Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Forgive me, I was wrong about the justification for invading Iraq

By Tom Frame - posted Friday, 25 June 2004

As the only Anglican bishop to have publicly endorsed the Australian government's case for war, I now concede that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction. It did not pose a threat to either its nearer neighbours or the United States and its allies. It did not host or give material support to al-Qa'ida or other terrorist groups.

But did the Australian government and the Australian Defence Force really believe that Iraq possessed WMD and would employ them in support of its national interests? Definitely. Were intelligence assessments of Iraq's WMD arsenal and its ability to mount military operations exaggerated and inaccurate? Certainly. But in the absence of any clear mitigation, there is no alternative to concluding that the March 2003 invasion was neither just nor necessary.

Let me be clear on two points: I am not saying the war failed to produce any positive outcomes - happily, the Ba'athist regime of Saddam Hussein has gone - nor that it cannot be explained in constructive political terms - the shift to democracy in Baghdad is most welcome. My judgement is simply that the war cannot be reconciled with just war principles.


Is this of concern? Yes. The relationship of trust that needs to exist between the government and the people for a healthy democracy to exist may have been damaged by what must be regarded as an unnecessary pre-emptive military strike.

As we ponder the invasion and occupation of Iraq, three important observations can be made.

First, there is a continuing need for better systems for arbitrating international disputes. When the "coalition of the willing" invaded Iraq, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked: "If we are going to make preventive action, or war, part of our response to these new threats, what are the rules? Who decides? Under what circumstances? Did what happened in Iraq constitute an exception? A precedent others can exploit? What are the rules?" These are good questions that cannot go unanswered.

In my view, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was right to propose "a standing commission on security within the UN structures, incorporating legal and other professionals, capable of taking expert evidence, which could advise on these questions and recommend UN intervention when necessary - instead of complete reliance on the present Security Council framework". Reform of the UN must continue.

Second, there must be sombre recognition of the complexities associated with armed intervention. While the overthrow of a despotic regime might be quickly achieved, rebuilding countries with a poisoned political culture takes considerably longer.

The use of military force is very much subordinate to a larger political solution in places such as Iraq. This is because the root causes of disorder and violence are varied and profound. They include the availability of guns and drugs, and the prevalence of racism and sexism together with the dissipation of the family. These are factors that diminish respect for human life.


If there is a pervasive cause, it would appear to be poverty. The UN has rightly engaged in a "war on poverty" where the protagonists are the poor who attempt to steal from the poorer.

The weapons of war are not bullets and bombs but humanitarian aid, and direct economic relief and assistance. Armed intervention is time-consuming and expensive if genuine political and economic progress is to be made. This must not be forgotten.

Third, attempts to rebuild civil society are certainly impeded if the invading army or the occupying force fails to uphold certain standards of behaviour. Although soldiers are not routinely trained to be prison warders or civil police, they know what constitutes acceptable conduct in an operational zone.

The calculated humiliation of Iraqi inmates at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad over the past six months has damaged the Bush Administration's attempts to portray the US Army as a liberating force. What is worse, men and women from a nation claiming to be civilised have shown they are just as capable of the barbarism that characterised Saddam's Baathist regime. These acts retard political and social progress and perpetuate the cycles of recrimination and violence that interventions are intended to break. Occupying forces must do better.

On March 18 last year - two days before the war began - I addressed students in the United Faculty of Theology at Melbourne University. In reply to the question: "Is the proposed war against Iraq just, or just another war?" I said: "We are, as yet, unable to say with complete confidence. The final determination cannot be made until we are acquainted with the information now known by the government, when we have seen the extent of the WMD that the 'coalition of the willing' alleges Iraq maintains, and when the full human cost of war has been calculated." I am now able to answer that question: it was just another war.

Looking back on the events of the past 18 months I continue to seek God's forgiveness for my complicity in creating a world in which this sort of action was ever considered by anyone to be necessary. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

Article edited by Tania Andrusiak.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

This article was originally published in The Age on June 18, 2004.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Dr Tom Frame, a former naval officer, is Anglican Bishop to the Australian Defence Force.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Tom Frame
Related Links
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams
Department of Defence
United Faculty of Theology, Melbourne University
Photo of Tom Frame
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy