Tim Blair


New Criterion



Friday, March 19, 2004
I WONDER IF AUNTIE REALISES how privileged she is to be a citizen of John Howard's Australia?

Otherwise, would Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage bother talking to Australia's most outstanding coiffure, Kerry O'Brien of the 7.30 Report?

On the other hand, it must provide some light relief after a hard day on the telephone to Baghdad.

Take these exchanges:

KERRY O'BRIEN: Reflecting on the past year and looking to the future, how do you respond to the proposition that President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq was based on a false premise that Iraq had dangerous weapons of mass destruction, but you also have the nightmare of an exit policy that is fraught with difficulties and in the eyes of many, lacking in credibility?

That, believe it or not, was a question.

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Mr O'Brien, as far as our President is concerned, he's got no second thoughts.

Kezza's not going to be put off. He thinks it a privilege of his exalted office to lecture senior US officials:

KERRY O'BRIEN: Are you comfortable with the way America brought forward the date of its political handover to Iraq to June 30 and the strong perception that the deadline was dictated more by President Bush's need to reduce the weight of a potential political millstone from around his neck leading into your own presidential election rather than consideration for Iraq?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well I think the way you put that I'd have to respond with an eight-letter word.

The word of course would be 'nonsense'.

As I think I've expressed to you before, Mr Bush was not the one who set the timetable.

This was set together with the Iraqi Governing Council.

We know we have a fine line to walk between being an occupying force and a liberating force.

So, we - working with the Iraqis together - settled on a date of 1 July for a return of sovereignty and we'll make it.

When you see this response from Armitage to a short O'Brien question you can understand why Kezza is so keen on making speeches.

KERRY O'BRIEN: By all reports though, the State Department wanted a much longer lead time before handing sovereignty over Iraq, isn't that so?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: No, I think it is not so.

If it had been so I think Secretary Powell and Richard Armitage would have known it.

Maybe, but don't expect Kezza the journalist to know too much about Iraq.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But it's just over three months away from that handover now and no-one can agree on an election date even for an interim government in Iraq.

They can't agree on how the vote should be conducted and the UN's position on that is far from clear?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: I think while you slept, others were working, Sir.

The Iraqi Governing Council has sent a letter to New York asking that the UN come back as soon as possible to help develop the elections and electoral process.

So we think we're right on track with it.

Is it going to be easy?

No, it's not going to be easy.

Is it worthy work?

You betcha.

Thank you, Richard Armitage, for giving us a few laughs to start our night.

From the satisfied, Costellian smirk with which he tailed the interview, I think Kezza enjoyed himself too. What a galoot.

Later: Reader John D doesn't want you to miss this closing moment from the Armitage interview:

KERRY O'BRIEN: In terms of how the war is being received in America, Mr Armitage, you're a former Navy Seal, you don't think the American dead from Iraq deserve the powerful symbolism of being publicly honoured and publicly mourned rather than being brought back to America under a media ban?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: First of all, we believe that the families of these men and women who sacrificed should be accorded the first information and the respect of determining how they want to grieve.

In terms of mourning for the families, I don't think anyone mourns more deeply than our President, Secretary Powell, myself - I was not a Navy Seal, I was a counter-insurgency officer but it's not far from a Navy Seal.

A CIO is closer to a Seal than 7.30 presenter is to a journalist.