Defenders of the Iraq war have been looking more and more isolated in the last week. First there was the US intelligence report pointing out that the war had played a role in increasing the threat from terrorism. Now comes Bob Woodward’s new book, State of Denial, portraying the US administration as “dysfunctional and faction-ridden” over the war.

There is nothing especially surprising in the Woodward book, but there are plenty of new (alleged) facts to round out the picture: that Condoleeza Rice and Laura Bush were among those urging the dismissal of defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld; that George Bush senior was worried and losing sleep over the Iraq war; and that Henry Kissinger, of all people, has become a regular adviser to president George W Bush.

And now comes a new Lowy Institute survey showing that huge majorities of Australians disagree with the government’s orthodoxy on the war: 91% “believe the war has damaged the United States’ reputation in the Muslim world”, 84% don’t believe it “has reduced the threat of terrorism”, and 85% “believe the experience in Iraq should make nations more cautious about using military force to deal with rogue states.”

All this is no more than the most basic common sense. But given that the war was a blunder as well as a crime, what happens next? As people on both sides have pointed out, it’s quite consistent to argue that the invasion was wrong but continued occupation is necessary – or vice versa.

There’s not much doubt about what the Iraqis want. An opinion poll released last week found 78% of Iraqis think the American presence on balance causes rather than prevents violence, and 71% think US troops should be withdrawn within a year. A state department survey in the major cities found similar results, with 65% of those in Baghdad calling for immediate withdrawal.

Those who want us to “stay and finish the job” would have more credibility if they started by admitting (as Matt Price advocates in today’s Australian) that the initial invasion was a ghastly mistake. Since, despite all the evidence, they still refuse to do so, the public is justified in ignoring anything they now have to say on the subject.

Peter Fray

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