Prime Minister John Howard meets President Bush, 10 September 2001
by Dee McLachlan
It is time for Australians to have a fresh think about 9-11 and its effect on our nation. This article introduces Gumshoe’s series of analyses, in anticipation of the fifteenth anniversary of that famous event. September 11, 2016 is only 6 weeks away.
In this initial article I look at how our prime minister became such an ardent and unquestioning supporter for the war in Afghanistan, then Iraq. This was only the start. We now know there was a memo in the Pentagon that had outlined the destruction of seven countries.
Howard was deeply affected by 9-11, because he was physically present in the capital of the US when it happened. He could see the Pentagon attack from his hotel window. And from that moment he was easy pickings and became a pawn for those planning the war of terror – or so I argue below.
The rationale for that (first) war, you may recall, was to hunt down Osama bin Laden, hiding in a cave.
Getting Friends Involved
To wage war you need to draw in your allied leaders.
It was clear early on that Prime Minister Tony Blair would happily follow the US to war. During a joint press conference at Camp David in February 2001, President Bush and Blair both warn Iraq, and Bush warns of a new era:
“…we need to think differently about the post-Cold War era… that there are new threats that face people who love freedom. …There’s the threat of potential blackmail when one of the nations develops weapons of mass destruction…”
And as Christopher Meyer, British ambassador to the U.S., 1997-2003, put it:
“…Blair and Bush had had a series of meetings. The relationship was warming up nicely as we went along. Sept. 11 was the great accelerator in that relationship.
“Britain had been consecrated as the closest ally, and Blair and Bush were, if you like, two leaders in harness, together with whoever else was going to join them to slay the dragon of international terrorism. …”
So let’s ask: when and how did John Howard become part of the war-making team?
The Prime Minister of Australia
For the first half of John Howard’s prime ministership, relations with America had not been that cosy. Howard’s government rejected an offer to negotiate a bilateral free trade pact in 1997. There were differences over global warming; a US ban on Australian lamb; and US–Australian relations over East Timor were tense.
And when John Howard visited Washington in 1999 all he got was a 20-minute chat with President Clinton.
Well all that was to change. He was to be invited to the “event.”
2001 happened to be the 50th anniversary of the ANZUS treaty — which used to be the main alliance-forming document of the US and Australia. For that anniversary, John Howard gave a speech at a reception in the Sydney Opera House. Here’s a quote from his speech, dated May 30, 2001:
“…The ANZUS Treaty is of fundamental importance to both our countries and the goodwill and mutual support implicit within it will never be taken for granted… I myself expect to have the opportunity of seeing President Bush in Washington early in September…
“All of us desire only peace, and it’s our hope that never again will it be necessary for young Australians such as Frank Milne, or young Americans such as Joseph Paul, to give their lives in the defence of freedom.” (full speech)
Washington then scheduled Howard’s trip to the US for a further ceremony regarding the 50th anniversary of the (rarely mentioned) ANZUS treaty. So, lo and behold, John Howard was in Washington on 9th September 2001 to participate in the other part of the ANZUS fifty-year celebration.
Michael Thawley, Australia’s ambassador to the US, had organised (or had he?) an Aussie Sunday barbecue on the 9th for the PM to meet and greet the “President’s men.” The Vice President, Dick Cheney; the Secretary of State, Colin Powell; and the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld were all there.
On September 10 – imagine, the eve of the great calamity — Howard met Bush for the first time. They spent four hours together, and Howard had lunch at the White House. As Howard later said:
“We didn’t talk about terrorism. Nobody knew this terrible event was just around the corner.”
Actually Washington certainly did know it was coming. But I assume they did not let Howard know about it.
While Rumsfeld was announcing the missing $2.3 Trillion at a press conference elsewhere, Bush and Howard attended a ceremony at the Naval dockyards.
Bush and Howard, 10 September, 2001
Howard was scheduled to address a joint sitting of Congress two days later, on the 12th.
But on the 11th, while he was speaking to reporters at his hotel, the first tower was hit. In an article entitled “Australia’s Howard a surprise 9-11 witness,” Howard recalls:
“While we were doing the news conference, the third plane, Flight 77, drove into the Pentagon. We pulled back the curtains and we saw the smoke rising… . We knew then, beyond any argument, that this was a concerted terrorist attack on the United States.”
The remainder of Howard’s US program was of course scuttled. Still, on the 12th, Howard and his party did attend the US House of Representatives while it conducted an emergency debate on the tragedy. He was the only visitor in the gallery and was given a standing ovation from the lawmakers for his gesture of support.
By this time the mainstream media and Washington had rolled out the “Osama bin Laden myth.” Could Howard have held any doubts as to its legitimacy?
Howard also attended a memorial service regarding the 9-11 disaster, at the National Cathedral in Washington. He spoke to Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan on the phone about the market implications of the attacks.
A deeply shaken Howard said:
“I was there… and having been there I experienced, I absorbed, the sense of disbelief and dismay.”
Robert Manne wrote in The Monthly:
“On 12 September Howard flew back to Australia with Schieffer on Air Force Two, the Vice President’s aircraft, which had been made available to him. After a telephone conversation with his Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, while ‘high above the Pacific Ocean’, as he later put it lyrically, Howard informed Schieffer that, for the first time in 50 years, the ANZUS Treaty would be invoked. …
“According to the US National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice, Australia ‘clamoured’, as it turned out successfully, to be invited to participate in the invasion force….”
John Howard had been a witness to the event. There is a strong possibility that he was purposefully invited.
In later parts of this series I will look at how other members of the Australian government got involved in the road to war in the Middle East, and how the mainstream media refuse to question the official conspiracy.
Adapted photos by Stephen Jaffe and Tina Hager (Navel Yards).