Former Prime Minister John Howard believes there were “no lies”, only “errors of intelligence” in the background of his decision to invade Iraq in the 2003 war.
He told the Seven Network today he was “embarrassed” when he learned there were in fact no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and denied that Isis grew out of the invasion.
“It’s very, very hard to find a situation where advice is beyond doubt,” Mr. Howard said this afternoon in a press conference with Sky News.
“Sometimes if you wait, you can end up with very disastrous consequences. There were errors in intelligence, but there were no lies.”
Mr Howard’s statement comes in response to the Chilcot inquiry, published overnight, which covers the political decisions made in the lead-up to the intervention and military action of the Iraq war by Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Mr Howard disagrees with the report, stating that “context was everything”.
“The Chilcot report imposes a standard of beyond doubt,” he said.
“When you’re dealing with intelligence it’s very, very hard to find a situation where advice is beyond doubt. Sometimes if you wait for advice that is beyond doubt you can end up with very disastrous consequences.”
“I believe the decision to go into Iraq was justified at the time,” he said.
Mr Bush called Mr Howard on March 18 to make the formal request for Australia to participate in a future military intervention in Iraq.
“I vividly remember George ringing me in September of 2002,” Mr Howard recalled.
“I was in Queensland in the liberal party convention and he said ‘I’m thinking of going back to the security council for another resolution,’ and I said ‘Yes, that is a good idea’.”
Following the phone call, Mr Howard held a cabinet meeting ahead of a live national television broadcast. In that broadcast, he announced Australia’s decision to commit troops to any US-led coalition to disarm Iraq.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was in the party room before that announcement was made.
She responded to the report today, saying that the Australian government took “full responsibility” for its decision to back the US-led 2003 war on Iraq.
“It was based on information, the best information that we had at the time,” she told Seven this morning.
“I was in the party room. I recall very well the information that was presented to us.”
When drawn to the point put forward by Chilcot that France or Russia would eventually become involved in the war, Mr Howard was adamant.
“The French or the Russians or the Germans weren’t going to agree,” he argued. “That was my judgment. Anyone can say I was wrong, but that was the basis on which I reached my decision.”
Indeed, he told Mr Bush in the phone call at the time, he “wasn’t very hopeful” of this ever happening.
He said Mr Bush agreed with him on the matter.
Former Australian chief of army Professor Leahy said Australia had “very little say” in what happened.
He believes many decisions made then led to much of the chaos nowadays, the Australian has reported.
He also warned that Australia needed to be wary of “blindly” following international partners.
“Frankly, some of the decisions the United States, our senior partner in our strategic alliance, have made over the last 20 or 30 years have been a bit crook,” he told ABC TV this morning.
When asked whether the process of going to war should be changed today, Mr Howard responded that he was “happy to see debate about the process now.”
“But I’m not Prime Minster anymore,” he pointed out. “I’m here because I was Prime Minster when those events occurred.”
Mr Howard laughed down the idea of putting the power of going to war into non-government hands.
“You want to hand everything over to unelected bodies?” he responded to the journalist. “That’s why the British voted to leave the European Union.”
Independent member Andrew Wilkie resigned from the Office of National Assessments in protest over the Australian Government’s decision to join in the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
He was the only serving intelligence official in the US, UK or Australia to dispute the official explanation for the war before the invasion.
“The evidence is in and it’s clearer than ever,” he said today.
“John Howard took Australia to war on the basis of a lie and stands accused of war crimes.”
“Frankly the blood of the Australians killed in the 2005 Bali bombing, and in the Lindt Cafe siege and elsewhere, is on their hands,” he said.
Mr Howard described tying these events to the Iraq war as “irrational”.