5 February 2004

Howard dogged by Iraq intelligence doubts

KERRY O'BRIEN: It was about whether he had enough of an arsenal to present a clear and present danger.

JOHN HOWARD: I'm sorry, Kerry.

The argument was about whether in the light of the evidence of Iraq's non-compliance with successive UN resolutions, the correct course of action was the action taken by the coalition or whether we should further persevere with further UN processes.

There was no argument at the time about the existence of WMD.

The debate was whether the UN process should be further utilised rather than taking military action.

KERRY O'BRIEN: In other words, whether the weapons inspectors, under the UN's auspices, should be allowed to continue searching?

JOHN HOWARD: Kerry, that is an argument about process, not about existence.

I am not absolutely convinced that 'Process, not existence!' will fly as a campaign slogan. I am also not clear how it excuses Howard from at least examining the evidence (the evidence he is now beginning, ever so quietly, to gently tiptoe away from) to find out whether it was correct.

I am also very, very unsure that mere belief in WMDs is a sufficient case for war, as opposed to believing in WMDs which actually constitute a clear and present danger. As always, Howard takes a more extreme position on this than Blair and Bush and offers less justification.

There was argument about the existence of WMDs. Hans Blix told the Security Council on 19 March:

Another matter - and one of great significance - is that many proscribed weapons and items are not accounted for. To take an example, a document, which Iraq provided, suggested to us that some 1,000 tonnes of chemical agent were "unaccounted for". One must not jump to the conclusion that they exist. However, that possibility is also not excluded. If they exist, they should be presented for destruction. If they do not exist, credible evidence to that effect should be presented.

We are fully aware that many governmental intelligence organizations are convinced and assert that proscribed weapons, items and programmes continue to exist. The US Secretary of State presented material in support of this conclusion. Governments have many sources of information that are not available to inspectors. Inspectors, for their part, must base their reports only on evidence, which they can, themselves, examine and present publicly. Without evidence, confidence cannot arise.

It's really quite a long way from Howard's claim of 'no argument' to 'without evidence, no confidence can exist.' There is mounting evidence that gives confidence that UNMOVIC's tentative view was correct.

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