18 September 2003

The people should have answers

Howard said that Britain's JIC report was not handed to him or to any of his ministers. That was normal practice. Its findings had 'gone into the mix' of advice he got from his own officials. Again, that would be expected. He argued, correctly, that intelligence agencies make assessments and governments make decisions. Howard's language also implied that his judgments did not necessarily coincide with Australian intelligence assessments though he stressed that all his significant Iraq speeches were vetted by ONA 'for accuracy'.

The Australian people and their parliament deserve much more. They deserve answers to two questions. Did Australia's own agencies endorse or reject the British view? Was Howard's war decision consistent with advice from Australian intelligence or an independent judgment at variance with it?

The reality is that it will take some time yet before a considered view is possible about the overall merit of the Iraq war and its impact on terrorism. In the interim Howard has a convincing political argument - the world and Iraq are far better off with Hussein deposed and under Labor's policy he would still be in power. That remains a winning argument. But it cannot absolve Howard from a proper accounting of his decision-making.

As for Crean, he wrecked a good case. He won't let the evidence tell the story. He descended into hyperbole and bunkum about the British report showing that Howard had lied when taking us into Iraq. The man seems to think our PM must act only on the advice of British spooks. And this is Labor talking? Please.

While I do not agree that judgment on the Iraq venture as a whole is not yet possible, clearly Crean dropped the ball. The real question is Howard's judgment on the war and that judgment was wrong. The JIC report (which Howard cnanot have expected ever would be released) shows that Howard's judgment may be poor. Shifting the agrument to Howard's veracity just gets Labor into another parliamentary quagmire of Howard claiming he did not know or was not told.

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