Tim Blair


New Criterion



Friday, March 14, 2003

The Labor opposition in Australia is fond of jumping on John Howard for his assertion that his Government has not decided to commit Australian forces to any attack on the Iraqi regime.

Howard asserts openly his belief that Saddam Hussein should be disarmed, by force if necessary, and has set up Australia's modest available force so that it could be part of a US-led attack if that proceeds, with or without UN Security Council endorsement.

In the meantime, Labor has downgraded its commitment to support a UN-endorsed enforcement action. Labor now says it will keep its options open.

Either this massive backslide has gone unattended by Australian journalists and our commentariat, or Uncle's noticing machinery has stopped working lately.

Here's Simon Crean, leader pro tem of the Australian Labor Party, and putative Prime Minister, speaking on 15 January 2003.

But if, in fact, the UN decides and determines on the evidence before it that Saddam Hussein is not complying with the UN resolution then, of course, it's up to the UN to determine what course of action should be pursued, and Australia should be prepared to support the United Nations. This is a clear-cut issue. We'll support the United Nations, but we won't support US-led unilateral action.

JOURNALIST: What happens in the case of a veto?

CREAN: That's the interesting caveat, and I think that that always has to be kept in mind. The UN could find itself in circumstances in which there is very strong support, based on the evidence that Saddam Hussein still has weapons, but a UN Security Council resolution can't be passed because one of the permanent members vetoes it. In those circumstances, I'm saying that we should consider those facts at the time. But the principal positions that should guide us is, only support for action authorised by the United Nations, not being supportive of US-led unilateral action.

Simple enough? Simon wants to support the spirit of the UN's decision on disarming Saddam, and he won't let some obstructionist government, not to mention Jacques Chirac, stop him from doing the right thing.

Now here's Simple Simon's more complicating foreign policy front-bencher, Kevin Rudd, speaking earlier this week.

KEVIN RUDD: Well, our policy has been clear-cut on this from the beginning.

You just know that when a pollie says that he's in the process of a double back-flip with triple pike.

If, for example, the Security Council adopts a clear-cut resolution which says there's no option other than to deal with Iraq, other than through article 42 of the charter, which deals with collective military action, then the Labor Party has said from the beginning we stand by the council.

But it depended on the type of resolution which the Council adopts

That is, Simple Simon's recherche foreign policy minder has taken back Simon's promise. A simple promise, unless you believe the UN is likely to say Saddam's WMD are now OK.

If you like the sight of a full-speed ahead reversal, here's some more of craven Kevin's smokescreen, through which the direction of his motion is still quite clear.

That is, will evidence emerge linking Iraq with events of September 11 or will there be sufficient evidence in terms of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capability and threat as would constitute a real and present danger to security?

Now, those two things would shape our view in terms of whether any unreasonable veto had been exercised.

But, as I said, our first premise, and Simon has said this repeatedly, lies in achieving a consensus of the Council, and the shape of that resolution, from our point of view, is critical in terms of what's done next on Iraq.

Due to the absence of a journalist in the room at the time of Rudd's slithering performance, he came out without a scrape. India-rubber man with a coating of grease.

Perhaps the ALP will smile on Biffer Balding's grab for more tax-money after all.

But it's not going to save Simon's leadership, if that's what you call his following of Rudd. And, unless the Iraq action turns into the mother of all stuff-ups, it won't put Rudd into government either.

And doesn't John Howard just look better and better by the day.