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.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003
When you're the greatest journalist in the cosmos, kindergarten principles like the presumption of innocence carry no weight. Especially when there's an opportunity to niggle at Australia's military capacity in the Middle East.

On tonight's 7.30 Report, Kerry O'Brien and reporter Mark Bannerman take up the grievance of a female naval officer against a medical naval reservist now serving in the gulf.

The Officer's complaint has been taken to the Western Australian medical regulator, which will look into the matter in its own good time.

In the meantime, the Navy, being in possession, as it believes, of the details of the Officer's complaint, decides that, pending the Board's determination, they have no grounds to judge the doctor unfit for duty. He goes off to serve his country.

That means you have decided that he's innocent, Kerry accuses the Navy's Rear Admiral for flak-catching. You've pre-empted the Medical tribunal.

Outrageous, Kerry, just outrageous. Time for an egoectomy.

(Transcript not available at time of posting).

STRANGE SERVICE THIS. According to his own comment reported on Auntie's 7.00 pm TV news service tonight, but not recorded on its Website, former intelligence analyst Andrew Wilkie resigned so close to his appearance on the 7.30 Report last night that he had just come from an ONA briefing on Iraq before going to the studio.

But he was talking to journalist Laurie Oakes of The Bulletin days before that, since the news was in print in the Bulletin as he resigned.

Did his superior officers know of his pending defection? If not, they were deceived. If so, they were negligent.

According to his own account to Oakes, Wilkie was intending to hold his job while running a political campaign against the Government, but chose a more "honorable" course at the last moment.

Of course, Mr Wilkie would never reveal any confidential government information to the public. But by remaining in his job he does lead the slavering media pack to believe that his views are based on full and up-to-the-minute information, and that he is qualified to tell us what ONA's advice to the Government has been.

We haven't seen anything to prove that there is a link between [Iraq and al Quaeda] he tells us, implying he is privy to all, and that he reports the views of ONA.

Stranger and stranger.

Wilkie may be suffering the post-retirement crisis that some military officers go through when they flunk the test for senior promotion. For that he deserves our sympathy. As for the rest, ONA will need to address its employment policies.

MEDIA MANAGEMENT is clearly an obligation for any modern democratic government trying to deal with those difficult issues for which governments are really needed.

Want to see a good demonstration of this point? And of how limited the success of even the best spin-meisters?


British Prime Minister Tony Blair confronted with a survivor of the Bali bombing whose pacifism is as passionate as it is thoughtless; "I tried to say: will your conscience allow you to bring death to thousands of innocent Iraqis? Will your conscience allow you to bring more death and destruction on innocent people?" she said. "The women, one of whom for example had lost her only son on September 11, were very articulate and very passionate and Tony Blair didn't have a chance. There was nothing he could say."



Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein represented on Australia's national broadcaster by the views of his flunkeys and terrorised citizenry, without explanation of the circumstances the Iraqis face or the limitations the "journalists" face. On ABC television our intrepid reporter, not showing the Iraqi goons chaperoning him, takes a vox pop from a uniformed member of the Iraqi military. A radio reporter on this morning's AM takes his vox pop from a Saddam-supporting rack-renting landlord in Saddam city. The Shias of this poverty-stricken burg will be the first under the treads of Saddam's tanks if they raise a finger in protest.

Gruesome, isn't it?

ONE STEP FORWARD, NOW BACKWARD WALTZ, has become the standard routine for commercial blogger Crikey.

Having naively endorsed Monday's Four Corners, Crikey now publishes an appraisal that means, in effect, Crikey is so ignorant of the foreign policy debate that nothing it says can be taken seriously.

Crikey's anonymous critic of 4C might be less charitable about Jonathan Holmes's contribution to the jihad if he knew that the version pre-deployed by Frontline, 4C's ideological soul-mate in the US, was so much better.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003
THE 4 CORNERS last night was arguably the most substantial contribution an Australian outlet has made to a global debate for many years. It will be interesting to see whether it gets picked up and shown elsewhere. This remarkable prescience (see below) from Crikey's newsletter.


Can you believe it? Not one day after Auntie's flagship current affairs programme, Four Corners, does a job on the politics of the White House's foreign policy, along comes Frontline, the PBS equivalent, and copies the whole idea.

Not only do they pinch Jonathan Holmes's idea, the do it all at lightning speed.

Same talents - Wolfie, Perle, Rummie - afflicting the Presidential earhole.

Despite their minute lead-time, PBS managed to find some journalistic heavyweights to lead their line for them. Holmes had to make do with some fringe-dwelling nobody called Jim Lobe, whose name will never again grace our screens, buttressed by a selection of the think-tank denizens heavily biassed to the Democrat side.

Frontline went one step further and actually encompassed the part played in policy-making by the "moderates" like Powell and Cheney. Come to think of it, how could you do the story without them?

What Frontline makes clear, and Four Corners obscures, is the way the continuing duplicity of France and Germany made nonsense of the Powell UN strategy. The hawks' assessment is shown to have been right on the money.

That won't excuse those Yankee thieves.

I trust Biffer Balding has crafted a strong protest to PBS.

(SBS's Website hasn't heard of this broadcast, transmitted 8.30pm March 11th. But you can find out about it here. Hang on, they say Frontline was broadcast in the US on February 20th. That would mean they were spying on Holmes. Bastards.)

MOMENTITIS claims another victim in the person of ex-Office of National Assessments staffer, Andrew Wilkie. Andrew got so excited by the approach of war in Iraq that he just could not sit still in his chair.

Andrew's chair, by the way, was not in the Iraq, or middle-east, sections of the ONA, which provides background papers for Australian governments.

Andrew's field is refugees.

Still, that's close enough to government to get him great coverage, locally and overseas.

Andrew could no longer endorse government policy by maintaining his presence in the next corridor to the Iraq section of ONA, which is several steps removed from government policy. You can imagine the burden on his conscience.

Andrew has, he assured Kerry O'Brien of the 7.30 report, absolutely no political point to make. And Kerry took that at face value.

Kerry is the greatest journalist in the universe, and can read that kind of thing in a person's face, even over an interstate link-up.

It is largely superfluous to examine Andrew's reasoning, but it won't take us long.

Andrew thinks that Saddam has WMD. He also thinks that the war to unseat him will be brief. But Saddam prefers scorched-earth to defeat and could use his WMDs to cause numerous Iraqi casualties.

Therefore we should continue to attempt to persuade the maniac to disarm. As for the last 12 years.

Continue until? Perhaps until Saddam has the means to scorch hundreds of thousands of his own, and other countries', citizens.

Does Andrew think that the weapons inspectors will get the time of day from Saddam once Bush's revolver is removed from his forehead? Kerry didn't bother to ask.

Andrew's gesture will be a one or two-day media event. Another useful fool drawn out of the woodwork by the excitement of the moment.

Will even the University of Technology, Sydney, find an honorary post for this man?

Academia's loss will be ONA's gain.

Monday, March 10, 2003
IN A RHETORICAL DEVICE almost as shonky as the use of the presumptive disqualification "controversial", Auntie's national TV news tonight covers the critics of John Howard's reference to the Bali bombing before telling us anything of what Howard actually said.

Using his remarkable, almost Holmesian, powers of inference, Uncle has worked out that Howard told his New Zealand audience that the Bali bombing had something relevant to tell us about the case for liberating Iraq from its homicidal maniac of a dictator. As it does.

Simon Crean doesn't agree. Nor does the father of one of the Bali victims who has gone public several times in his efforts to blame the Australian government for the al Quaida murders.

Auntie sees no need to go any further in covering the matter. Or even to tell us what the matter was.

IT'S ALL ABOUT - a Neo-conservative conspiracy.

This will be made clear on tonight's edition of Four Corners.

If Saddam's nukes, bioweapons and chemical weapons are all "alleged weapons of mass destruction", as Auntie claims, then it must be something else.

Or does Auntie mean actual weapons of mass destruction alleged to exist?

Personally speaking, Uncle found OIL much more satisfactory.

I doubt if the Kurds and Iranians killed by Saddam's chemical weapons, or the UNSCOM team who thought they had the goods on Saddam when they were thrown out, will be any more convinced than I am.

Still, the Communards will feel re-inforced in the anti-Americanism. What more can you expect.

Sunday, March 09, 2003
WHEN IT'S EXCITING Auntie's Communard sleepers come out of hiding to mount the barricades.

Somewhere about the bottom of the barrel of column ideas for desperate editors is: let's have another essay on language!

Auntie's version is Lingua Franca. It's a mostly harmless digression into the by-ways of language and usage and lexicography, managed by the talent-scout who helped us reward that great literary scammer, Helen Demidenko, with a gumnut literary award, Jill Kitson.

Jill's taste in phoneys has not been exhausted. In fact, now the tocsin to the barricades has been sounded, she's firing on all two cylinders.

Her contribution to this week's Jihad on the Great Satan comes from a strange source: lexicographer Bruce Moore, editor of The Australian Oxford Dictionary.

Bruce has been given a shiny new Kalashnikov, made of plastic and tinsel, in the form of a new book by two Americans called Collateral Language.

I bet you 've already guessed that it's about the abuse of language in the cause of US imperialism.

You all know what "collateral damage" means. What they should be saying is "innocent victims of US Imperialism".

The editors of this compilation have worked themselves up into essays on thirteen euphemisms of this kind.

Good on them, Uncle says.

Wait a mo. Where are the essays on terms like "international community", "time for negotiations", the "multilateralism" of the Saddamites on the Security Council versus the "unilateralism" of those who oppose them, and so on.

I guess Bruce forgot to mention them in his review.

He was very upset that this book had received so little attention from the Australian reading public. Jill will help. Good old Jill.

Uncle observed some years ago that Oxford University Press had given up on the idea of a dictionary based on literary warrant. That is, giving due weight in defining words to those whose profession it is to use them deliberately, and in writing. Instead, Oxford is following the latest eruptions of disc-jockeys and celebs, in the interests of inclusiveness, of course.

I didn't know know there was a political test as well.


Backwards, Christian soldiers,
sneaking out of war,
so that this great tyrant
may kill thousands more.

SHOP-STEWARDS TO THE SPECIAL FORCES. That's the role adopted by the kids from the Communard pre-school at Background Briefing today.
Improbable, you think? So does Uncle.

This is the spiel. Our special forces have become the sharp end and the middle of Australia's defence policy since the Fortress Australia policy took hold in the Russell Offices in Canberra, long before most of the pre-schoolers were out of nappies. For years, all of our defence dollars have been going into planes and ships.

As a result, so the story continues, the effective residue of our soldiers have been over-used. Despite the fact they're all volunteers, morale is sinking, resignations rocketing and the rest, who are deployed somewhere near Iraq, are angst-ridden as they see the "vast majority" of their fellow-citizens denouncing the goals they may go into battle to achieve.

Evidence? One anonymous wife, who is upset at not seeing more of her husband; one widow with a compo claim running against the government from the death of her husband in Afghanistan, and unspecified family connections known to the Communards.

The former head of the SAS says the Army has been run down. The Defence Minister denies absolutely that resignation rates are up.

You can draw your own conclusions about whether or not the SAS is in "crisis". It's not of the essence.

What really matters is the root cause of this over-use of the shiny tip of Australia's defence capacity.

Our best soldiers are being used as the Janissaries of Uncle Sam's imperial ambitions. And they know it. And they resent it.

Who says? Background Briefing says.

What Background Briefing won't tell you is that the pre-schoolers and all the older Communards in Auntie's Radio National are backing wholeheartedly the political campaign against the target set for our forces by Australia's elected government. That might raise the question of the reasonable limits of political action when our defence forces are doing our collective work. Not to mention the role of our national broadcaster.

Should a shop-steward be trying to destroy the market for the worker's goods? Of course he should; if he's a good leftist.