The former opinion editor of The Australian (and no doubt author of numerous editorials in The Oz at the time) has made his position on the Iraq war, George W Bush and neo-Conservative foreign policy very clear. In The Oz today, Tom Switzer reminds his readers that he is “someone who strongly opposed the war from the outset … long believed the Iraq invasion was unnecessary”. Switzer disputes any link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, refers to the “incompetence” of former Prez Dubya and has a go at “the neo-conservative architects of this misbegotten venture”. He reminds us also that “democracy was not an export commodity”.

I needed Tom’s reminder. Like many who kept a vomit bag handy whilst reading The Australian at the time, I remember The Oz editorial and op-ed sections doing little more than accusing war critics of lacking patriotism. Switzer edited a page and wrote editorials singing lyrics written by Bush, Blair and our own Dubya, John W Howard.

I know many conservatives disagreed on Bush’s foreign policy adventures. From Pat Buchanan to Owen Harries, prominent non-neo-Con conservatives objected not only to war in Iraq but indeed the entire fiasco of torture, murder, mayhem and lawlessness packaged as the “War on Terror”.

But can the man who brought Janet Albrechtsen to the national stage now honestly claim he was never a neo-Con after all? Is Switzer changing his tone in line with a new American administration, to shore up his position at the United States Study Centre at Sydney Uni? Can Switzer really legitimately claim to be a critic of the Iraq debacle?

Yes, he can.

As far back as May 2003, Switzer opposed the Iraquagmire in a book review for Quadrant. Switzer lamented the almost near-absence of anti-war sentiment among Australian conservatives when compared to their UK and US counterparts. In a Quadrant article in December ’05, Switzer and Neil Clark argued that conservatives down under “have practically wanted the Australian Army to serve as the American Foreign Legion”. They argued the Iraq war was a profoundly unconservative war.

Now Switzer and other conservatives must acknowledge the Iraq war was part of a wider war on common sense, world peace, the rule of law and democratic values. Yes, two jets did hit the Twin Towers. Yes, bombs went off in Madrid, Bali, London etc. But did that make some “War on Terror” necessary?

There’s no point opposing the Iraq war if you still support all the nonsense associated with it. Nonsense like Guantanamo, like extraordinary rendition, like some crazed theory of the world being divided along neat cultural lines.

Conservatives like Switzer need to acknowledge that the so-called war on terror, not just its Iraqi component, may have had some good consequences and may have been well-intentioned. But by and large, it has been an unmitigated disaster.

Peter Fray

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