On February 5, 2003, then-opposition leader Simon Crean made the following address to Parliament, in opposition to John Howard’s decision to send Australian troops to Iraq at America’s behest:
“The prime minister has made a great mistake in committing our troops [to Iraq] ahead of the UN. Labor does not support that decision. We do not support the deployment of Australian troops in advance of any UN authority … I believe that political leaders should always tell the truth. This is especially so when committing troops to war. The prime minister failed that test. He treated the Australian people like mugs and he continues to do so.”
In contrast, current Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is in lockstep with Tony Abbott over his decision to follow America to war in Iraq again, saying in a statement on the weekend:
“We don’t do so lightly … [But] Australia has a role to play in eradicating this evil, and we are reassured that our support is being provided at the request of, and in full co-ordination with, the Iraqi government.”
The Opposition Leader knows that, amid the sickening murders of Western journalists and aid workers by Islamic State, a refusal to endorse the mission would leave him open to being wedged on matters of national security. And he also knows Labor will not shoulder the blame when our latest ambitious foray into the Middle East inevitably turns sour and leads to a heightened security risk at home and abroad.
Politically, Shorten is taking the path of least resistance — which just serves to highlight how brave and principled the much maligned Crean’s stance was in 2003. Joining the war in 2003 was never in Australia’s national interest. Joining a war to address one of the direct results of that ill-fated war 11 years later is even less so. It is a pity Crean’s successor lacks the courage and wisdom he showed.