Australia's invasion of Iraq was the most puzzling and contentious military adventure on which the country has ever embarked. It began as a deeply unpopular war, prosecuted by a prime minister, John Howard, disregarding popular opinion.
It was also an alarming war, because it seemed to show that Australia accepted the United States' newfound belief in pre-emptive military attacks.And it was perhaps the worst justified war in Australia's history, not only because it was against Australia's interests, but because the reasons given for it were false. It was, first and last, Howard's War. The war was won, of course - but at tremendous cost. The governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia seemed to get what they wanted out of invading Iraq, and not to care about the human or financial cost, or the damage it did to their credibility. But what did we, the people, get? Globally, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 set a bad precedent and a dangerous gambit contrary to international law, which permits armed self-defense only in response to force or the threat of force by another country. As well, the coalition for war against Iraq destroyed the confidence-building measures the world had worked on in the 1980s-1990s, factionalized the United Nations Security Council, and scorned international aspirations for global disarmament and regional engagement, the war removed Iraq's dictator. But it did nothing to reform Iraqi politics, to resolve the dispute between Israel and Palestine, to contain international terrorism, or to reduce global movements of refugees. The coalition's success in Iraq made the world no more secure. Iraq was never a threat to Australia, directly or indirectly. Far from being Australia's enemy, it was a significant trading partner, a secular if autocratic Muslim state with modernizing aspirations - even though it was led by a notorious tyrant.