04 March 2023

Comments on the Iraq war, from 2003 onwards

 For many years I had a web hosting site with many different domain names for projects in many places. 

I am pasting here one page begun after the beginning of the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003.

Many of the old links will now not work. Thus disappears history. 

There are links to letters and speeches of mine regarding the Iraq war. The links in the text do not work.  The texts have been resurrected here


Responsibility for all comment here is taken by me, Dennis Argall
formerly Australian Ambassador to Chin


This page contains a body of writing I placed here in 2003-2004 criticising the commitment to the war in Iraq. Tragically every aspect of the Iraq situation has continued to deteriorate. Resort to violence has not worked.

It is not what we say we believe in but how we behave from day to day that shapes the world.


Australian commitment to this war
represents the single greatest error of strategic judgment
in the history of Australian government.

Nowra rally speech, Palm Sunday 2003

...we believe that what has been done in our names
is morally, politically and strategically wrong
Wollongong rally speech, 3 July 2004
pdf format here

In commenting on a joint statement critical of Australia's participation in the invasion of Iraq made on 8 August 2004 by 43 former senior defence force members and public servants, a National Party member of the Australian Parliament De-Anne Kelly said to the media:

I think we have to ask the question, these doddering daiquiri diplomats, would they have done any different?... The world has changed too from the comfort zone they lived in. We're now post-Bali, post-September 11, frankly they should keep their opinions to themselves.

Mr Warren Entsch, another National Party MP, said:

There's a lot of disgruntled old men there that would have certainly had an axe to grind against this Government and the Prime Minister in particular.

Prime Minister Howard said his critics must understand that the world has changed since the World Trade Centre attacks.

"Every single person who signed that statement had retired from service well before the 11th of September, 2001." Mr Howard says [media reported] many of the signatories are long-standing critics of the Government and what they are saying is not new.

Long ago, Martin Luther King said:

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

More recently, Norman Mailer said:

Fascism is more of a natural state than democracy. To assume blithely that we can export democracy into any country we choose can serve paradoxically to encourage more fascism at home and abroad. Democracy is a state of grace that is attained only by those countries who have a host of individuals not only ready to enjoy freedom but to undergo the heavy labor of maintaining it.

On 17 February 2003, in reply to the letter in which the PM sent us all fridge magnets with the national security hotline number, I had written to Prime Minister Howard saying: "... the single clearest thing evident to me is that an attack on Iraq won’t work."

On Palm Sunday, 13 April 2003, I said in a speech that:

It has been suggested by some that, because we are in a place with a significant number of service families, we should from loyalty fall in behind this commitment to war... However as citizens in a democratic country we have not just a RIGHT but an OBLIGATION to be vigilant - VIGILANT that the use of force - the sending of members of our armed forces to fight - only occur:
FIRSTLY - on the basis of wise judgment
SECOND - as a very last resort 
THIRDLY - to advance international security and reduce armed conflict, and
FOURTHLY – all that must be consistent with broad Australian national interests.
I put it to you that our going to war in Iraq has FAILED ALL FOUR of those tests.

I went on to say that: "Australian commitment to the Iraq war represents the single greatest error of strategic judgment in the history of Australian government" [13 April 2003 speech]

On 7 September 2003 I wrote to Foreign Minister Downer saying:

I have found no reason to alter that judgment [as to the single greatest error] ... I have become increasingly of the view... that it is in the nature of modern war that it tends, more than anything else - certainly it does not tend to ‘victory’ - to import into the righteous invading countries the problems you seek to eliminate by invading... Your assertion of effectiveness of violence in international policy drifts down to validate the use of violence by non-states in international affairs, and increasingly by individuals in national and sub-national affairs, and indeed, I suggest, in domestic life. We are dealing not just with a narrow national security issue but a large ethical dimension.

The August 2004 statement by the Gang of 43 was to state that "it is wrong and dangerous for our elected representatives to mislead the Australian people." The way in which the Prime Minister has distorted the issues was clear in a speech he gave on 19 May 2004. I commented on this in a letter to the Prime Minister next day.

Throughout the development of this writing in 2003-4 I had made comparison of the response to 9/11 with the outbreak of World War I, in 1914. I set this out more extensively in a speech in July 2004. I went on in that speech to make a number of proposals for a more constructive international policy.

All that relates to the Iraq war and the impossible 'War on Terror'. We have other sideshows, notably North Korea, which has become a justification for the Howard Government committing Australia to support the US strategic missile defence system. I commented on this on 28 February 2004.

So who listens? Here is the Prime Minister, on ABC Radio, 18 August 2004, regarding the matter of what a former defence officer told him about the 'children overboard':

"He can have any public servant he likes. I know who spoke to me and I know what they said when I spoke to them. "


Because the Iraq war is a tragedy without prospect of any early end and because we will continue to be confronted in the media by the costs in mainly young lives in the American forces and of those foreigners taken hostage, I draw your attention to this counter of deaths as a result of the war, a database established and maintained by a group in Britain: the basis of their calculations is there for study.

Data for civilian deaths in Afghanistan are elusive.
They do not seem part of the NATO repertoire.
NATO and allied defence force deaths are terrible numbers.
Regarding civilian numbers, try this search for recent information, and see links herehere and here.

The bitter shadows of all this killing,
entangled with problems in the world economy,
will last for generations.



At the tenth anniversary of our invasion of Iraq earlier this year, none of those who led us down that stupid, stupid street apologised. Perhaps we did not demand it. This decade has seen extraordinary change in technology that wraps around and absorbs people; very hard to get people out of self-preoccupation.

National insecurity and, I suggest, national pessimism and propensity to turn against democracy, suburban rage and resort to violence all seem to me to be causally related to decisions of our government and others to whack people because they know they are right and it is their right: which pretty adequately also defines gang warfare and domestic violence, on a big rise since 2003.

And more boneheads seem to want a wider war, or same war on new front in Syria. Israel's strategic desire to see moslem against moslem is working, more and more weapons will fall into unpredictable hands.

UPDATE, 6 December 2012:

Jitters now and who knows what just ahead: here comes the US Government's 'fiscal cliff'. Also this current link.

In 2013, the race of the allies to get out of Afghanistan without too many more casualties and evolution of clever explanations of a situation likely to implode, politically, ethnically, economically and in institutions proudly set up as symbols of a new Afghanistan. We leave behind destitution, bitterness, corpses, corruption and upheaval postponed.

War does not work, but we live in a strange world of continued genuflection to US military power, while the US economy and US government budget sink through crisis after crisis. Among the major factors in US government financial crisis is the cost of wars, so we display this information from costofwar.com.

Cost of War in Iraq

Cost of War in Afghanistan

The costs displayed are those to the US alone,
not total of NATO, Australia, etc.
References to community are to
communities in the United States.

See bottom of left column for war costs in deaths. The mayhem in the global economy, the overwhelming problems financing the US economy and the poison from the killing and destruction in these masterful wars will poison human progress for generations.

Do read some of the thoughts of Craig Murray former British ambassador.

And delve into the minutiae of how a corporation like Halliburton has guzzled money from war and will cease to do so... I suppose you move on, perhaps not least to coal seam gas wars.

UPDATE 2011: The end of American intervention. From the Huffington Post 18 December 2011, thus from mainstream despair... but why was it not evident a decade ago:

Arianna Huffington: Sunday Roundup
This week, the Pentagon marked the official end to the war in Iraq with a brief ceremony in a secure part of the Baghdad airport -- helicopters hovering protectively overhead. Although Defense Secretary Leon Panetta later declared that the cost paid by America was "worth it," a look at the price tag offers a more sobering assessment: 4,487 U.S. military personnel killed, over 2,000 U.S. government contractors killed, over 40,000 American troops wounded, over 100,000 Iraqis killed, at least 2 million Iraqis displaced from their homes, and a final tab that could ultimately reach $4 trillion doled out by U.S. taxpayers (a far cry from the $50 billion to $80 billion the Defense Department originally predicted it would cost). And beyond the cost in lives and treasure are the less quantifiable costs we'll be paying for years to come, including the strengthening of Iran and the weakening of America's moral standing in the world.

The same issue of the Huffington Post linked to a New York Times report about young veterans facing 30% unemployment.

As I look back at Australia over this decade, there is more to despair about... a decade of increased casual acceptance of violence not just in foreign policy perspective but also in daily life and in too many instances, domestic life. A shift to faith from thoughtfulness, faith in the virtue of personal belief, the cornerstone of irrational resort to violence. Watching the 2012 presidential campaign in the US shows the mayhem consequences to the extreme. This is a good place to follow it all.

We are leaving Iraq and Afghanistan ungovernable, Australia becomes less governable also... and the silence now of people before vocal, who should be very concerned about the decision to base US Marines in Darwin, is disturbing. Whatever the notional merits of that decision, where is the debate? The decision seems to derange some: an intelligent retired non-commissioned officer of the defence force asserted vehemently to me this week that the policy of this Labor government is to cut defence spending by opening all the bases in Western Australia to occupation by US forces.




Compare the cost of war with borrowing, note China's contribution, on same scale as cost of war. See this article on China pulling the plug. See how the Tea Party would close the tap.

Compare that cash flow to war with the G8 commitments to implement the Millenium Development Goals at Gleneagles 2005. (I've had to change the link - the UK government page no longer exists, like the commitments).

Don't hold your breath on implementation of all that... Read some of the writing of Stephen Lewis. Don't give up on Africa, don't give up seeking sane national policy.

Out there are many people like you and I who are searching for the right to restore a vocabulary of national interest and global decency not based on fear and hatred and wild generalisations about good guys and bad guys and fighting evil. Talk to each other. Start at home.



The new conventional wisdom is that we have to put Iraq behind and concentrate on Afghanistan because we should have done Afghanistan properly instead of Iraq. Thus speaks some new kind of virtue, really restatement of a 2003-2004 argument, never really convincing, needing fresh coherent review.

Instead it seems sort of an excuse for American withdrawal from Iraq (we may leave Iraq but don't doubt, we still can biff!) This is inadequate in any kind of reasoning and flies in the face of the realities of history, the nature of anti-insurgent war and the regional political realities.

The imperial dream of conquest in Afghanistan is not new, the British began to fail in 1839. It has been a well known principle in anti-insurgent warfare that the numbers of anti-insurgents have to be many times more than the insurgents, well ah, what the number is certainly was not clarified by Vietnam. And there is the key point that the ones you seek to kill may be much nicer people than those who replace them, something the Israelis don't get, but has been argued here regarding Afghanistan (well that's not the original link but relevant). The now not accessible article argued that command strategy in Afghanistan looks unlikely to work. There is no reason, in my view, why it should. It is a fool's errand, in a place foolish to invade, it is the wrong place to be most seriously concerned.

Pakistan's survival by non-military means, is the real issue. See herehere and here for opinions on why the new American Afghanistan strategy is not helpful for Pakistan. How inspiring it is to know that one international cricket star (first of those three 'here' links) can think about real matters. Thank you Imran, though the wikipedia contributors do not love you...

Well, those links on Pakistan are old, the devastation of Pakistan is now well down the track, and not to be understood through crappy conventional western mentality blurts from dark suited security wanks wonks.










Return to home page

11 February 2023

Update, raggedly.

 Much to say in a proper update if I could. Unfortunately all I can say, raggedly, is that you can find some more of my writing in recent weeks here:


04 January 2023

 I scribbled this for John Menadue's blog this morning. 

A feast of new reading 3. 

We just need a few tools and guide posts for what will be a lively ride in 2023.

In 2022 I offered a “feast of new reading” in two parts, here and here. 

With changes in the world the media landscape changes, with shifts in particular outlets and new outlets. 

I decided to write this having received the daily email this morning 4 January from Asia Times, headlining this essay from David Goldman:


David P Goldman is an astonishing modern Renaissance man. My understanding is that having made a fortune as a merchant banking shark before the 2008 crash, he retreated to Hong Kong and eventually bought out the Asia Times with an associate and in some contrition embarked on contrarian news. 

This new item, link also above, blows through many conventional and also critical, negative thinking about Israel. I do not agree with it all but it is essential reading on power variables in the Middle East. At the main page you will see the spread of interests and currently a half price (USD49 p.a.) subscription to the half of their writing which is not free. Above all else, watching Asia Times over recent years is watching the evolution of sensible thinking as seen from Hong Kong.

The South China Morning Post, to which I also subscribe, is the leading English language newspaper of Hong Kong. It is also a way to follow Hong Kong minds, seeing China from the minds of people in Hong Kong. It writes especially for expat and elite English speaking readership. I used to say scathingly that people in Hong Kong knew a lot about… Hong Kong, rather than China. I apply my social anthropologist sniffer dog approach to writing out of Hong Kong.

Recent in my radar is Asia Financial, a British-owned Hong Kong business providing astonishingly interesting daily news. I’ve never received an invitation to subscribe. A lot of it is, like financial news everywhere, full of minor particulars, but it provides a important real money perspectives, contrasting with the simplicities and ignorance of much reporting in Australia on the region. 

From inside China, my mainstays have become the Global Times, fairly widely known as a somewhat tabloid strident (Murdoch on Yangtze, but fact-based) voice of the party. Very valuable, for example as relayed recently in the Menadue blog... and the most valuable China resource, which I access on my iPad, the app of the State Council, also available on the web. The State Council is the cabinet. So the app and website has a main page of current news, click sideways for the state council’s business schedule and decisions, sideways again for the premier (prime minister), then sideways for more news, policy areas, services (especially for foreigners dealing with China. In the seas of media muck about China and hysterias about governments in Australia, I can just say… It would be really nice to have a fact-based access to government in Australia, in so coherent a format. 

In the reordering of the world that is underway, Multipolarista is important, with a base in Latin America. Please note that there is a link top right of that English language page for Espanol, which in fact reveals a different domain name and series of articles.




Chrome browser will offer an English translation. 

There are large and important changes occurring in Latin America, notably with the election of President Lula in Brazil. Prospects too, for evolution of formal structures between reforming countries in Latin America, including UNASUR.  But relatively small changes that add up. I recall in Beijing our astonishment in 1984, suddenly to be able to buy fresh bananas, multiplied astonishment to hear that this happened because the foreign minister of Ecuador had quietly lamented to the Foreign Minister of China that there was a trade imbalance. And now, as if it were out of the blue, the American Tiger as the Chinese once called them, wakes up and discovers that there will be a free trade agreement between Ecuador and China, just one of several in the region. 

This is not one hegemon trying to replace another, it is multipolarity. See this thoughtful piece today in Asia Times:


There continue to be US supported or directed projects to overthrow any government in Latin America not wedded to US business first. 

I surf YouTube for new voices. There are now more radical news sources out of India, some of which really deserve the Bill Hayden expression, the ‘basilisk eye’, often triumphant in declarations about international headline subjects that venture ahead of fact… but to see the playground of speculative writing is good. 

Others, such as Hindustan Times, generously, for my tired old eyes, read through articles from European media that I might not see elsewhere. (The print editions of the Hindustan Times have a total circulation of about one million, New York Times about a third of that.) The ferocious interest in the real world is far beyond the small-townerie of the ABC and the seemingly perpetual summer silly season of The Guardian Australia.

The most valuable voice I have found on YouTube is of the Singapore financial advisor Sean Foo. Serious stuff, for example this on European desire to confiscate Russian assets:


apart from the content quality, there’s no mucking about, it’s straight in… 

And so I will leave you with enough to go on with, wishing you an exciting new year. We just need a few tools and guide posts for what will be a lively ride.

03 January 2023

Just to bring you up to date

 World news as seen by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation at this moment.


More movement in the Middle East.

 In the middle of 2022 President Biden went to Saudi Arabia with some demands or petitions among which notably that Saudi Arabia increase oil production. Several months later, OPEC+, the 1970s oil producers plus Russia, decided on a cut in oil production. Then Chinese President Xi visited Saudi Arabia, receiving panoply welcome not given to Biden, and joined a summit meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

 And Saudi Arabia seems keen to join BRICS. But President Lula is not President Bolsonaro. Non interference in other countries, tolerance of other countries, will be tested. See the character of President Lula’s inauguration. 


Meanwhile there is a rapid shift in the situation between Turkey and Syria, overseen by Russia. This is valuable background 


Bhadrakumar is a retired Indian ambassador.  More than that he is from Kerala, the most tolerant Indian state, with the highest literacy rate and women’s literacy rate in India, where they don’t vote for Modi’s party. 

At his blog see also this on the development of Russia-Iran relations and transport systems  


Iran wants to join the SCO and BRICS.  The world is changing … but don’t expect Saudi Arabia to be happy about such warming relations with Iran. The Saudis may want to turn away from the dollar but divisions from Iran are both strategic and religious.  With Trump and his son in law and the Abraham Accords https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Accords  the Saudis traded off a lot in giving space for Israel among Arabs  … and for this to happen, after they have softened their support for Palestine. 


On Palestine see the Electronic Intifada  https://electronicintifada.net/

For the history of intifada start here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intifada

02 January 2023

A useful analysis of the US defence budget


There is a wrinkle in understanding US budget passage through the system. First there is an authorisation bill and then an appropriation bill. I think, I think, the authorisation bill was passed months ago, the appropriation bill just now. But when people refer to the NDAA and it’s appropriation or authorisation, in my depth of acronym management, I just say, it’s done, it will sadly, be done, and the money will be borrowed or printed. And fundamental social needs neglected. 

I mention in that context that China continues to sell US treasury paper, down 10% in the past year, approximately, from a trillion to nine hundred billion. They need the money at home but are also mindful of pressures on the dollar and of Russia’s experience of the fate of its funds in the US. And Afghanistan’s. Confiscated. 

China is also now involved in a bigger game. Sean Foo in Singapore is worth listening to:


We don’t think about west Africa much, but Australian mining countries are quietly there.

 Here is a view from the other side, the Russian side..


24 December 2022

My essay remains popular

 Still standing as of this morning among the five most read articles at John Menadue’s blog is this of mine published a week ago. 


And in the maelstrom of news and opinion, it’s good to go back a whole week and see that I wrote something that makes sense  

22 December 2022

Two big explanations: on AUKUSmadness and woke

 This paper by Richard Tanter is the most important paper in a generation on Australia’s strategic dilemma, in its presentation of facts about Australia’s embedment in US defence systems for war. Recommend it to your offsprung. But keep in mind the deeply flawed American inspired blindness, in castigating Putin going to war, to the illegal, horrendous and wicked war conduct of Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden in the Middle East … and Australian participation in all that. Also, he’s over the top on Russia and Ukraine, fed on a Washington diet  


Second, the word woke crept up on me like a cliché from the deepest crevices down the page in the Guardian app.  Caitlin sorts it out. 


And one more important link, from sensible Laura Tingle: The future is now, and dire predictions are coming true


21 December 2022

Fifty years of relations with Beijing.

 Nice to share the top of the page at John Menadue's blog this morning with an excellent editorial from Global Times. My essay is here.

an end of year wander into international understanding and music

 Having been preoccupied by international politics this year, I have always in the back of my mind: "what was it, how was it easy, where did it go" — the broad, possible communications between people who are different.

Terrorism and the politics and wars of antiterrorism have shriveled our hearts. pandemic closed our doors, minds, horizons. Edginess now rules in the hunt for beauty. 

From a time in the night, recent hours, I have been diverted into music. Not sure how. Much of this is new to me. It's a mind-wander into the question of connections between people in a time of havoc. There is no other way forward.

I found something special in Yoyo Ma's Silk Road projects. In this introduction to the documentary The Music of Strangers Yoyo Ma says in his modest way "I'm always wondering how I fit in the world... which is something I share with several billion people."

Twenty years ago Smithsonian Magazine wrote about early years of Yoyo Ma's fascination with the Silk Road, historical connection not just for goods but also art and music, before the European renaissance, before Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus and the wonders and tyrannies made possible by ships.

In 2018 Ma undertook a global tour of performances of Bach suites, to explore from his personal perspective how culture connects us. A glimpse:

The history of the Bach suites for cello is also about rediscovery of lost culture

Some may prefer Yoyo Ma with James Taylor and George Harrison's Here Comes the Sun.

Receiving a Christmas email from Debbie and Doug Townsend, Doug a friend for sixty years and former Australian Ambassador to Kazakhstan, I then stumble across the Silk Road Ensemble and this love song sung across the Kazakh-China border.

Wandering through the YouTube offerings of the Silk Road Ensemble I come upon a performance of a Japanese song Omoide by Rhiannon Giddons, also someone new to me.

This is a very familiar tune being the intro tune to Netflix's Midnight Diner, an addiction for us.  So then I find this Australian blogger Peter's glorious background to Omoide. Deep down on that page find his discover that the origins of Omoide seem to be in Ireland...  A Pretty Girl Milking her Cow sung in a movie Judy Garland, brought into English by Thomas Moore. It's all at Peter's page, with more. This is Peter's blog, about life in international understanding.

It's 7am, day dawns. Time to address the immediacies, exit my expensive wonderful recliner, struggle to my electric wheelchair, go and deal with my incontinence in the toilet with indispensable Japanese bidet. Be respectable for family.

But I wanted first to share these 4am discoveries with you. 

My point is that, not least amid political shouting and spear shaking, the future belongs to shared culture, mind, loss of fear of difference, between people. It should not be as hard as it has become, we have to find the mindspace.

When I presented my credentials as ambassador to China to President Li Xiannian in 1984, I startled him a little by telling him that in Hong Kong, before travelling to Beijing, we had been guests at dinner with a Chinese family, Hong Kong residents, all Australian citizens except the affable patriarch at the top of the table who was a member of the Chinese Peoples Political Consultative Committee. And I said to him that the future of our relations as two countries depended on the connections between our peoples. This remains so.