The top commander of Australia's army at the height of the country's engagement in the Vietnam War warned Prime Minister John Howard against following the United States into another military quagmire in Iraq.
In a letter published in The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper Friday, retired
major general Alan Stretton criticized Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer
for indicating they would join a US-led bid to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein
even without UN approval for the campaign.
"Before Mr Howard and Mr Downer rush off to support the Americans in military action in Iraq, I hope they will recall the last occasion we gave military support to the USA without United Nations approval," Stretton wrote.
"This was Vietnam, where the involvement achieved nothing except the loss of more than 500 Australians, 58,000 Americans and more than a million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians," he said.
"If our reason for sending our Defense Force to Iraq is because Iraq has broken an agreement with the United Nations, then any involvement should not be undertaken without United Nations approval," he said.
Washington has come under increasing pressure, notably from allies in Europe and the Middle East, to obtain UN approval before launching any action against Iraq over its refusal to prove it is not developing weapons of mass destruction.
The Howard government has been one of US President George W. Bush's staunchest backers on the issue.
In the government's latest comments made Thursday, Defense Minister Robert Hill made no mention of any UN role in a decision to strike Baghdad.
He said only that Australia would want to see evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or links to terror groups for itself before joining a US attack.
"If Australia was asked to contribute to a campaign, we would want the parties asking us to make out the case," he said.
"In the same way as we would expect a convincing case to be made out, we would see a responsibility to present a convincing case to the Australian people."
Stretton's letter came after several former high-ranking US generals spoke out against unilateral US military action against Iraq.
These included Norman Schwarzkopf, who led US forces in the 1991 Gulf War against
Iraq, and retired Marine general Anthony Zinni, currently Washington's envoy on
the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
Copyright 2002 AFP