6 March 2004

Gen. John Abizaid

JIM LEHRER: But what about U.S. military being subordinate to Iraqi civilian control? Is that going to happen in June and July?

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: No, I think when you see the approved language and the transitional administrative law, that it makes it very clear that a multinational force commander that has been provided under the provisions of U.N. Resolution 1511 will continue to conduct operational activity in Iraq, and that although there'll be a partnership with Iraqi units, I think to say that we would be subordinate to them is not correct.

JIM LEHRER: But that's going to... that doesn't concern you, this transition time?

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: Oh, the transition concerns me because as we move towards an important political event, it's clear to me that the terrorists and insurgents will move as hard as they can to disrupt this process. And not only do we have to set the conditions for the transition to be effective and legitimate in the eyes of the Iraqi people by the first of July, but then we have to continue to set the conditions for elections to be held as early as December possibly if that's what the politicians decide upon.

So, these political activities will create friction in and of themselves, and in this environment of friction there'll be additional violence.

Our forces will not be on the sidelines. They'll conduct operations with Iraqis. We'll try to include Iraqi officers in our staffs. We will do everything we can to empower Iraqi security forces to stand up on their own and operate where they can alone. But the truth of the matter is they'll need a lot of backing for some time until the new government, not only becomes legitimate, but becomes sovereign.

JIM LEHRER: And your troops wouldn't hesitate to step in between two warring factions if that developed, right? Is that what you're saying?

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: Our troops will do what they need to do to include stepping in between warring faction if that's what's required.

What is the difference between a sovereign, sovereign government and a legitimate sovereign government. (Some might say elections, but that's another story.) It's bad enough that alleged sovereignty will be transferred to a body wholly-owned and -operated by the CPA. Now we learn that the 'sovereign' government will no have a monopoly of forces within its own territory.

That is, to say the least, a most unusual definition of sovereignty. Agreement on the transitional constitution was announced and then the Shi'ite parties withdrew their support. Does the US really imagine that the occupation will continue indefinitely because they negotiate a security agreement with an unelected body? Especially if, as seems likely, Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani pronounces against it.

This is an exact repetition of the model of indrect rule used by the British in the 20s to create a monarchy whch then signed a security agreement allowing the Birtish to remain indefinitely. No Iraqi with a sense of history will find it acceptable. What happens to those that don't? Unscheduled trips to the Central African Republic? Or just:

Our troops will do what they need to do to include stepping in between warring faction if that's what's required.

The occupation appoints the IGC. The occupation then imposes a security agreement which limits sovereignty, before transferring said limited sovereignty to some body about which the Iraqis, as yet, know nothing. The occupation announced a constitution which, uniquely in the world, does not define how the legislative body is appointed.

All we're really seeing is an obsession with dates and the gutting of language so that 'sovereignty' means something less than sovereignty and 'constitution' means something less than a constitution. But they both make great sound-bites. Sadly they do little for security or democracy.

Insurer Warns of Global Warming Catastrophe

Losses to insurers from environmental events have risen exponentially over the past 30 years, and are expected to rise even more rapidly still, said Swiss Re climate expert Pamela Heck.

'Scientists tell us that certain extreme events are going to increase in intensity and frequency in the future,' Heck told Reuters by telephone. 'Climate change is very much in the mind of the insurance industry.'

Over the past century, the average global temperature has increased by 0.6 degrees Centigrade, the largest rise for the northern hemisphere in the past 1,000 years, Swiss Re said.

In the short- and medium-term, simply knowing that the planet is warming will allow society to adapt, for example, through infrastructure to cope with more-frequent floods or by instructing farmers to use drought-resistant cereals.

In other cases, governments need to restrict risk-taking, such as approving housing developments in low-lying areas, and improve catastrophe management capabilities.

In the long term, Swiss Re said, greenhouse gases widely thought to trigger global warming will need to be reduced, the use of fossil fuels cut and new energy technologies developed.

'The role of the insurance industry is through establishing risk adequate tariffs and to give the risk taker the opportunity to implement appropriate measures to reduce the chance of possible losses,' Heck said.

The global re-insurers have been getting more and more agitated over extreme weather events since the middle 90s. Apparently when the profit motive examines global warming in the harsh light of reality, it doe snot seem so dubious. The UN has reported that global warming is killing 150 000 a year. Why then is terrorism a priority?

3 March 2004


Nope, not a description of my politics, just a Marsblog that's really worth reading.

The deal

"We've got to get Osama bin Laden, and we know where he is," the former senior intelligence official said. Osama bin Laden is "communicating through sigint " - talking on satellite telephones and the like - "and his wings have been clipped. He's in his own Alamo in northern Pakistan. It's a natural progress - whittling down alternative locations and then targeting him. This is not, in theory, a 'Let's go and hope' kind of thing. They've seen what they think is him." But the former official added that there were reasons to be cautious about such reports, especially given that bin Laden hasn't been seen for so long. Bin Laden would stand out because of his height; he is six feet five. But the target area is adjacent to Swat Valley, which is populated by a tribe of exceptionally tall people.

Two former C.I.A. operatives with firsthand knowledge of the PakistanAfghanistan border areas said that the American assault, if it did take place, would confront enormous logistical problems. "It's impenetrable," said Robert Baer, who visited the Hindu Kush area in the early nineties, before he was assigned to lead the C.I.A.'s anti-Saddam operations in northern Iraq. "There are no roads, and you can't get armor up there. This is where Alexander the Great lost an entire division. The Russians didn't even bother to go up there. Everybody's got a gun. That area is worse than Iraq." Milton Bearden, who ran the C.I.A.'s operations in Afghanistan during the war with the Soviet Union, recounted, "I've been all through there. The Pashtun population in that belt has lived there longer than almost any other ethnic group has lived anywhere on earth." He said, "Our intelligence has got to be better than it's been. Anytime we go into something driven entirely by electoral politics, it doesn't work out."

The deal is what allowed Pakistan to get away with denouncing and then pardoning their chief nuclear scientist for proliferation technologies to (among others) Libya and Iran. Of course, there is zero possibility that the scientist was not acting under the direction of Pakistan's governmental and military authorities including the shocked (shocked, I tell you) Musharraf.

And who outed Pakistan? Libya had been seeking an opening to the West for years and had got nowhere. But now that there's a War on Terror and Libya is ready to finger Pakistan as source of much of its nuclear program? Hey presto, the War on Terror has another triumph.

That is partly true. If the Bush administration were not so desperate for electoral success they would not have accepted Libya's status as a new tetrarchate, nor would they have let Pakistan (another tetrarchate) get away with blaming everything on its scientist. But by doing both, the White House thinks it has a chance at bin Laden. And an October surprise. The lack of military planning and the disregard for area specialists mark this as a classic Bush machination.

The benefit is that Bush may get his October surprise. And the cost the world faces is just a little more nuclear proliferation.

Mars had enough water for life says NASA

Parts of Mars were once 'drenched' with so much water that life could easily have existed there, NASA says.

The robot explorer Opportunity has seen clear evidence of the main goal of Mars exploration -- that water once flowed or pooled on the Red Planet's surface.

'Opportunity has landed in an area of Mars where liquid water once drenched the surface,' NASA associate administrator Ed Weiler told a news conference on Tuesday. 'Moreover, this area would have been good habitable environment.'

That does not mean that evidence of life has been found -- but it suggests that life could have evolved on Mars just as it did on Earth, NASA said.


A super-charged hidden agenda

In his Intergenerational Report of 2002 [pdf] and again in last week's discussion paper, he estimated that, by 2041-42, the annual cost of the age pension bill will have grown by 1.7 per cent of GDP, which is equivalent to less than $14 billion in today's dollars. That increase - which will take 40 years to build up - is about half the average increase for OECD countries and just a bit over a quarter of the increase New Zealand and Canada are facing.

And don't forget that government spending on the dole and family payments and education will be falling as a percentage of GDP as spending on age pensions and aged care is rising.

So it's little wonder Costello in his printed persona refers to the expected growth in spending on age pensions as 'manageable'.

(If you have it in your mind that Costello's been on about a rise in government spending equivalent to as much as 5 per cent of GDP - about $40 billion a year - that's because he sexed up his figures by adding a factor that has nothing to do with ageing: the likelihood that, as we continue getting richer over the next 40 years, we'll devote a higher proportion of our income to taking advantage of advances in medical technology.)

But if the budgetary costs of the ageing population aren't all that frightening, what on earth is all the fuss about? I thought you'd never ask.

The fuss is about an alternative prime minister who is frantically casting about for some ideas to distinguish him from the Man of Steel. His delivery on this issue has, if anything, been feebler than his actual policy.

'Demography is Destiny!' What does that actually mean? Apart from telling us the Costello speechwriters have decided: 'Alliteration is Argument!'?

2 March 2004

Aristide | 'I was kidnapped' 'Tell the world it is a coup'

Multiple sources that just spoke with Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide told Democracy Now! that Aristide says he was 'kidnapped' and taken by force to the Central African Republic. Congressmember Maxine Waters said she received a call from Aristide at 9am EST. 'He's surrounded by military. It's like he is in jail, he said. He says he was kidnapped,' said Waters. She said he had been threatened by what he called US diplomats. According to Waters, the diplomats reportedly told the Haitian president that if he did not leave Haiti, paramilitary leader Guy Philippe would storm the palace and Aristide would be killed. According to Waters, Aristide was told by the US that they were withdrawing Aristide's US security.

TransAfrica founder and close Aristide family friend Randall Robinson also received a call from the Haitian president early this morning and confirmed Waters account. Robinson said that Aristide 'emphatically' denied that he had resigned. 'He did not resign,' he said. 'He was abducted by the United States in the commission of a coup.' Robinson says he spoke to Aristide on a cell phone that was smuggled to the Haitian president.

I hadn't realised the Aristide government was engaged in dozens of weapons mass destruction related activities.

Free trade deal negotiators in conflict

[Federal Trade Minister] MARK VAILE: I don't recall such advice. I read stories in the media that were generated out of the Senate Estimates questioning, but on the ground in Washington at the time I don't recall getting any of that sort of advice from officials.

Obviously, the Government had to assess the balance of what had been achieved against the balance of what we were expected to defend in terms of Australia's interests, and then make a decision. Whether we take that deal or whether we put it to one side and maybe wait for another 20 or 25 years to have an opportunity.

We decided to go ahead with it because we believed the benefits that were on offer overwhelmingly balanced up the issues that we had to protect.

GRAEME DOBELL: Is it true that twice in the last week in Washington Australia's trade negotiators, the technical people, told you that you would damage Australia's long-term agriculture objectives, damage Australia's long-term stand in the WTO and your leadership of the Cairns Group?

MARK VAILE: Oh, look, we had a whole range of discussions on a daily basis right throughout the fortnight that we were negotiating in Washington and, in those discussions - and I'll be quite honest, we had a range of discussions on what are the implications of making this decision or that decision - we took the view that the way we have structured this agreement we were not going to damage our reputation as the leader of the Cairns Group or as a lead advocate in agricultural trade liberalisation across the world.

Why can I feel another round of recrimination about what advice a minister received or recalls coming on?

USFTA | Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Legal scrubbing of the AUSFTA text is continuing. The full text of the Agreement will appear on this website as soon as it is available. We apologise for any inconvenience.

I emailed Foreign Affairs last week and asked why the delay. In their answer they say:

This is in fact record time for a treaty. Normally Australia doesnt release the text of treaties until after they have been signed. This one cant be signed until May at the earliest. Not everything that was agreed in negotiations was written down in final form. There are 1000-odd pages of text that have to be edited and doublechecked as to whether there is agreement on the language. So a special effort has gone into getting this process done in 3 weeks when it normally might take a couple of months. The text will be subject to final editing and polishing before it can be signed.

Baghdad on the Rio Grande

Hugh White, director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, writes:
Third, and in some ways most importantly, the Jull report makes clear that whole question of whether or not Iraq had WMD is itself only a small part of the logic chain that led the Government to decide to go to war.

The committee refers to the 'strategic analysis' that determines what policy conclusions are drawn from the intelligence, and argues that this becomes indistinguishable from the policy advice that ministers might have received from the policy departments - Foreign Affairs and Trade, Defence and Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The committee did not look into that advice, which is beyond its powers. Had they done so, I think they might have found a surprising thing: on the big questions, the policy departments had very little to say.

Did Iraq's WMD pose a threat to Australia directly, or to wider Australian interests? Were there other ways to address such threats? What would be the costs and consequences of invasion? On all these questions, my impression is that the policy departments were mute.

The Government had already made up its mind, and their opinion was not called for, nor offered. Is that how we want the system to operate?

Finally, the committee calls for a further inquiry, and the Government has agreed. If the new inquiry is limited to our intelligence on Iraq's WMD, then it will be a waste of time.

These are old, old problems. Dressing an old problem in the contemporary language of WMDs (leaving aside the WMD/CBW argument) does not solve the problem. In 1848 Abraham Lincoln told the US House of Representatives:

Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose. If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him,--"I see no probability of the British invading us"; but he will say to you, "Be silent: I see it, if you don't."

The use of secret intelligence in public argument gives the citizen and the opposition an impossible task. To every question raised the answer is: 'Be silent: I see it, if you don't.' The Mexican War that Lincoln opposed was not without unintended consequences, among them the US Civil War. We do not yet know the unintended consequences of the Iraq war.

The argument of our government before the war was about WMDs, and the threat of terrorists getting WMDs from Saddam. The government specifically disavowed the humanitarian argument. Human Rights Watch has pointed out that the way the war was fought is inconsistent with the humanitarian argument. The humanitarian argument, now the central justification of the Howard government, is being raised after, not before the war, and was dismissed as a casus belli in memorandum of advice on the use of force in Iraq.

Throughout this argument, the ability of the government to publish and quote from secret intelligence has given them the trump in every trick. The parliamentary committee found:

3.22 It is impossible for the Committee to judge how independent from undue external influence the agencies were in relation to their assessments. Logic would suggest that given the ratio of material from overseas that they relied on, it would be difficult to maintain much independence. In many respects their judgements were similar to and, particularly with ONA, followed the trend of events overseas. Both agencies asserted that they remained detached from the views of the partner agencies in the US and the UK and a number of the judgements of the Australian agencies differed in some aspects from their larger partner agencies. They were on the whole more moderate, more measured and more sceptical, especially the DIO. DIO put this down to Australians being 'more sceptical by nature' 23, but also to a determination to 'insist on reliable evidence for the judgements we make.'

If we're to avoid repeating the mistakes of Iraq, the opposition and minor parties should be given access (and the right to cite, but not quote) to the intelligence briefings received by government. That is British practice now and it should be Australian practice in the future. That would automatically check any possible use misuse of intelligence. We should also seriously consider if the Australian intelligence community has sufficient capacity to defend itself from overseas and governmental pressure, especially when the two converge. It would quiet the ancient command: 'Be silent: I see it, you don't'.

Popping perfect popcorn: Stove-top pops are better than nuked ones.

Even when optimized for the puffiest corn, microwave popping gave about 10% less expansion than a hot plate, the team found.

The problem, says Karababa, is that microwaves heat the corn very quickly. Although the hot oil around the kernel ensures that virtually every kernel explodes, it also stops starch molecules in the corn from stretching out properly as they pop.

The work adds to 50 years of popcorn research into the best type of corn, water content and popping temperatures to make the best product. The results should be of interest to commercial producers who buy unpopped corn by weight, but sell the popped product by volume; for them, bigger popcorn means bigger profits.

The recipes may make business people happy. But will they be kind on the consumers' arteries?

'Popcorn itself is not that bad for you,' says dietician Catherine Collins from the British Dietetic Association. It's the flavourings we heap on it that count against our hearts and waistline, she says. 'In this study, they do use a lot of butter - it's probably enough to double the calorie count.'

I've always suspected that nuke ovens were a capitalist plot against the popcorn-loving masses. Now, at last, confirmation!

Revealed: Attorney General changed his advice on legality of Iraq war

The [UK] Government continued to insist yesterday that it would not publish the Attorney General's full advice. But further court cases are pending in which lawyers are expected to mount a similar defence to Ms Gun's, and prosecution may be hampered if the advice remains secret.

Fourteen Greenpeace supporters face trial for a demonstration at a Southampton military base in February 2003, and five peace activists are charged with criminal damage at RAF Fairford. In all cases, the defence is expected to argue that, like Ms Gun, they were acting out of 'necessity', to prevent an illegal war.

A Labour peer today raised questions about the way in which the Attorney General came up with the advice he gave on the legality of war following reports it changed in the run-up to the conflict.

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC said the 'vast majority' of lawyers thought the conflict without a second UN resolution would be unlawful.

She said in a GMTV interview: 'The vast majority of lawyers were of one view.

'It was interesting that out of probably only two lawyers who would have argued for the legality of going to war, one of those was the person to whom the Attorney General turned.'

She added: 'I think the lesson from this is that actually law matters. Before you make those commitments to your friend or ally you have to talk about law because it is not some side issue. It is the way we have tried to civilise the world and we must not forget that.

The Howard government also published a memorandom of advice that closely mirrored what we know of the British attorney-general's conclusions. In light of these developments, and the criticism of the memorandum in Australia, the UK opinion would make most interesting reading.

WMD inquiry 1

The committee exonerates the government of sexing-up intelligence (although with qualifications):

5.20 The statements by the Prime Minister and Ministers are more strongly worded than most of the AIC judgements. This is in part because they quote directly from the findings of the British and American intelligence agencies. In particular, in the 4 February 2003 speech to the House of Representatives, the Prime Minister quoted the findings of Joint Intelligence Committee of the UK and the key judgements of the National Intelligence Estimate of the CIA. In both of these documents the uncertainties had been removed 36 and they relied heavily on the surge of new and largely untested intelligence, coming, in the US at least, from Iraqi defectors. 37 These dossiers comprised stronger, more emphatic statements than Australian agencies had been prepared to make. See paragraph 5.13 above for details of the statements. 38

The committee does not have the powers of the UK and US inquiries and saw only a selection of the Australian assessments of overseas intelligence. (Para 2.1) The Intelligence Services Act 2001 should be amended to give the committee the same powers as the UK Intelligence and Security Committee. The Australian committee has the same limitations about ministerial vetting but not the same right to see any and all papers. The Uk has the same intelligence-sharing arrangements with the US as Australia so arguments that the Australian intelligence agencies have obligations to their overseas counterparts do not hold water.

The parliamentary committee also found (boldface mine):

5.16 Therefore, the case made by the government was that Iraq possessed WMD in large quantities and posed a grave and unacceptable threat to the region and the world, particularly as there was a danger that Iraq?s WMD might be passed to terrorist organisations.

5.17 This is not the picture that emerges from an examination of all the assessments provided to the Committee by Australia?s two analytical agencies.

Claiming Saddam's alliance with al-Qaida would lead to terrorists acquiring MDs was a major part of the prime minister's advocacy for war. As Tom Allard writes:

We don't know exactly what the Australian intelligence agencies thought about this danger, but material from overseas spy services suggests this is where the case for war was most exaggerated. Moreover, this overseas intelligence was passed to Australian agencies and relayed to the Howard Government, albeit by way of summary.

Even before the war, the CIA warned publicly that the danger of WMD falling into terrorist hands would increase should the conflict take place.

After the conflict, a British parliamentary inquiry by its intelligence and security committee (ISC) revealed British intelligence services had the same concerns.

Britain's powerful joint intelligence committee (JIC) told the Blair Government that there was no intelligence that Iraq had supplied al-Qaeda with chemical or biological weapons.

The ISC then revealed "the JIC assessed that any collapse of the Iraqi regime would increase the risk of chemical and biological warfare technology or agents finding their way into the hands of terrorists, not necessarily al-Qaeda".

In addition, the JIC said the threat of terrorist activity - which it ranked as a greater danger to global security than Saddam Hussein - would actually increase after the war.

In an address to the nation on the eve of the war, Mr Howard said: "Far from our action in Iraq increasing the terrorist threat, it will, by stopping the spread of chemical and biological weapons, make it less likely that a devastating terrorist attack will be carried out against Australia."

Of course, on 14 March the Man of Steel also said:

Well I would have to accept that if Iraq had genuinely disarmed, I couldn't justify on its own a military invasion of Iraq to change the regime. I've never advocated that. Much in all as I despise the regime. But what I was really trying to say today and perhaps it has had some effect is that I get a bit tired of the humanitarian argument all being on the one side. It's about time that the humanitarian argument was put into a better balance and people understand what a monstrous regime we are dealing with.

All of this becomes even more tenuous in the absence of any actual WMDs. As far as I know the Man of Steel has never proclaimed the danger that terrorists might get hold of dozens of weapons of mass destruction related activities.

1 March 2004

Intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction

The joint parliamentary committee on security has just released its report. More later...

Iraq More Than Bush Bargained For

Very few Americans have noticed the irony and the humiliation of the Bush administration's seeking the help of the United Nations to pull our chestnuts out of the fire in Iraq. A year ago our swaggering, smirking president and our cocksure Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld embraced a unilateralist foreign policy. The United States was the only superpower. It could do whatever it wanted. It did not need the U.N., it did not need NATO, it did not need many of our former allies. We would clean up the mess in Iraq all by ourselves before Saddam Hussein created a mushroom cloud. Now the administration pleads with Kofi Annan to make a deal for us about Iraqi elections -- elections that will surely not produce the democratic Iraq we promised.

The U.N. might not be all that much, but it is the only international organization the world has, which the Bush administration now seems to admit. Among its many defects is the pretense of Franklin Roosevelt that France is a great power, which it was not in 1870 or 1914 or 1939. Yet every American president from 1945 on somehow managed to work with the U.N. to achieve this country's foreign policy goals. Bush, under the influence of the 'neocon' intellectuals, decided that such effort was unnecessary. Rumsfeld designed a plan that would ''take out'' Saddam quickly and almost painlessly. Now it turns out that the United States needs the help of the U.N. to extricate us from the quagmire we have created for ourselves. Alas, there is no Marshal von Falkenhayn around to tell the president that it's time to get out.

The Bush plan has failed in the same way that the Schlieffen plan failed. The prediction for a self-funding cakewalk is a year old and a year dead. Plans that depend on your opponents doing exactly what you want them to do tend to go that way.

29 February 2004

The U.S. Is Brewing Up a Disaster for the Kurds

The plan of L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. civilian administrator, will not fly, except perhaps in Arab Iraq. The reason is that Iraq is not one nation but at least two. Some Arabs on the U.S.-appointed Governing Council are making a deal with the Coalition Provisional Authority. Nothing surprising about that, but the deal would be at the expense of the Kurds and of Iraq's other nation, the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan. It would sacrifice secular principles, women's rights and meaningful federalism, so Americans should pay close attention to what is being done in their name.

The proposed Iraqi transitional administrative law is the 'Pachachi' draft. Quotation marks are needed because its authors - a nephew of Ahmed Chalabi, a Shiite Muslim, and an advisor to Adnan Pachachi, a Sunni and a member of the Governing Council - mostly transcribed, word for word, passages from Bremer's papers.

The draft is no home-grown interim constitution that can subsequently be blamed on the natives. It was composed via the White House - and betrays the promises made by President Bush to the Kurdish leaders who organized the sole indigenous military support for the liberation of Iraq.

The Pachachi draft would create a 'federation' far more centralized than what we have in the United States, reflected in its persistent use of 'central' to refer to the interim government. It would make federal law supreme in all matters the central government deems within its sphere. So much for states' rights. It would make Kurdistan a subordinate level of government - not a co-equal partner in a voluntary union. It would give the central government exclusive competence in security, military and defense matters (ignoring Kurdistan's determination to have its own national guard). The central government also would control natural resources and determine fiscal, monetary and wage policies. It would eliminate Kurdistan's judiciary and prevent separate judiciaries in the federation's units. Imagine California having no separate state judges.

I'm almost tempted to offer a prize for a political arrangement less likely to succeed. That may well be why the CPA is promoting it. We wouldn't , would we, want an effective and democratic government in Iraq. They might ask us to leave.

And, remember, that (except for Kurds and Shi'ites) no one can now doubt the word of America.

No Mr Blair, Iraq will not just go away

He needs to stop treating us like children, telling us to shut up and go to bed because in the morning Father Christmas will deliver a special present: a lovely big box with all the evidence of Iraq's WMD you could ever have wished for! And then all of Britain can play happy families again and Blair's long nightmare will be over.

Blair wanted this weekend in Inverness, and indeed Labour's gathering in Manchester next month, to be the springboard to a return to domestic politics. But that will remain blocked until he answers the question of whether or not Britain bugged the Security Council of the United Nations, bugged its secretary general, Kofi Annan, and bugged weapons inspectors and their chiefs. It no longer seems a matter of who we bugged, more a case of who we - and our US partners - didn't bug. And rather than admit these are serious matters requiring the convention of silence to be laid aside in favour of honest declarations, we are instead treated to the hideous spectacle of Blair pretending in his Inverness speech that there is nothing to answer, no problem.

The PM will, however, know he is trapped. He will know it is not enough to dismiss all of this as merely the work of an imagined alliance of Labour personnel happier to be in opposition than in government. His closest political chum, Peter Mandelson, started the current Downing Street paranoia programme against the Return of the Tory Bogeymen two weeks ago and Blair's Inverness address was almost word-for-word Mandelson. Again he treats us like children: vote Labour or prepare for the Tory bogeyman. What a basis for the right to a third term in office.

Why will we not shut up about the war? Because underlying everything in British politics is that we expect to be able to trust our leaders, and not be misled on the reasons for going to war. The majority opinion in Britain was against going to war, yet Blair said: "Trust me on Iraq". It was par excellence Blair's war, Blair's decision to back George W Bush, Blair's decision to make the casus belli Saddam's WMD and his 45-minute threat to British interests and troops. And it remains Blair's mistake. And until there is some admission that he got it wrong, some admission of political fallibility, the unanswered questions on Iraq will keep coming, perhaps all the way to the polling booths at the next general election. Blair and his people claim "ordinary people" are not interested in all this Iraq/WMD stuff. Maybe so, but they also do not like it when they are comprehensively misled or worse, lied to. Then they do care, and unless Blair wakes up to this, he will be punished at the next election. And he alone, no not the Tories, will be to blame for that outcome.

Should be required reading for the Man of Steel...

Whistle-blower tipped by Downing St mole

The collapse of the trial of GCHQ 'whistle-blower' Katharine Gun was caused by a tip-off to her defence team from within Tony Blair's government, it was claimed last night.

A source close to Gun's lawyers has told Scotland on Sunday that a government insider told them there were serious concerns within Blair's administration about the legal justification behind the decision to go to war.

Armed with this crucial information, the GCHQ translator's legal team planned to go into court and demand from the government highly sensitive documents on which the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, based his advice.

The case against Gun, accused of breaking the Official Secrets Act by leaking confidential war-related information to the press, was dropped suddenly without a full explanation at the Old Bailey last week.

The revelation that the case began to unfold after a leak from within Westminster follows claims by former Cabinet minister Clare Short that UK intelligence services had eavesdropped on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Last night, sources close to Gun's defence team claimed Goldsmith had been 'duped' by inaccurate intelligence information into giving the legal green light for the Iraq conflict.

Despite the growing storm, the government made it clear last night it would not make public the Attorney-General's advice on the legality of the war.

Why cannot the opnion be released? It cannot possible threaten any form of security except that of tenure in the prime minister's office.

No devil in the detail: Vaile

There would be no surprises in the fine print of the free trade deal with the United States, Federal Trade Minister Mark Vaile said today.

Mr Vaile said he expected the legal document to be available for scrutiny on Tuesday.

'We'll be releasing, hopefully on Tuesday, the legal text and a user's guide, so people can navigate their way through the text,' he told Channel 7's Sunday Sunrise program.

'But can I say this: there's been a lot of discussion and public debate over the last couple weeks since we agreed on the final outcome ... there's no devil in the detail in this.

'We've been publicly expressing exactly what's in the agreement.'

My reactions is to wait and see. After all, it'd be a tad surprising if the minister had told us the text is full of bombshells.

The protection paradox

U.S. (and British) nuclear planners responded to the Soviet deployment of a limited missile defense system with enormous firepower. The large number of nuclear weapons that were assigned to overwhelm the Soviet ABM system and the substantial technical efforts the U.S. undertook to defeat it provide chilling examples of the attention missile defense systems attract from hostile nuclear planners. It is a history that fundamentally contradicts the portrayal of missile defenses as non-offensive, threatening no one. Ballistic missile defense systems threaten secured retaliation, and for smaller powers, deterrence itself.

Missile defense systems also indirectly threaten populations. The Soviet ABM system was intended to protect Moscow against nuclear attacks, but rather than shielding the capital from nuclear peril, the system in fact had the opposite effect of attracting nuclear warheads. Many other facilities would have been targeted in addition to the ABM system, including political and military leadership targets. "We must have targeted Moscow with 400 weapons," a former Stratcom commander has stated. [49]

What is the relevance of this today? One could argue that all of this occurred during the Cold War, that U.S.-Soviet/Russian strategic competition is over, and that smaller nuclear powers do not have enough nuclear weapons to overwhelm missile defense systems. That may or may not be so. But at the superpower level, the action-reaction momentum seems to continue.

The United States apparently still targets the Moscow ABM system, and Russia appears to have begun adjusting its own forces to a future U.S. missile defense. The Bush administration's claim that its system will not be of concern to Russia may be true in a hypothetical Russian first-strike scenario with hundreds of missiles. But Russian planners are likely to be much more concerned with the effect on their surviving retaliatory capability after a hypothetical U.S. first strike has reduced the number of operational missiles. This will almost certainly drive new modernization efforts, newfound U.S.-Russian partnership or not.

For China, the situation is drastically different. The credibility of its nuclear retaliatory deterrent will be fundamentally challenged by a U.S. missile defense system. Ironically, the situation is similar to that in the late 1960s, when China was the "rogue" state used as the justification to build the first limited U.S. missile defense system. Back then, a system with 100 interceptors, the same capacity planned by the Bush administration today, was thought to be capable of reducing U.S. fatalities from a Chinese attack to "possibly zero, if the number [of Chinese missiles] does not reach 25." [50] China today has approximately 20 ICBMs capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

The NMD proposal is gravely destabilising. In 1968 the Soviets built a partial ABM system around Moscow. The US responded by altering its nuclear attack plans to overwhelm the ABM defences. Russia has already announced development of a new missile capable of passing the any US NMD system.

START II banned ABM systems because all they achieve is faster growth in attack systems. That was signed by the notorious appeaser and soft-on-communism George H W Bush. It was unilaterally abrogated by George W Bush. The US has not given reasons why NMD will not aggravate the arms race beyond the usual stuff about being exempt from history and rogue states. Russia has now announced a new missile which renders all missile-defense systems "useless." We should not be surprised. This is exactly how the US responded in 1968.

More on the rogue states argument later.

Australia should not join this system.

Mega wants running mate for knockout win

President Megawati Sukarnoputri, leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P), has hinted that she might get Golkar leader Akbar Tandjung to be her running mate in the upcoming presidential election.

Ms Megawati's aide Pramono Anung Wibowo said she was eyeing a quick finish to the election and, therefore, would need a running mate who could ensure a landslide win and no run-off election.

'Ibu is still contemplating her possible running mate, but she said she would like to secure the presidency in the first round of election,' Mr Pramono said on Thursday.

He added that Ms Megawati would take on a running mate only if the person could satisfy the wishes of her constituents.

The landmark direct presidential election will take place on July 5.

Only parties that get 3 per cent of the total number of votes in the April 5 legislative election are eligible to nominate candidates.

Unless one candidate wins more than 50 per cent in the July 5 ballot, a run-off vote would be held on Sept 20.

Just days after the Supreme Court overturned his corruption conviction, Mr Akbar, himself a presidential contender, floated the possibility of becoming Ms Megawati's running mate, much to the chagrin of his Golkar colleagues.

Yep, that other presidential election. The Indonesians have just abolished their electoral college, leaving the US the only nation with an indirectly-elected president. Previous presidents were elected by the Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat or MPR. Adulrahman Wajid was dismissed by the MPR and Megawati, his vice-president, succeeded him.

There are few certainties. Megawati will be the PDI-P candidate, as the party is essentially a personal vehicle. The next largest party, Golkar was a personal vehicle that mobilised state patronage to ensure Suharto was elected an re-elected on schedule. A number of Golkar politicians including Akbar Tanjung, the speaker and Wiranto (wanted by the Un on crimes against humanity charges in East Timor) want to run, but Golkar has not yet decided its candidate.

PDi-P and Golkar have about 25% of the electorate each, so a joint ticket would go into the election with a huge advantage. Ex-president Wahid is running as well, but has little chance.