional engagement. And this is dumb.
I'm a friend of the US and a supporter of a limited Australia-US alliance relationship. But the current relationship undermines our sovereignty by tying us too closely to the US's strategic interests; undercuts our democracy by shifting decision making from Canberra to Washington; risks our security by encouraging Australia to assume the reliability of US security guarantees; and risks our broader interests by encouraging the US to pre-suppose Australian subservience. The bottom line is that under Howard we've lost leverage with the US - we're not noticed, and when we are we're just taken for granted.
Not understood by Howard is that the friendship is best served by honest advice. So, not exploited by Howard will be the opportunity to act like a real friend and to tell Bush what he needs to hear: that it's time to acknowledge that the Iraq adventure is a political, foreign policy, humanitarian and military disaster; and that the time has come to swallow pride, admit mistakes, re-engage with the international community, start sorting out the mess and to pull back from all the other follies on the radar screen.
Now Saddam is a horrid man and Iraq should one day be a better place for his passing. But, that said, I object to the terrible way in which this matter has come about - I object to the way in which Bush and Howard ignored popular opinion in their determination to wage war. I object to how Bush and Howard have implicated us by association in their war crimes. And I object especially to how Bush and Howard routinely betrayed our trust during the months leading up to the conflict and have continued to do so ever since.
After all trust is a priceless commodity. But yet that never stopped Bush or Howard lying every time they needed to spin their case for war - remember they lied through their teeth every time they skewed, misrepresented, used selectively and fabricated their Iraq story; and they've been lying ever since as they've laboured mightily to justify the terrible mess they've made. Lies beget lies.
Of course the lies have turned out to be only the start of it, because the whiff of criminal behaviour now hangs over both the Bush and Howard administrations - in the US over the White House leaking secret information to discredit Joe Wilson, the man who exposed the Niger story as fraudulent; here the government is leaking of secret information in an attempt to discredit me. Amazingly, I'm still to be contacted by the AFP regarding this matter. I can only assume that the rule of law means nothing to Howard and some senior people in the AFP.
Priceless too is our democracy. But yet this week that same democracy will take a terrible flogging from the Howard government when our parliament is declared off-limits to ordinary Australians, when in the name of national security the right to assemble freely is removed, and when most politicians will stand as one and cheer in a mass of mindless, spineless mediocrity.
In closing, I encourage you all to remain committed to making the world a better place. You've been proven right over Iraq already, and you'll be proven right eventually for your stand on other issues. Yes, there are many things that annoy and exasperate us, not the least of which are Howard and Bush and their cronies. But remember; all governments fall eventually, and it's only a matter of time before the current ones find themselves also on the scrap heap facing the scrutiny of historians. All we've got to do is just try our hardest to speed up the process.
Yes, what an extraordinary year this has been so far. And it's still only October.
Andrew Wilkie is a senior Australian intelligence officer who recently resigned over the Australian government's manipulation of intelligence to justify joining the war in Iraq. This is his address to the rally to give George Bush the welcome to Australia he deserves, held on Sunday 19 October 2003 at Prince Alfred Park, Sydney.