The Prime Minister isn’t relaxed and comfortable over Iraq – or election timing.

Surprise, surprise. We’re seeing John Howard mark the release of the Flood Report with the usual two-step – the who-knew-what-when obfuscation performed as robotically as the hokey-cokey.

There were overwhelming reasons for regime change in Iraq – but Flood states, once again, that the evidence used to support the ultimate causus belli, weapons of mass destruction, was “thin, ambiguous and incomplete”.

In other words, the final war finally justified on half-truths.

John Howard knew it when he front the 7:30 Report on Thursday night – but decided to create another half-truth to draw attention:

“The great claim being made against us was that we heavied the intelligence agencies and basically went to war based on a lie,” he said.

“Well that was never true and Flood has supported that.”

And why was he economical with the acualite on the other matter? “Intelligence is always an imprecise science.”

But then he got remarkably precise himself:

“This was not just a decision that I, you know, developed alone.

“Sure, I was the ultimate, I suppose, determinant of it, I accept that and I accept responsibility for the decision.

“If the Australian people judge me harshly for that, well, that is a price I pay, but I believed it at the time.

“We had a strong assessment from ONA.

“Did you ask me did I go through all of the hundreds of pages of intelligence?

“No.”

Unusually frank. And as the interview continued, the Prime Minister scarcely looked relaxed and comfortable. You can see it all at http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2004/s1159893.htm.

It’s the second recent, similar episode.

Have a look at his interview with Catherine McGrath from AM on Monday – http://www.pm.gov.au/news/interviews/Interview1002.html.

It was ostensibly about a minor matter – port security – but because the PM did it much more was canvassed.

Why didn’t he just wheel out the Transport or Customs Ministers? Is it because the PM himself is not feeling relaxed and comfortable about himself? Does he feel he has to be out there himself as the top guy because he incapable of making the most crucial decision he will have to face all year – choosing the election date.

John Howard should have gone for August 7. Full stop. He is prevaricating. And he seems to know it, too.

Somewhere in all of his former staffer Gerard Henderson’s writing on the Prime Minister, there is a fascinating insight into his decision making process – that Howard will firmly come down on one side of matter, then worry that he got it wrong.

Is this happening now?

Mark Latham had his moment of personal, public catharsis a fortnight ago. The polls aren’t brilliant, but if the vote stays firm in the marginals, if Labor can deliver on the policies and make the dollars and cents add up – and if he can keep a lid on his emotions (just wait till you read Craig McGregor’s Australian Son, kids) – he can make it to the lodge.

Meanwhile, his veteran opponent seems plagued with doubts.

All the pundits have declared that Howard is stringing out the poll date and stalling Latham because he wants to do him slowly.

But if he’s not feeling relaxed and comfortable, if he is filled with doubt, how will he perform on the campaign trail – during this phoney war and when the balloon finally goes up?

Christian Kerr can be contacted at christian @crikey.com.au

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