Saturday, December 23, 2006




Politicians always say they don't rely on polls. Except for the ones that make them sit up and scream in horror.

A poll like this one that reveals 70% of Australians don't think going to War on Iraq was worth it.

A poll that reveals more half of all Australians want the government to announce an exit date.

A poll that reveals only 21% think going to War on Iraq was a good idea and that the vast majority don't believe Iraq will be anything close to stable in the next few years.

The majority of Australians were opposed to the 'War On Iraq' in early 2003.

Once the war began, support went up, and climbed again following the deceptively quick overthrow and routing of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party.

The poll today tells the story of a country steadily losing faith in its political, and war-time, leader, and the decisions he has made since the successful Iraqi elections provided an exit for Australian troops, with most missions accomplished.

Of course, Australian prime minister, John Howard, decided Australian troops had to stay in Iraq after elections.

One of the greatest mysteries in Australia at the moment is exactly what our 700 or so soldiers are actually doing in Iraq. They're protecting embassy officials and escorting corporate clients, and training up the Iraqi police and army, for the most part, but there has been minimal effort from the government's propaganda wing to market the ongoing war in the Australian media, and thereby in the minds of Australians.

Australian troops have been involved in countless clashes with insurgents. There have been a few deaths, the most infamous being that of Jake Kovko, who apparently shot himself by accident, and whose corpse was lost, was misplaced for days, as the Howard government furiously tried to spin its way clear of the fallout. Something they failed to do.

But does a lack of keeping the Australians role in the war front and centre really explain such horrendously low levels of support the war?

Just how deep an impact was made in the public mind by former SAS Iraq war planner Peter Tinley's revelations that no-one he worked with in pre-war planning in the United States took the Saddam Has WMD Threat seriously, and that the resulting war had been a moral and strategic blunder?

It's hard to tell. But Tinley's revelations were featured prominently in the Australian media in the weeks before the poll was taken.

John Howard knew such unease amongst Australians over Iraq was a harsh reality on December 8, when he timidly announced (as though forced to) that the Iraq War had not gone according to plan, and that "certainly things in Iraq are going very badly."

But neither the impact of Tinley's revelations and Howard's dawning reality-check fully explains why 70% of Australians don't think the Iraq War is worth fighting, and the vast majority now demand to know exactly when Howard plans to "bring the troops home."

It has been the steady thudding of terrorist attacks almost every night on the news which has induced a sense of helplessness and regret about the war. We think about all those terrorist attacks, and how virtually all of them have happened in Iraq, where we have deployed at least one-fifth of our fighting forces in the past three years, resulting in many hundreds of young Australians suffering depression, PTSD, traumatic injuries.

It has also been the rapidly increasing association of the name "Howard" with the words "corruption" "lies" "deception" in the headline news, radio talk back and double page spreads.

And it has been the vast awakening of Australians to the truth about why their country launched an unprovoked attack on Baghdad, and then an illegal invasion and occupation.

Nobody likes to feel that someone they trust has done the dirty on them, particularly not Australians.

The internet has certainly played its part in that education process. But so have the scandals directly involving Howard's near faultless use of 'plausible deniability' to cover his "I don't recall" and "I don't know" answers to important questions.

And it was the same for the AWB bribery scandal involving $300 million paid to Saddam Hussein as it was for Howard's astounding ignorance of key Australian intelligence reports about the lack of evidence for WMDs in Iraq before the war actually began.

So, to a large extent, the prime minister himself has aided in educating Australians as to the truth about the War on Iraq by the enormous amount of media time devoted to scandals either directly, or indirectly, involving him.

The prime minister has had to answer too many uncomfortable questions this year about Iraq, WMDs, bribing Saddam, the disappearance of Jake Kovko's body, Australia's relationship with the US and the 'War On Terror' in general, for all that defensiveness from Howard not to have impacted negatively with the public.

Clearly it now has.

When it came to yet more revelations about the illusions of why Australian went to war on Iraq and how the body of an Australian soldier could get lost, for days, Howard usually adopted a near pitiful, pathetic pouting face, as though journalists were being cruel asking him some tough questions.

And, surprisingly, Howard turns out to be a shockingly bad liar when cornered, particularly over Iraq.

Finally, there has been a slew of American books about the failings of the Iraq War, the chaos in the White House and how Bush Co. manufactured WMD evidence to order released in Australia this year.

From 'The One Percent Doctrine' to 'Fiasco' to Bob Woodward's 'State Of Denial', these books have received enormous publicity, and their extracts and revelations have filled front pages and featured heavily in weekend supplements.

Information and imagery derived of the steady flow of books, articles, documentaries and key interviews with dissenting ex-Bush Co. officials, generals, intelligence experts and soldiers (most of all this media coming directly from the US) have frequently book-ended news reports on appalling terror attacks in Iraq, and the inability of Iraq's government to get their country under control.

All that information - the AWB revelations, the lack of WMDs, mass media exposures of the deceptions that led to the war, the endless terror unleashed by the 'War On Terror' - adds up to a monumental re-education from The Facts As They're Known in late 2002 and early 2003.

There was a lot to unlearn in order to accept this New Reality, and it took time.

But now the questions to talk back radio, to letters to the editor, to comments and chat boards on the internet, on what the prime minister's true motivations for going to War on Iraq actually were, are coming thick and fast.

Unfortunately for the prime minister, there are dozens of possibilities up for public discussions as to why Howard followed the US president into a war that was clearly illegal, unprovoked and unnecessary.

So many questions. Did it have something to do with the AWB scandal? Was it really just about Iraq's oil? Does Howard do everything Bush tells him to? Is the Iraq War a lead in to an Iran war? Is John Howard yet another NeoCon?

It is all but impossible to imagine a change in Iraq before the 2007 elections are held that could turn the public's opinion back to overwhelmingly positive for Howard, and the resulting holocaust of a war he helped to make a reality.

Howard has now announced he will commit no more troops to the Iraq War, which would seem to confirm rumours that the prime minister will "bring the troops home" by June-July 2007, just in time for the federal election.

But even this move - giving the public what it wants, making it feel like it had a big say in the fact that Australians troops had been brought home from Iraq - would not placate Australians.

The Iraq War is likely to still remain a deadly mess when the elections are held, and they will wonder if Howard only brought the troops home to win the election.

The War on Iraq has made Australians particularly cynical about their prime minister, and a shamefully high number of people now believe their leader lies to them on a regular basis.

Perhaps worse, they accept it as fact, as something to expect, that their prime minister would treat them this way.

How could such a loss of faith, such a widespread recognition of duplicity and deceit, do anything but turn the Australian people against their prime minister, and the War on Iraq that he simply had to have?

More numbers from the poll :

In October this year, 68% of Australians didn't think it was worth going to War on Iraq. The figure now is 71%.

In February, 2004, 40 percent of Australians thought it was worth going to War on Iraq. Now only 21% believe the War on Iraq was worth it.

In October, only 37% of Australians wanted the prime minister to announce a firm, decisive date for when Australian troops would leave Iraq. Now 47% of Australian want John Howard to make this decision, and make it publicly.

Nearly half of Howard's supporters want an exit date to be announced.

In October, 65% of Australians believed it was unlikely Iraq would be made stable in the next few years. Now that number is up to 69%

Two-thirds of Australians still believe that they are more likely to suffer a terrorist attack because of Howard's decision to go to War on Iraq.

May 2003 : Australian Foreign Minister Had To Warn BHP To Back Off From Plans To Claim Key Iraq Oil Field

Australians In Brutal Fight With Iraq Insurgents, Five Killed

Then And Now - John Howard On The Iraq War

Top SAS Major Says Iraq War "Helped Out Terrorists"

How John Howard Broke A "Moral Contract" With Australian Soldiers