Crikey’s most wide-ranging anonymous contributor JF Smith writes:
“What are the media doing? Is it just that Odd Ball Latham has the run
at the moment and they have no capacity to deal with more than one
issue?

Yesterday John Howard said, no doubt in a rare moment of truth, that
the decision to commit this country to war was based on intelligence,
in the main received from the US and Britain, subject to independent
analysis (by Australian agencies) but NOT subject to independent
corroboration.

That is, Australia was committed to war on the basis of what the US and
UK fed him without his seeking to confirm, in any way, the validity of
that information through our own agencies.

Tony Blair is no doubt concerned, in spite of the Hutton inquiry, that
the “intelligence” supplied by the US was perhaps not subject to
adequate independent confirmation by Britain’s intelligence agencies.
So should John Howard be.

But to actually come out and say it, and then to have little if any media jump on it, is remarkable.

Despite the nuances being fed to the media pack internationally by
President Bush and others (which have now been emphasised, courtesy of
the recently resigned head of the Iraqi investigation team suggesting
that the intelligence agencies owe Bush an explanation) to the effect
that the next inquiry needs to be into intelligence operations, the
established dictum “the buck stops here” still applies. Or should.

Regardless of the delight in seeing Saddam removed, the prime reason
for going to war was the threat of WMD’s. Now that none have been found
Bush, Rice, Blair and Howard are trying to shift it onto the
intelligence agencies. (Too bad they just didn’t come out and say they
were going to exercise unilateral action against that lunatic Saddam.
Might be a difficult sell but it is at least up front.)

Howard, that master weasel, has put his foot in it well and truly.
Journalists should be hounding him as to why Australian intelligence
agencies did not seek independent confirmation of the intelligence
supplied to our nation by the US and UK.

Further, if the information was to be used to go to war on why was it
not a mandatory requirement for independent confirmation to be
requested by Cabinet?

The PM will no doubt try hard to pin this failing on the intelligence
agencies. From what is apparent of their capabilities he may be right
in that they screwed up. But at the end of the day the buck must stop
with him. In this instance he failed to require the intelligence
process be run its requisite course.

This may have been sloppiness on the part of the agencies, for which
they must be censured. It is inexcusable on the part of the PM and
Cabinet and, given the stakes, requires a resignation.

Howard slips at last

Well yes Alexander, he would still be raping and murdering (your
comment on Saddam Hussein) if he was still there. As a foreign minister
you certainly have a sense of the obvious.

But we all know that. We all appreciate that. And we all appreciate the
fact that Saddam is no longer. And, if the Iraqi people can defeat
those swine that are hell-bent on murder and mayhem in the interim then
perhaps that country can achieve its full potential. It certainly
deserves to.

But your rationalisation is a disgrace. What a fine example of a politician you are.

Look, we know that for some time you were not a big fan of John Howard,
that you were quite worried early on about the longevity of the present
government and had enquired as to work off-shore (London and HK wasn’t
it?). But, while you’ve decidedly moved closer to the PM for a variety
of reasons, especially in order to ensure your own security, there is
no need to back him to the extent that you attempt to defend the
indefensible.

Most right thinking people have no problem with Saddam being ousted.
And frankly, if it has set a doctrine of pre-emptive action then many
people probably have, in terms of the real world, no great issue with
that either. Yet, anyway. So, by all means nail Mugabe, deal with that
idiot in North Korea, take care of the evolving threat in some of the
central Asian states, secure energy reserves, encircle China, control
Japanese energy access…..etc, etc. So far it has at least brought about
a rethink, apparently, by Qaddaffi (of all people!).  Who knows,
we may get lucky.

But, regardless of the positive outcomes from the Iraq war, no matter
how hard you or any other spin merchant tries, the primary motive for
moving in on Saddam, at the time, was the issue of WMD’s. Period.

Well, they aren’t there. So either you and others conspired to lie in
order to achieve a geopolitical outcome or the intel agencies screwed
up big time. If the first, you’re going to get found out. If the second
then ultimately you and the Cabinet are still responsible even though
you’re all trying your hardest to pin it on the intel chiefs (who are
as dumb as they look and deserve a kicking anyway but not necessarily
on this issue per se.)

It would have been a terrifically hard sell if the US/UK had decided to
simply effect a new doctrine of pre-emptive action in order to secure
geopolitical outcomes deemed useful. Imagine the moaning in the streets
and the whining of the various oppositions and human rights types
around the place. God, what a drag that would have been. So
exaggerating the WMD thing may have been a handy thing to do in order
to set up the pretext and context to advocate and establish that
doctrine.

But even if Bush, Powell, Rice, Blair, Howard and others (doesn’t sound
right saying Howard in that list does it? Still in short pants if you
know what I mean. Anyway….) were absolutely genuine in their belief
that Saddam had WMD’s, that he was an immediate threat (especially
given the suggested al-Qaeda link – also since questioned) and that he
needed to be removed, the ultimate responsibility for a failure of
intelligence falls to the PM and Cabinet or appropriate minister. In
this case, as it was a war decision, it was the responsibility of the
PM and Cabinet, jointly.

You can defend John Howard by saying he was genuine in his belief that
the WMD issue was an issue. You cannot defend him by rationalising away
his responsibility in the face of apparently inadequate or inept
intelligence. You would of course never try to rationalise the PM’s
stance if in fact it was a knowing exaggeration or fabrication would
you? That would just be silly and nobody thinks you are that close.

What really stinks Alexander is just the rank hypocrisy. It stinks that
we in the West were very chummy with Saddam for so long and, while its
great that he’s gone, it still stinks because somehow we were misled.
And it really stinks that you are trying to just rationalise that all
away. It stinks so much that I’d even have to consider sticking it to
you and the PM and vote for that idiot Labor crowd.

But in the meantime perhaps you can explain why you, and the PM, did
not seek independent corroboration of intelligence received from the US
and UK before committing this country to war. Or would it really throw
the cat amongst the pigeons if in fact that opportunity had been
offered by at least one agency in Canberra in February 2003, only to
have it rejected by PM&C? And then subsequently offered again in
briefings in March 2003?

 ====================================

What about Andrew Wilke?

A subscriber writes:

Dear Crikey…

I very much appreciated the JF Smith article “Howard blames the yanks
and poms” yesterday – I have been wondering for some time when Mr Howard
would be questioned over his dud WMD intelligence.

However, I was surprised that JF Smith did not mention Andrew Wilkie’s
name. Ever since our great leaders, Bush, Blair and Howard admitted that
their intelligence may have been wrong I have been waiting for Mr Wilke
to reappear on the front pages of our newspapers under the banner “I
TOLD YOU SO”.

You will of course remember that Mr Wilke, a senior intelligence analyst
at the ONA, resigned in March 2003 whilst making serious allegations
that Canberra’s intelligence provided no justification for war. If I
recall correctly he flatly rejected Mr Howard’s and indeed Bush &
Blair’s reasoning for war, stating that Iraq posed no imminent threat,
and that Saddam Hussein had no solid links with Al Qaeda.

If our Prime Minister had, as JF Smith put it, committed Australia to a
war “on the basis of what the US and UK fed him without his seeking to
confirm, in any way, the validity of that information through our own
agencies” surely he should have been somewhat alarmed when Mr Wilke
resigned and went public?

Surely an honorable man would now stand up, take responsibilty and fall
on his sword which, back in March 2003, he was happy to wave about as he
shipped our soldiers off to war?

Naturally an honourable man would, but whether Mr Howard does is yet to
be seen!

Kindest regards…

Robert

Peter Fray

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