Rediscovering our moral compass through Menzies

This piece was first published in the Sun Herald today.


The day after Mark Latham was elected ALP leader by a whisker, I had a coffee with a Liberal MP stunned by his �ladder of opportunity� victory speech. �We�re in trouble,� he said. �Latham has updated Menzies� forgotten people.�

Robert Menzies, opposition leader, made that speech in one of many radio talks to the Australian people in 1942, in the depths of World War II. I read them, and could not believe how enduring they were, and how apposite to the war in Iraq.

In �Freedom from fear�, he said three forces were necessary to stop governments waging war: a passionate longing for peace, international machinery for peace and �that intelligent citizenship among ordinary men and women which rulers will respect and which will be the greatest enemy of war�.

“If the individual, as in the past generation, neglects politics – except as a means of obtaining some selfish end – then the people will at times of crisis be dumb and impotent, and despotic rulers will make war.�


In �The moral element in total war�, he said that �there can be no passionate patriotism or willing self-sacrifice in war unless we know in our hearts that we are fighting for good things against evil things, and there can be no better world order except on a moral basis. The brain of man may devise wonders and the hand of man execute them, but they will all fall into evil and harmful uses unless the heart of man – the guide of conduct – is sound and true.�

�The question we need to put to ourselves most frequently in these days is, “What do we believe in?”

The liberal answer was that we believed in the dignity of every human being. From the ashes of WW11 we created the United Nations, and drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Abuse and degradation continued, of course, but the West hung its hat on the ideal. America led the drafting of the Geneva Conventions, too, to help prevent a recurrence of the torture and degradation of prisoners of war by the Japanese. War crimes were created.

Before his retirement John Valder, like Menzies a pillar of the liberal establishment, headed the Sydney Stock Exchange and the Liberal Party. He was a kid in World War II, and carries Menzies� message still. In October last year he rose at a public meeting on Sydney�s North Shore, looked his friend Tony Abbott in the eye, and said:

�There must be quite a conceivable possibility of George Bush facing indictment for what he’s done in Iraq� For the first time, we have a Prime Minister who has put this country at risk of being branded a war criminal.

�There is a total disregard by this government, really, for human rights. I understand there are citizens of forty-two nations in Guantanamo Bay, and forty of those forty-two nations have all protested bitterly to the United States about that. Two haven’t. Australia is one of them.” (China was the other.)

It�s got worse since, with cascading evidence of multiple war crimes, including murder, committed by the Americans on Iraqis picked up on the streets without charge. With each day, responsibility for the war crimes gets ever closer to the very top in the United States. Tellingly, the US refuses to even count the numbers of Iraqi dead during or since the invasion.

Last week the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that last year Australian Major George O�Kane at the US military headquarters in Baghdad helped draft a response to the first Red Cross report on abuses in Abu Ghraib prison. He reported back regularly to his superiors. Howard�s government had claimed ignorance until the pictures of the horror were released last month.

As usual, John Howard did not respond by setting out the facts, but by obfuscation. Why? What do we believe in?

Even on purely practical grounds, we should have protested. The downside for the Coalition of torturing ordinary Iraqis is enormous. But I bet we didn�t, just like we won�t ask for the videos of the interrogations of our citizens in Guantanamo Bay.

We have lost our moral compass under John Howard, and thereby aided a superpower which is dooming itself and the world to endless war. Last week the International Institute of Strategic Studies confirmed that the war had rejuvenated al-Qaeda and swelled its ranks � now estimated to be 18,000, with 1,000 now in Iraq.

How can we find politicians who believe in duty and service and who are unafraid to tell us the truth? Look around, and if there is no one in the major parties who qualifies in your seat, find someone who does and organise support for them. As Menzies said in �The task of democracy�:

�I am aware of the weakness of democracy, of its occasional stupidities and shallowness, its temptation to prefer the rabble-rousing spell binder, its habit of giving way to envy, hatred, malice and all uncharitableness. (But) I believe in democracy as the only method of government which can produce justice based upon recognition of enduring human values. Parliament must be recruited from the best we have, and politics once more become a noble and glorious vocation.�

Reader quote of the week

John and Karen Dwyer in Florida, USA

�American survival is not – and never was – threatened by Iraq, unless the hatred we leave behind is really the weapon of mass destruction we were looking for and had to create in order to find.�


Hi. I’m on holidays this week – the war has got to me big time and I need to clear my head. But Blogjam goes on!


It was during the Battle of Hastings that one of Cromwell’s disaffected lieutenants, Sweyn Forkbeard, uttered the immortal words: “Another fine mess you’ve got us into, Ollie”.

Indeed! Lady Livia’s search for our re-entry travel documents was less than fruitful. The coastguards were less than impressed. Our relocation was less than expected. Our accommodation less than vice regal. This week Lord Sedgwick of Strathmore. (OA, DFC, DSC, VC, KPMG, WTF, IOOF)reports from the windswept superphosphate plains of Nauru.

As mentioned in Blogjam9, “there’s always the comments box to keep the blogging bastards honest”. This week’s Blogjam points to some blogs that have attracted extensive, thoughtful and querulous comments.

Donning his size 14s, Yobbo strode out where no “Media Watch” dares to go and “[went] through the first nine weeks of the series [of Blogjam] to rank the balance of left and right leaning blogs promoted” and after hours of painstaking research concluded that “Blogjam has never been anything but an extension of Webdiary’s already far-left biases.”


The document was tabled and a spirited debate ensued, with the House dividing along party lines. Blogjam’s founding father was shocked. “That’s a mere 3-1 tilt to the left. I had no idea we had tipped so far to the right and will be taking serious steps to rectify matters.”

Hopefully Tim is not too shocked, and will offer more of Harold (“Harold was in Changi in case you didn’t know.”), a posting which drew a comment from Barista as good as any blogger could wish for: “Every now and again you post something permanent in our temporary swirl. Thank you.”Nabakov (a veteran “take no prisoners” commenter) noted: “Well said, young Tim. We�ll make a polemicist out of you yet.”

Looking out through the bars of our accommodation one night last week, we saw the entire Australian mainland and its migration exclusion zones lit up by a blindingly bright light. We thought it to be one of those rare astronomical events that occurs but once in a lifetime. We were partly right. The light on the hill was in fact the fireworks display at the Hordern Pavilion for the premiere of “The Prime Minister’s Big Three-Oh Love-In” video.

“Leaving Sir Robert aside, there is no person who has been a greater Liberal in Australia than John Howard”, gushed Peter Costello, cast in an acting-against-type role.

Critic Jason Soon believes that the comparison to Big Ming is an inappropriate hymn of praise andtakes issue with Howard’s most obvious heir apparent, Tony Abbott:


“Thank God Abbott at least had the decency to capitalise the L in Liberal rather than bringing a great and noble philosophical tradition into shame and disrepute. Anyone with any cursory knowledge of political philosophy in Australia would know that the typical Australian Liberal is about as faithful to the ideals of classical liberalism as Torquemada was to the ideals of Jesus Christ.”

Andrew Norton attempted to sort out his blog flatmate’s problem at Intellectuals have always had trouble with the impurity of politics:

[…] We are never likely to see a viable classical liberal party in Australia. There just is not the constituency for it.”

Commenters weighed in on both sides, hopeful that these two won’t lose their bond.

Ken Parish at Troppo Armadillo contended that “it’s perfectly OK to expose one’s passions and prejudices in unashamedly polemic writing on a blog”. He was “thinking about instituting a “Blog Bile of the Week” award for the most impassioned, hate-filled blog rant” when he spotted Back Pages’ overview of John Howard’s 30 years:

“Let’s be honest. Apart from his wife, no-one, and I mean no-one, likes John Howard. Underneath, almost all Australians hate John Howard. If Howard lost tomorrow, all his many chummy ostensibly present friends and allies would not only forget him in a minute, they would be lined up with daggers drawn.”

Runaway winner Christopher Sheil accepted the hastily engraved gold plated spittoon with due modesty and commenters immediately began lobbying for nominations.

Observa reflected on own his bilious comments and wondered: “Perhaps I secretly admire the serenity of a John Quiggin.” Sensei Quiggin made an observation unlikely to engender universal serenity: “John Howard is a well-known admirer of Gough Whitlam, so it’s not surprising to see him returning to one of Gough’s favorite centralist themes.”

Alan of Southerly Buster rounded off the comments by pointing to the weirdness of “six competing governments trying to administer the Murray-Darling Basin”. Not as weird as Bitchin’Monaro’sreport of a parrot attacking a living legend on the eve of the anniversary knees-up.

Ahmed Chalabi was the money-filled brown paper carpetbagger on many bloggers’ lips. Kevin Drumset out the timeline that has lead up to the Bush administration’s cut and run from Chalabi INC:

“Bottom line: practically every group that has ever worked with Chalabi has eventually felt betrayed by him. This includes, at a minimum: (1) the Jordanian government, (2) the CIA, (3) the State Department, (4) Paul Bremer and the CPA, (5) the United Nations, (6) the NSC, and (7) the DIA. Oh � and quite possibly, (8) George W. Bush.”

Some of us with grey enough beards may recall another seller of pups who became a problem for an Australian administration …Tirath Khemlani and his telexes of mass destruction.

“There�s much to be confused about surrounding the sudden turn of events against Cheney/Rummy/Perle confidant Ahmed Chalabi”, warned Steve Soto

Word has arrived that the travel arrangements for our return to the mainland may be delayed until a parliamentary committee (funded by a windfall $10,000) cobbles together some new guidelines. Rob Corr has been offering pro bono legal advice to the Government, and we are buoyed by the Special Minister of State and the Prime Minister’s previous flexibility on the issue.

While Amanda sorts out our travel arrangements, we shall be spending the weeks and months ahead casting a critical eye over the following blogs. Call it a vice regal de facto study tour if you will.

The Illustrated Daily Scribble, “an ultra-current blog of my raw, rough sketches about the day’s news drawn usually on legal pads.”

James Russell “looks at a senator who not only calls a spade, a spade, but calls a hoe, a hoe.”

Southerly Buster:“The Great Chain of Being is an ancient myth that survived well into the renaissance. In these rational and scientific times, it is of course long abandoned. No-one now believes that the ritual actions of a king have any effect in the real world. Except the Man of Steel.”

Boynton: “At war with the bane of all bloggers. Spam in the comments box”.

Do Not Use Lifts:“Hey, they�re torturing people in Iraq. Bet you�re really worried about your hubby now, eh?”

The Green Man.: “The youth of today is fundamentally disinterested in politics, so are most of their parents actually. This was not always the case.”

Maja’s Blog: “Bush senior does a bit of fundraising for Number One son … in London.”

Bleeding Edge: “A new blog, from Charles Wright of the Green Guide, notes that “Bill Gates has opined that blogs are a serious business tool” and that there might there be a quid or two in it for the lad.

The latest casualty: Webdiary’s interview with Phillip Knightley

Antony Loewenstein writes Webdiary’s Engineering Consent column on the workings of the media.


�At the very centre of the history of war reporting has been the struggle between the media and the military to decide who controls the battlefield. No side ever achieved clear-cut victory � until now.� Phillip Knightley, Media at War conference, Berkeley University, March 2004

In his autobiography A Hack�s Progress, Australian Phillip Knightley comments on the �death� of decent journalism, a despairing cry of many in the business:

So my advice for the new generation of journalists is to ignore the accountants, the proprietors and the conventional editors and get on with it. And your assignment is the same as mine has been � the world and the millions of fascinating people who inhabit it.

Known as one of the world�s foremost journalistic experts on the world of intelligence, Knightley has been paying particular attention to the case of Lieutenant Colonel Lance Collins, the Australian military whistle-blower who recently suggested systemic problems in our intelligence services and the existence of a �Jakarta Lobby.� He has described Collins as “probably the best and brightest military intelligence officer this country has produced�.


Knightley believes the mainstream media hasn�t chased the story hard enough, partly due to its failure to identify �the main issues of the day, plugging away at them, revealing government equivocation and spin and sticking with them through thick and thin and not giving up too easily�.

I would continue running the Lance Collins story daily, and even repeat the allegations. I would ask my Canberra correspondent to ask the PM every day if he�d answered Colonel Collins� letter. There are ways to push the story. You can make a general appeal to the intelligence community for anybody else who�d had bad experiences and might like to come out. You don�t give up just because the PM says the story is over.

Knightley highlights a gripe of many critics � editor�s and journalist�s short attention span:

All the press today is failing its readers There are a lot of stories in Australia which start with a big bang, then exposure, then inequity. Such was the story with Colonel Lance Collin. It was big news and now it�s tapered off and disappearing. Newspapers lose interest. I think readers care. You can make the readers care.

Knightley rose to fame while working for The Sunday Times in London in the 1960s and 70s, in a pre Murdoch age, free of modern cost cutting and at a time when making a difference wasn�t determined by the bottom line:

One of the best editors I�ve ever worked for was Harold Evans [editor of the Sunday Times between 1967 and 1981] and he said that just when a newspaper, including the editor and the journalist, feel that the story is becoming boring, is the very moment in which readers are just waking up and getting interested.

Working with a small team of dedicated journalists, many of whom were Australian, the Insight team covered and broke some of the major stories of the era, including the Profumo affair, the Hitler diaries forgeries, the Thalidomide scandal and the Bloody Sunday outrage. Knightley is one of only two people to have won the prestigious Journalist of the Year twice at the British Press Awards.

One of Knightley�s biggest complaints is the increasingly cosy relationship between politicians and journalists – a trend in Australia, the UK and America:

The Canberra press gallery has too incestuous a relationship with politicians. Any journalist who makes too big a wave runs the risk of being cut of the loop. The only person who would take a major risk is someone who is not afraid of losing their job or access. The clever press officer working for departments, often to their shame, ex-journalists, have ways of rewarding journalists who come along and punishing those who don�t.

Australia does produce inquisitive journalists, however, and Knightley is keen to praise those across the political divide:

Paul Kelly has always been interesting, though he�s much more pro-American than I thought he would be. Margo Kingston, I think, is a great journalist. Paddy McGuiness, for his perverse views, is always stimulating. Gerard Henderson, I enjoy reading. I don�t agree with what he�s saying but he argues powerfully. Tony Walker, Peter Hartcher and Alan Ramsey – he�s the best political journalist in the country.


Knightley reserves his toughest condemnation for the mainstream press before, during and after the Iraq war. (His book The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist and Myth-Maker, is the definitive work on war journalism and government spin.) During a Media and War conference at Berkeley University in March this year, he revealed a military plan for war reporting that was tested by the British in the Falklands war, refined in Granada, the first Gulf War and Kosovo and mastered in Iraq, where “from a military point of view, [it] worked to near perfection”.

Firstly, devote as much care to your media strategy as you do to your military strategy. Information is a weapon and employed properly can be a powerful one. Next, appeal to the media�s patriotism and sense of duty in the run-up to the war, and after the fighting starts, pull media dissenters into line by accusing them of not backing their �boys at the front�. Three: limit access to the battlefield to those correspondents you know support the war. Four: try to get them to identity psychologically with the troops and to write and film stories about the bravery of ordinary soldiers. Five, offer to provide the media with an overall view of the war and its progress by regular briefings from senior officers. At these briefings, appear open, transparent and eager to help: never go in for summary repression or direct control; nullify rather than conceal undesirable news; control emphasis rather than facts; balance bad news with good; and lie directly only when certain that the lie will not be found out until the war is over.

During the Iraq War, we saw all these techniques utilised by the ‘Coalition’. Embedding journalists was hailed a success by the Bush administration and they�ve indicated they�ll use similar methods in future conflicts. Knightley concluded in Berkeley that the Pentagon�s policy is working, as news organisations will not take the risk of sending reporters who don�t want to play by the government�s rules:

Fears for the lives of correspondents who want to be independent will deter their organisations from allowing them to be so. As well, insurers will either refuse to underwrite correspondents� lives or demand prohibitively high premiums � one estimate is one third of the gross budget allocated for covering a war.

Knightley is scathing about the media’s performance on Iraq:

Coverage in Britain before, during and after the war was appalling. It helped promote the war. There was a gentle hysteria that grew as war approached, even in liberal, left wing papers. I was shocked when The Guardian ran a strap-line on its coverage of the run-up, �Countdown to War�. Not stated, but an understood interpretation that it�s like a countdown to a blast-off of a rocket ship – like there�s no way of stopping it. It surprised me The Guardian did it (though The Guardian has its own internal dissent). And not a single paper I can think of in Britain said, �Hang on, wait a minute. Is there no way out of this? What are the alternatives?�

The Australian media was similarly unquestioning of the Howard Government�s rationale for war – Saddam�s supposed WMD. Dissenting voices were largely shut out. Like Blair in Britain, Howard was considered by the mainstream media as essentially good, sincere and caring. Most media outlets accepted the government�s lies on WMD rather than investigating the intelligence claims themselves:

I thought right from the beginning there were no WMD or unlikely to be. From everything I�d read and heard and studied, and I looked for more sources in all the intelligence reports quoted, I was unimpressed by who they were. One of the great failures of the British [and Australian] media, and probably the American as well, was that it never made clear who all these sources were.

The anti-war movement was generally sidelined in the Western media, given only fleeting coverage. The biggest protests in history were deemed less important than pronouncements from our elected officials. Knightley says the UK�s media coverage was depressingly reminiscent of past wars:

It was full of all the logistics…they think their readers are excited by. Like who�s moving where, what�s happening, how we�re mobilising for war, who�s going to go, has the SAS left yet, the boys get ready and photographs of tanks being loaded onto aircraft. It gives you a sense of inevitability that the machine is in motion and, �Sorry folks, it can�t be stopped.�

Knightley says the other profound failing of our media was the generally blind acceptance of the Iraqi exile�s stories (despite many of them being disputed after the first Gulf War):

They [the media] were being used and manipulated by the Iraqi nationals who had an axe to grind, and that weren�t sufficiently sceptical of who these people were and open enough with their readers to say, �Yes, this is what we�ve heard, this is what they say, but we must remember they�re Iraqi nationals who have an axe to grind.’

With an American administration that saw intelligence as just another government department, and a weakened CIA unable to provide less politicised information, it became increasingly clear that the neo-conservatives wanted to go to war in Iraq and therefore expected to see intelligence that pushed this end-game. In The Bulletin in March, Knightley wrote a startling article about the intelligence failure of 9/11 and Iraq�s missing WMD, and asked this question: “How many intelligence heads have rolled? None. Not here. Not in Britain. Not in the US. The only casualties have been foot soldiers.”

Under these circumstances, the role of Andrew Wilkie becomes even more remarkable. A former Australian senior intelligence officer who resigned in March 2003 over what he claimed were false WMD claims from the Howard government, Knightley praised his bravery:

He�s following his conscience – it�s so rare these days. We need a lot more people like that… It didn�t surprise me that nobody else spoke out before the war – they�ve got careers. Only Ray McGovern, from Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity comes to mind. (This group of retired intelligence officers claimed before the war that �Coalition� claims over Iraq�s WMD were false, yet received virtually no media coverage.)

Whistleblowers are highly principled people who are in the job because they thought they could do it in an ethical manner. When something pops that shows them they can�t, they feel compelled to blow the whistle. All the genuine whistle-blowers I�ve ever met have never wanted money for it.

Knightley says the recent avalanche of pictures depicting American military personnel and contractors torturing Iraqi prisoners is a turning point. Writing in The Bulletin in May, he argued that Western media organisations have long censored the gruesome realities of war, frequently in collusion with government:

Take the photograph of an Iraqi man cradling a young girl severely injured in a coalition bomb attack on Basra on March 22, 2003. You can’t recall it? I’m not surprised. The shot, which showed the girl’s horribly mangled leg, ran in the Arab press in its entirety. But in the western press, editors took it upon themselves to crop it � on the grounds of taste � so the bones and shreds of flesh that was once the little girl’s right leg were not visible.


Knightley is pessimistic about the future of journalism. Writing last year in The Myth of the Perfect Proprietor on the Howard Government�s proposed changes to cross ownership laws, which would effectively have given Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch carte blanche in buying more media outlets, Knightley said the rise of the media mogul has greatly reduced independent and fearless journalism:

Until the day comes when the newspaper world consists only of proprietorless newspapers like The Independent, what’s the next best thing? Safety in numbers: as many newspapers as possible in the hands of as many proprietors as possible. To be avoided at all costs is a tightly-owned media world in which a few players dominate the market, especially where those players own TV stations and newspapers.

Today, Knightley laments our era of media organisations deeming it essential to make huge profits:

Journalism is not the craft it once was. You never did it for the money. Rich journalists are pretty rare, unless you�re a columnist or an editor on share options. Things changed with the arrivals of the accountants on the scene who wanted newspapers to be cost-effective. Newspapers shouldn�t make huge profits – it should plough the money back into decent reporting. There is nothing wrong with a newspaper making money, but even the profit isn�t the main thing now, it�s the share price.

Knightley pines for a return to the era of benevolent proprietors, such as Lord Thomson of Fleet:

He liked to see things happening as a result of his papers and as long as they didn�t break him, he�d spent more on better journalism. Just before he was taken over by Murdoch, I recall the various department heads. Thompson ran a budgetary system which had a budget for journalism and a smaller budget for each individual department. When new budget times came around, all the department heads were furiously running around spending money to make certain their budget was used up, otherwise there was a risk, though it never happened, that your budget would be cut next financial year. This made for great journalism, because they�d say, �what are going to do?� �Want to go to New York?� �Do you want to go to Moscow?� �Do you want to spend a couple of weeks in South America� �Do you want to do a language course?� The budget would then be spent.

Murdoch arrives and immediately introduces zero budgeting. I think one of the News Executives commented that Murdoch said, �Don�t give journalists a budget, because the bastards will spend it.� And the new method was that the foreign editor would have to get permission from an accountant, somewhere up the line, for every single penny he wanted to spend on a project. I�m told reliably, since I�ve been in Sydney this trip, that there are various news organisations here that after you�ve been on a foreign trip, a lineman calls you in. He�s got a computer program that reads what you�ve written, counts the number of words, and compares it to the cost of the trip. He can give you a per word cost. If you get to be known as a guy who can produce assignments at 25 cents a word, you�ll be sent more often. If you spend, say $1 a word, it all goes into a file and it�s pulled out when you�re going for a promotion.

From the broadsheets to the tabloids, the last decade has seen a drastic reduction in international news and a greater emphasis on celebrity gossip and local information:

One of the sad things about Fleet Street is that it�s gone. There�s not a single newspaper organisation left in Fleet Street. It used to be the street of adventure. People would be walking down Fleet Street and say, �I�ll tell the Daily Mirror about that, or the Daily Telegraph or the Express� and they�d walk in off the street and ask to see a reporter.

Knightley supports the work of a handful of English journalists, including Robert Fisk (�brave, independent, compassionate and thoughtful�), The Guardian�s Richard Norton-Taylor, who writes on intelligence matters (He�s very good and isn�t taken in by the bullshit. He�s constantly querying and is a friend of nobody in government. He�s careful to keep to himself). Also, George Monbiot, �a really intellectual force in The Guardian�.


One of the great political dramas of the modern Australian era was the Whitlam dismissal in 1975. Containing all the ingredients of a tight-knit thriller, lingering questions remain about the way in which Governor-General John Kerr removed the Labor government from power. At the recent Berkeley conference on media and Iraq, Knightley started thinking about the dismissal once more, especially after hearing a speech by former US Ambassador to Iraq, Joseph Wilson, now fierce critic of the Bush administration:

He was talking about the power of the State Department. He said war should be the last of the alternatives that the State Department could use for regime change, only if there was nothing morally wrong to attempt to change the regime of a country to suit the regime of your country. There are various ways of doing it. Trade embargoes, bribery etc. It�s a shame, he concluded, these methods were used mainly against left-wing regimes in Latin America.

He was so convincing that these methods had been used in the past, it became suddenly blindingly obvious to me that these methods were used in getting rid of Whitlam in 1975. All it would have needed is a meeting between the CIA and the State Department, and somebody would have said, �Things are happening in Australia we�re not very happy about. There�s a Labor Government there and they�re thinking about reneging on the bases agreement at Pine Gap. They�re unfriendly to the US and they pulled their troops out of Vietnam. It�s not a friendly government, and we should do our best to get back a friendly government.� Having made the decision that it wasn�t a friendly government, word would go out to every CIA office in the world that Australia is not a friendly government and to keep your eyes open for things that may discredit the government and lead to regime change. To this day, I remain suspicious about the loans debacle that brought down the government. I reckon it will come out one day. Who was Khemlani? How come he disappeared after and hasn�t been heard of since? The American government wouldn�t have necessarily known in advance it was going to work, of course.

Knightley is confident that the American administration is researching the life of Labor Leader, Mark Latham:

It would not surprise in the least that at this very moment there are CIA teams turning Latham over, looking for something in his past that they would give to the [Howard] government � it would be normal practice. You have to understand how intelligence agencies work. Every time there is a major new political figure in a country in which they�re interested, somebody will say, �Who is this guy, what do we know about him?� And then there will be a big dossier gathering exercise – that�s par for the course. They�ll want a big dossier on Latham. I think the Liberal Party would be very aware it was happening. When he came to power [in 1996], there would have been a dossier on Howard. The CIA have dossiers on every major political figure in the world.

In a further sign that government and big business are increasingly colluding in restricting information flow in democracies around the world, Knightley recalls a story told to him by The New Yorker�s Seymour Hersh:

Seymour Hersh is a worried man. I met him at a conference in Washington two years ago and he was saying he�d just produced a piece for The New Yorker about oil. He�d been warned by The New Yorker�s lawyer, and his own lawyer, to move his resources offshore because the lawyers for the oil companies might well attempt to bankrupt him with legal actions. He�d never felt that kind of intimidation before. This was the new way of intimidating journalists. There are law firms that take pre-emptive action. They advertise themselves saying, �If you feel you�re being investigated by journalists, don�t wait for the piece to appear, and then attempt to sue for libel, come to us and we�ve got ways of stopping it before it gets in the paper.� What ways? American libel insurance companies allow a maximum of two lawsuits against you at any given time – they won�t cover you for a third. So, if the law company who�s going to take pre-emptive action on your part looks at the record of the media company that you�re with, then launches a libel action against them, no matter how frivolous, which makes the third, then the insurance company says, �Sorry, you�re not covered.� They also try and find ways of bringing criminal actions, as distinct from civil actions. Breach of confidence is but one.

Knightley says his proudest moment as a journalist was interviewing Kim Philby. Philby was simultaneously head of the British Intelligence Service’s anti-Soviet section and a long-time KGB agent. It was an explosive story:

The interview happened just before he died. It was regarded, at the time, as reward for 25 years of persistence and waiting. It was a lesson that I learnt as a result of that – no �no� is ever final. I interviewed him in January [1988] and he died in May. It brought an interesting conversation with his lawyer, who said after he died, �You�re a lucky bastard, Knightley. Now you can write anything about him and nobody can deny it!� I said, �Hang on a minute, what about journalistic ethics, haven�t you heard of that?� He said, �No, I know of no journalist who has.�



* Knightley’s Bulletin articles: Too few good menMoving Pictures and Deadly secrets.


‘Reluctant occupier’: the latest US myth for Iraq

Scott Burchill, a regular Webdiary commentator on Iraq, is the lecturer in international relations at Deakin University.


First there was the “grave danger” (President Bush) posed by Saddam’s WMD, which failed to materialise. Then there were the Baghdad-Al Qaeda links that couldn’t be established. Along came the democratisation rationale, which only 1% of the Iraqi population believes. To replace the threat of non-existent WMD, a humanitarian argument was suddenly invoked. However, with over 11,000 innocent civilians killed by invading and occupying forces, Saddam’s removal from power has actually sparked a humanitarian disaster. And far from confronting terrorists in situ as promised, Iraq has became a recruiting ground for a proliferating collection of anti-Western militants.

Now a new orthodoxy is shaping comment and analysis about events in Iraq. Let’s call it the ‘reluctant occupier myth’.

Having removed Saddam Hussein and his cohorts from power and set Iraq on a path towards democracy, the US is now preparing to leave – the ‘Vietnamisation’ of Iraq. It will find a smooth way out by returning sovereignty to a new Iraqi administration, initially on 1 July through the auspices of the UN and early next year via democratic elections. Coalition forces, which don’t want to be in Iraq a day longer than what is necessary to “finish the job,” will stay on to “maintain’ security,” but only at the pleasure of a new interim Government in Baghdad.

Like the earlier myths, this one is also a fabrication.

It is difficult to see what could be more obvious than that the US is desperately trying to stay in Iraq – and specifically, in charge – as the great majority of Baghdadis at least seem to understand, judging by US-run polls. Despite disingenuous claims that coalition troops would leave if asked to by a new Iraqi authority after 1 July, Colin Powell got closer to the truth when he stated on 26 April that “I hope they [the Iraqi people] will understand that in order for this government to get up and running – to be effective – some of its sovereignty will have to be given back [to Washington].” Coalition troops will stay on regardless.

They may not be able to carry it off, but the Western states currently occupying Iraq hardly need advice about carrying out what they are desperately trying to avoid. What was the point of invading in the first place if they were going to get out?

Washington wants others to share the burden of political reconstruction (the UN) and rebuilding infrastructure, but it has no intention of relinquishing real control of the country to anyone, including the UN or the Iraqi people. As a strategic prize in the heart of the Arab world with the world’s second largest known reserves of oil, a client regime in Baghdad would be of inestimable value to the United States.

However, it is having difficulty finding a Vichy government willing to follow Washington’s orders because of the domestic risks that collaborators always face. It is keen to hand over the ‘nasties’ like local policing and law and order to indigenous control because this will reduce coalition losses. On the other hand, the lucrative gains of economic sovereignty – including control of the oil industry, the privitisation of state owned enterprises, and opening up the economy to foreign investment and ownership – will not be matters for the discretion of a post-Saddam administration.

The world’s largest embassy, which Washington intends to build in Baghdad, would not be necessary if Iraqis were going to genuinely regain control of their country. It will be a constant reminder that full sovereignty, including economic and political independence, will not be returned to them.

The US has lost the war politically. Its occupation of Iraq is the cause of regional instability and unremitting violence. Its preference for unilateralism and contempt for the UN, its reluctance to consult with long standing friends, and its failure to reconcile its global ambitions with the limits of its power has undermined the alliance system upon which its foreign policy since 1947 has rested.

According to war historian Gabriel Kolko, the strength and influence of the US in the post-WW2 period has “largely rested on its ability to convince other nations that it was to their vital interests to see America prevail in its global role”. The false pretexts used to justify the war in Iraq and the revelations of prison brutality have cost Washington considerable moral authority amongst its allies in Europe and friends in the Middle East.

It has never been more military powerful but never felt less secure. It now confronts this paradox in a much less friendly and respectful world.

Let’s put Australia in safer hands

A version of this piece was first published in the Sun Herald today.


“Let’s keep Australia in safe hands.” John Howard’s “son of Menzies” video at his 30 years in politics bash launched the theme, apparently his key election message to voters.

Maybe he’s in a world mere citizens can’t access, for the previous night, at another laudatory dinner of the right, he completely changed his mind on why Australia had to stay in Iraq.

“The reality is that international terrorism has invested an enormous amount in breaking the will of the coalition in Iraq,” he said. “Not only are organisations associated with al-Qaeda operating in Iraq but each and every turn of the Iraq struggle is interpreted by spokesmen for international terrorism as part of the ongoing campaign against the US and her allies.”

Does he think we don’t remember his recent slash at the Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty for daring to suggest we were a greater terrorist target for invading Iraq? “It’s my view that Iraq is really irrelevant to the intent and the purposes of al-Qaeda,” he said then.

Howard even said we were on the side of the Iraqi people, when most Iraqis want the US out NOW! He’s spun himself so tight to maintain unconditional support for all that President Bush and his team of incompetents and madmen have done and will do that he makes sense to no one.

Safe hands? I don’t think so.

Web diarist Antonia Feitz sent me this headline from The Independent in London: Howard’s message to Blair: Time to stand up to Bush.

“Alas, Margo, it was Blair’s political opponent, not OUR Howard. But didn’t it make your heart race, briefly?”

Conservative Michael Howard leads a party which backed the war but is increasingly despairing at the self-destructive behaviour of Bush’s boys.

“My party’s support for the war does not mean we are disqualified from asking legitimate questions about the conduct of events in Iraq now,” the other Howard said.

“Nor does it mean we should be inhibited from criticising. And to suggest, as Mr Blair sometimes does, that any such criticism involves a failure to ‘support our troops’ is to demean the very democracy of which we are so proud.”

Last week OUR Howard praised his MPs for “putting their personal beliefs aside” on the wisdom of Iraq to shut up and nod.

Last week the Americans disowned Ahmad Chalabi, the man they flew to Iraq with his armed militia to be its puppet leader, and raided his home in the belief he was leaking intelligence to Iran (Agency: Chalabi group was front for Iran and The Truth About Ahmed Chalabi).

Chalabi ran the US Government-funded Iraqi exile group which gave Bush’s neo-conservatives bogus evidence of WMDs. It was revealed last week that the fake evidence of a Chalabi “defector” used by Bush to justify war, already had been dismissed after the man failed a CIA lie detector test (Source behind WMD claims failed lie test). The Prime Minister has never protested about the lies Bush told Australia or his unforgivable failure to plan for the peace, and he never will.

I reckon Howard’s tragic failure of leadership on Iraq underlies his failure to get a boost from his budget of cynical bribes to the swingers he needs in his marginal seats to win again, leaving those he doesn’t need to get no tax relief at all.

I reckon Australians have worked out that this bloke is dangerous and blind to the challenges facing us, particularly on global warming, the oil supply crisis, and the collapse of public education and health.

Last week former Liberal Party president John Valder, a former friend of Howard’s and a fervent anti-war campaigner, suggested Howard could be in danger in his own seat, perhaps to the man who blew the whistle on his lies before the war, Andrew Wilkie.

I received this email from Michelle Wright, who lives in Peter Costello’s Melbourne seat and was stirred to action by an interview she heard with Brian Deegan, who lost a child in the Bali bombing and will stand as an independent against foreign minister Alexander Downer in his Adelaide seat of Mayo:

“He spoke of his feeling of impotence and disappointment in the face of this Government’s lies and deceit. He spoke of his determination to make this country better for his children. I offered my support in an email. He phoned to thank me and I once again pledged to support him.

“Oke doke – now what do I do? I have never been politically active (nor has he, I understand). Trust my instincts and start writing letters like this. This is as grass roots as it gets. Political virgins coming together and finding a voice – I am already feeling more empowered and confident.

“Alexander Downer, you did not go to war in my name. I will do whatever it takes for you to hear my voice. I believe that this will be the most effective use of my limited financial and human resources.”

Perhaps Deegan’s campaign slogan could be “Let’s put Australia in safer hands”.

Reader quote of the week

Grant Long in Newcastle

“And now, Mr Howard’s ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ speech. Iraq is the front line on the war on terror, we stupid, ignorant plebs are told by our humble leader. The frame and foundations of modern governance are rotten and barely supporting the structure, but the facade looks good. An illusion.”

Ignorance, hypocrisy, obedience: symptoms of a sick America

American Julian Ninio is the author of The Empire of Ignorance, Hypocrisy and Obedience, and is in Australia for the Sydney Writers Festival. This piece first appeared in The Age, and is republished with the author’s permission.


The American people didn’t know its troops abused prisoners in Iraqi jails. Ignorance. Officials who knew pretend they didn’t know. Hypocrisy. To excuse the perpetrators, parents of soldiers say their kids were forced to follow orders. Obedience.

Torture is the problem-du-jour. Two weeks ago, the problem-du-jour was the deceptive case for war. The American people believed the administration�s lies. Ignorance. The President says he relied on the flawed intelligence he was fed. Hypocrisy. Instead of rebelling, Colin Powell stuck with his team. Obedience.

America’s problems are structural. Even if Kerry replaces Bush in January 2005, America will still have one child in six living in poverty; America will still have two million people in jail; America will still have military installations in 50 countries. It’s time we looked at the structure behind America’s problems.

By studying America�s self-image, we can collect symptoms of the �disease� that ails American society. Is America truly the beacon of justice? Not when it tortures prisoners. Is America truly the cradle of democracy? Not when its president is elected by a minority, not when government for corporations displaces �by the people for the people�.

Is America the land of the free? Not when powerful corporations can silence dissidents like Michael Moore. Is America the land of plenty? Not when one household in thirteen lives in a trailer.

Does the US have the best way of life? In a BBC poll, 96 per cent of Americans say that foreigners want to live in America. In the same poll, one Australian in 100 says she would prefer to live in America. It�s not hard to guess why: Australians like paid vacations, Medicare, the fair go, even if it doesn�t always work perfectly.

By studying America’s self-image, we can collect symptoms of the ‘disease’ that ails American society. By America�s own standard, the standard of its self-image, the US is a sick society. Behind torture and all the other symptoms, you can find the same driving principles. �America is the best.� �Might means right.� �Corporations have a right to maximise profit.� �Government should serve the economy.� �People must look after themselves.� �Status comes from wealth.� �Winning justifies anything.�

Behind it all, you can find a powerful blend of ignorance, hypocrisy, and obedience. It�s a kind of disease, something I call the �IHO Syndrome�: I for ignorance, H for hypocrisy, O for Obedience. Under its influence, lies become truth, wrong becomes right. Peace becomes war, justice becomes torture.

Of course, every American is not always ignorant, hypocritical and obedient. Of course, the US does not have a monopoly on ignorance, hypocrisy and obedience. But when we interpret American society through these lenses, current events make a lot more sense. And that suggests ways to fix that society.

We must produce awareness to replace ignorance. Dissenters must spear hypocrisy with truth. Instead of obeying, American people must resist.

On paper, that sounds simple. But in America as around the world, many people feel powerless to change things.

In Australia, suppose you try to solve just one problem: the logging of old-growth forests. You will butt against government. You will butt against corporations. The press will help your fight, but only up to a point. And you will feel that modern society�s values work against you.

Take two friends and try to discuss how people can solve a problem you care about – Australia�s presence in Iraq, refugee detention centres, anything. You will soon find yourself entangled in the same web: government priorities, corporate power, media focus, modern values. Some call that the �system�. We feel discouraged because we see that to fix one problem, we would have to fix the entire system.

Most people would love to fix the system. This means that citizens must have the power to decide policies. Two-thirds of Americans think Congress should pass stricter gun control laws, such as keeping track of who buys guns. Survey after survey confirms this, but the surveys also show that Americans expect Congress not to pass these laws. Government does not obey people.

People cannot shape policies, much less institutions, unless they reach a critical mass. To reach a critical mass, we need to take a stand, and we need to awaken our neighbours, our parents, our friends.

It works. That�s the way change happens every time, from Alabama blacks� right to ride in the front of the bus to Torres Strait islanders� right to own their land. And it�s enjoyable. Most people I know prefer to work with others for a distant goal than to sit isolated in their living rooms. Apathy is an illusion. We are isolated, so we assume that no one else has any interest in changing the world, and we join the official game – work harder, buy more. When we break the isolation, when we talk to strangers, we realise that most people share the same interests.

Many people are waking up. Michael Moore�s popularity is a sign of dissent. Many will try to change society if they see a way.

There’s no secret. To change the ‘system’, we need to take a stand and wake up people around us: parents, friends, workmates. At some point it becomes acceptable to disagree – it becomes the norm to disagree. It doesn�t work overnight, but it�s the only sure way to produce change.

Irony inc: former detainee to travel to Iraq for Dad’s funeral

The refugee son of the assassinated Iraqi leader, Izzedin Salim, has been granted special dispensation to return to Iraq and grieve with his family.


A Special Purpose Visa for Riad al-Hujaj was being hastily arranged yesterday after the intervention of the Prime MInister John Howard and Minister for Immigration Senator Amanda Vanstone.

Mr Hujaj, who arrived by boat in Australia in October 2000, lives in western Sydney on a temporary protection visa (TPV). Normally, if he was to leave Australia he would not be allowed to return.

Mr Salim, a long-time opponent of Saddam Hussein and member of the Islamic Dawa Party, was heading the US-appointed Iraq Governing Council when he was killed in Baghdad on Monday by a suicide bomber.

Mr Hujaj described the decision as the best consolation he could get in his time of grief. “I was not expecting this would happen so I am extremely thrilled. I am very grateful to the Government to be able to go and come back,” he told an interpreter.

“It’s probably the first time someone in my position could travel like this.”

A spokesman for Senator Vanstone could not provide details of how often such visas had been issued. “They have been used from time to time but they have not been regularly used.”

However, Margaret Piper, the executive director of the Refugee Council of Australia, said the visa was extremely rare. To count how many times it had been used would not need “very many fingers at all and definitely not any more than one hand”.

Three years ago the then Minister Philip Ruddock refused Ahmed Alzalimi permission to visit his wife Sondous Ismail Ibrahim in Indonesia after their three children drowned in the Siev X disaster.

“When they argue a man who has lost three children is not a sufficiently serious situation to warrant the minister exercising his discretion and here we have a situation where, yes there is a real tragedy involved but because of the political connections the visa is offered very promptly there is a significant inconsistency,” Ms Piper said.

Go tell it to the Marines, lying John

Jack Robertson is Webdiary’s Meeja Watch columnist. He is a former helicopter pilot in the Australian Defence Force.


What makes me despair about history like this?

Q: Who gave the order to wipe the demonstrators out?

A: Higher command. We were told to be on the lookout for the civilians because a lot of the Fedayeen and the Republican Guards had tossed away uniforms and put on civilian clothes and were mounting terrorist attacks on American soldiers. The intelligence reports that were given to us were basically known by every member of the chain of command. The rank structure that was implemented in Iraq by the chain of command was evident to every Marine in Iraq. The order to shoot the demonstrators, I believe, came from senior government officials, including intelligence communities within the military and the U.S. government.

Q: What kind of firepower was employed?

A: M-16s, 50-cal. machine guns.

Q: You fired into six or ten kids? Were they all taken out?

A: Oh, yeah. Well, I had a “mercy” on one guy. When we rolled up, he was hiding behind a concrete pillar. I saw him and raised my weapon up, and he put up his hands. He ran off. I told everybody, “Don’t shoot.” Half of his foot was trailing behind him. So he was running with half of his foot cut off.

What makes me despair are premonitions like this from fiteen months ago, warning of the brutal butchery this ex-Marine will live with for the rest of his life:

Let’s say ten invading LAV-25s roll into an Iraqi town. A twenty-year old Iraqi hothead takes exception to his aged parents being frightened by all these foreign soldiers, and waves his AK-47 around a bit. Who exactly is threatening whom here? What would the young GI in the LAV-25 turret be doing himself if this was occurring in Baton Rouge, with roles reversed? How will that same GI see things five minutes later, if and/or when he is surveying thirty dead men, women and children from his LAV-25, because the ‘stupid’ Iraqi squeezed off a frantic round or two, and the US commander, rightly not wanting to endanger his own troops unnecessarily, had everyone open up, and the situation descended into a one-sided blood-bath? Is this self-defence? Is this a war crime? Is it just bad luck? And is it the Iraqi kid’s own stupid fault, really? What would you do, Harry? Surrender obediently to an invading soldier who has vowed to overthrow your government, however much you might (or might not) hate it yourself? It’s not as if the kid’s got anywhere else to go. Regardless of the legal niceties, the GI will have to live with his actions forever, and uppermost in his mind will be the knowledge that his actions occurred in the context of a US invasion that even a great big wedge of his own countrymen simply didn’t support, not a ‘peace-keeping mission’, or a ‘defensive insertion’, or a ‘humanitarian aid project’.

That was from a Meeja Watch piece on 25 January 2003 called ‘White House Anti-Americanism, Australian Patriotic Blackmail’, and it’s exactly how things have panned out. Right down to the sense of moral betrayal this guy feels.

Go and read the whole interview with Staff Sergeant Massey, and weep for the brave men and women who the cowards in the White House have screwed. (But do make sure you weep much, much harder for the butchered Iraqis civilians on the other end of Massey’s .50 cal. He was a volunteer, after all, and millions of people worldwide did try to point out his President’s lies before he’d killed any Iraqis, when it mattered. Also he got to wear a flak jacket and ride in an armoured vehicle while doing so. Also, he had a nice home town to go back to when his outraged soul had had enough. Lest we start to forget who the truly betrayed victims of all this are.)

Q: Did the revelations that the government fabricated the evidence for war affect the troops?

A: Yes. I killed innocent people for our government. For what? What did I do? Where is the good coming out of it? I feel like I’ve had a hand in some sort of evil lie at the hands of our government. I just feel embarrassed, ashamed about it.

Q: I understand that all the incidents – killing civilians at checkpoints, itchy fingers at the rally – weigh on you. What happened with your commanding officers? How did you deal with them?

A: There was an incident. It was right after the fall of Baghdad, when we went back down south. On the outskirts of Karbala, we had a morning meeting on the battle plan. I was not in a good mindset. All these things were going through my head – about what we were doing over there. About some of the things my troops were asking. I was holding it all inside. He didn’t like that. He got up and stormed off. And I knew right then and there that my career was over. I was talking to my commanding officer.

Q: What happened then?

A: After I talked to the top commander, I was kind of scurried away. I was basically put on house arrest. I didn’t talk to other troops. I didn’t want to hurt them. I didn’t want to jeopardize them. I want to help people. I felt strongly about it. I had to say something. When I was sent back to stateside, I went in front of the sergeant major. He’s in charge of 3,500-plus Marines. “Sir,” I told him, “I don’t want your money. I don’t want your benefits. What you did was wrong.” It was just a personal conviction with me. I’ve had an impeccable career. I chose to get out. And you know who I blame? I blame the president of the U.S. It’s not the grunt. I blame the president because he said they had weapons of mass destruction. It was a lie.

Are you listening to stories like this, Prime Minister? Are you spinning the rich, friendly neo-conservatives of the Institute of Public Affairs stories of Iraq right now, this evening?



The Hon JOHN HOWARD Prime Minister will address The IPA CD KEMP ANNUAL DINNER in Melbourne Wednesday 19 May, 6.15 pm.

IRAQ: THE IMPORTANCE OF SEEING IT THROUGH – The Prime Minister will focus on a description of the current situation in Iraq and make a comprehensive statement of the Government’s response.

RSVP essential by Monday, 17 May 2004

$175 members, per seat

$190 non members, per seat

Premium Corporate tables of 10, $2250

Some seats remaining at Head Table $4000 each


Then why not choose Staff Sergeant Massey’s ‘description of the current situation in Iraq’ as your speech template, Prime Minister? Instead of painting us nice friendly ANZACs a conveniently ‘cuddly’ and more ‘ethical’ shade of desert khaki than those crazy, trigger-happy Yanks. Because I can assure you that if you want stories of good old Aussies slaughtering Iraqis, my brother will gladly oblige. It’s a war, John – yours, and George’s, and Tony’s.

So why not help our ANZUS allies out with the ‘moral heavy lifting’ too, by reading out loud to the IPA just how Staff Sergeant Massey feels about your war lies now. Why not embrace his personal war as yours, too? Saying, to all the rich men at your table who paid $4,000 to bask in your warm Churchilllian glow: “Look – I did this! I lied and lied and lied, and I made Staff Sergeant Massey butcher innocent civilians. I pulled the trigger. And all of you supported me, with your money and your power. And so together we must take full legal and moral responsibility for Staff Sergeant Massey’s predicament.” You won’t, of course, Prime Minister Howard. You and your respectable business mates never own up to the wars you make happen. Cowards.

Iraq: the importance of seeing through you, Lying John. As they say in America: take your f***king speech and go tell it to the Marines.


For the next two weeks, Terry Sedgwick is standing in for David Tiley who stood in for Tim Dunlop who stood in for the man who danced with a man who danced with the Prince of Wales. Terry is a cartoonist, has been a ceramist, has been a sculptural designer and has been a has-been. He combines his role as has-been with that of Australia’s One and True Visible Governor General, atLord Sedgwick of Strathmore. (OA, DFC, DSC, VC, KPMG, WTF, IOOF)


We understand this to be the first Blogjam filed from international waters. The Prime Minister has placed at our disposal one of the luxury yachts seized near Melville Island (fully refurbished and a full tank of petrol) for our return from Denmark. It has been our privilege to represent Australia at the friendly takeover of our own home-grown, apple-cheeked, apple-isled Princess by the Danish Royal Family Inc. whose founding CEO was affectionately known as ‘Gorm the Old of Denmark’.

Whilst it was an event of great interest to the delightfully hospitable and egalitarian people of Denmark, we were surprised to hear of the extensive coverage back in Australia. We believe that, despite important events like the Budget and another grumble from Miss Haversham, the impatient aspirational formerly known as the Treasurer, the 7.30 Report saw fit to set aside half of each programme plus its entire annual budget to accommodate Phillip Williams’ coverage of the Dianisation of Ms Donaldson.

We note that bloggers gave the moving offshore fairytale a big swerve in favour of far weightier matters. There were a few exceptions. We were surprised to see that Tim of Surfdom was reduced to “puking”.

Caz at The Spin Starts Here was uncharacteristically dulcet in her tone, whilst Helen (as noted in Blogjam8) leaned over her balcony and spotted an irony in Australia’s official gift, a stand of native trees.

The world appears to be swamped by a rolling tsumani of apologies. Bush, Blair, Rice, Powell, Rumsfeld, Kimmit … Are they apologies from a few isolated individuals? How far down the chain of command will they go?

The Daily Mirror “apologised unreservedly” for printing fake pictures which in turn led to a mea culpa from Barista who, in a tired and emotional lapse, had doubted the doubters: “Are we convinced? Not bloody likely, I am afraid.”

John Quiggin suggests that there are some who should be taking a good hard look in the mirror::

“It’s striking to observe that the Daily Mirror has more stringent standards of personal responsibility than the Blair government (or, for that matter, any government in the Coalition of the Willing).”

Helen was the recipient of an apology from a parishioner, Ken of Troppo Armadillo, who has hadsecond thoughts on the Timor boundary, concluding “that Australia’s current position is both shameful and indefensible” and offers an apology for disparaging remarks made about her.

“it’s all about the oil” in East Timor post. Ken appears to be skating on very thin ice and may be at risk of losing his turn on the big leather chair in the port and cigars room at the “Darwin Lawyers’ Club”. (ref. “Lawyering for Fun and Profit”. Chapter5. Verse 11. “Never explain, never apologise.”)

(Pointing out this exchange is not intended to be a gratuitous beefing up of Blogjam by shouting “Fight! Fight!” but to highlight one of the better features of blogging. “We were wrong … or wrongish” postings travel expeditiously and effectively in the blog world. Corrections and reappraisals are a point of honour for most bloggers … and there’s always the comments box to keep the blogging bastards honest.)

Ah yes, the dear old Democrats,“The Lie Detectors”, moving seamlessly from a simple “Keeping the [other] Bastards Honest” chant, to running a high tech political polygraph testing facility.

Biometrical testing of the bowling action of Sri Lankan Muttiah Muralitharan has prompted the Prime Minister to throw his Akubra into the ring and to declare Murali “a chucker”. After Grog Blognotes that the spinner is not happy with John’s quick declaration. “[Murali] would boycott Australia this winter because of Prime Minister John Howard.” “I won’t be going because of the Australian Prime Minister.” Tony on the other hand can’t wait to get to an Australian ballot box, “Shamelessly linking sport and politics … yet another reason to vote for Howard.”

The beard of economic gravitas, John Quiggin, ran his third eye over the budget and declared it “too clever by half”. He then turned from the short-term politics of the budget and asked “what does it do for Australia’s long-run future?” (N.B.: Quiggin’s analysis should be read with great circumspection. Not a single pie-chart in sight!)

Christopher Sheil looked at the “go forth and multiply, populate or perish” budget’s early polling.“The government’s now saying that it didn’t expect any immediate bounce; that the cat is not dead, only resting; and that the thing will bounce right on up there when they take the time to explain the benefits.” He concludes that “If it doesn’t bounce by Tuesday, [18/5] this will be one very, very expensive ex-cat!” (Tuesday’s come and gone, and as Backpages intimated, the reading of the cat’s entrails doesn’t look much like a barbeque stopper.)

Many Blogjam readers would have watched “Enough Rope” for the interview with Salam Pax (No longer in Baghdad. Now in Hiatus.) who, according to Peter Maass of, was (WARNING: Hyperbole next 5k.) “the most famous and most mysterious blogger in the world�Salam Pax was the Anne Frank of the war�and its Elvis.” Australian blogging’s ‘Salam Pax’ has yet to enter the building.

Not in hiatus, still in Baghdad, Riverbend posts on her reaction to the Daniel Berg killing. “I think beheading was the chosen method of ‘execution’ because the group wanted to shock Americans and westerners in the worst possible way. The torturers at Abu Ghraib and other prisons chose sexual degradation because they knew that nothing would hurt and appall Iraqis and Muslims more than those horrible, sadistic acts. To Iraqis, death is infinitely better than being raped or sexually abused. There are things worse than death itself and those pictures portrayed them.”

Gary Sauer-Thompson graphically notes, “Caravaggio’s painting of the beheading of John the Baptist bears an uncanny similarity to the still images of the beheading of Nick Berg by Islamic extremists.” Gary further considers the ‘moral equivalence’ arguments that have been raised by this savage event. “The line between civilization and barbarism is much thinner than Downer implies.”

The vice regal yacht has now moved into Australian territorial waters. Before we sail any closer it might be wise to have look at the latest updates of excised migration zones. There are more blog postings from this past week that warrant a look so we shall prepare a quick list whilst Lady Livia looks for our travel documents.

“How To Get Out Of Iraq.” (Satire) Giblets also has a brilliant solution for “How To Resolve The Standoff With North Korea” (hint: it starts with “n” and ends with “uclear bombardment”).

Josh Marshall. “Here’s the latest update from my friend in Iraq, a retired military intelligence officer, now working as a security contractor in Iraq.”

Josh Marshall again. ” regardless of the broad deterioration in the President’s poll numbers, John Kerry is still, at best,only a few points ahead of him.” (Any resonances in the Antipodes?)

Graham Freeman. Ten Days That Shook The World (Of Weblogs). MT, which is used by many bloggers mentioned on Blogjam, makes unwelcome changes and Graham jumps ship. “A business that conducts itself in this way is no longer one I could be bothered dealing with”.

Tim Dunlop. “I know you all, quite rightly, bristle a bit with the Vietnam comparisons, and I’ve never made one before, but …”

Soul Pacific.“Goodbye Geneva, Hello Rumsfeld”

Catallaxy Files.“… the safest call is that so far the Budget has had no electoral impact.”

Juan Cole:“People have been asking me about the slain president of the Interim Governing Council, Ezzedin Salim (Izz al-Din Salim).”

William Burroughs’ Baboon. “Morality is the final superstition in the unilateral world.”

Last but not lost. Full circle. From Princess Mary to another water cooler stopper …

Hot Buttered Death. “Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow has given birth to her first child, a baby girl named Apple Blythe Alison Martin”

Murdoch’s war on truth: it’s NOT about oil

It�s bound to be a coincidence, but a strange little editorial in the Australian yesterday attacked my argument in Sunday�s Sun Herald that Iraq was an oil war: Oils ain’t just oils, they’re to die for.


“Oil is a crude theory for invasion of Iraq”, the Australian�s headline declared:

The great value of conspiracy theories is that they are immune to evidence. The key argument of the Left about the invasion of Iraq – it was �all about oil� � is essentially a conspiracy theory, tied up with the oil links of the Bush family along with those of Vice-President Dick Cheney. This argument has never had any purchase on the facts. If the principle concern of the US in Iraq was oil, easily the best policy would have been to keep Saddam Hussein in power, and buy him off.

… But there is something that makes renewed cries of �It�s all about oil� sound even stranger � and, well, it�s all about oil. The price of a barrel of crude crashed through the $US40 ($57) last week for the first time in more than a decade. There are many factors behind the rise, including strong demand in China and the US, and of course the fact the OPEC cartel still controls two-thirds of known reserves. But there is also the invasion of Iraq. If US policy was �all about oil�, then helping drive up the price by a destabilising Middle East war was a strange way of pursuing it. Thanks to the US and its allies, Iraq will once again have a thriving oil industry, at which point it will almost certainly join OPEC. Our actions will end the pain for Iraqis � but not our own pain at the pumps.

What sort of �argument� is happening here, and just who has no �purchase on the facts�?

1. The US did buy Saddam off, kept him in power and financed his war on Iran after its puppet there, the Shah of Iran, was destroyed by revolution. Things went wrong when Saddam invaded Kuwait, and ever since he�s been persona non grata in Washington.

2. We now know courtesy of Bob Woodward, Richard Clarke and others that Bush ordered a war plan to invade Iraq almost as soon as he took office, and that months before S11, Colin Powell announced that Saddam was effectively contained. We also know that from the day after S11, Bush�s people discussed invading Iraq, despite no evidence that it had any connection to S11, and despite advice that war on Iraq would divert America from the war on terrorism.

3. The editorial avoids addressing the respectable argument that the world is running out of oil!

4. Former lieutenant-colonel in the U.S. Air Force Karen Kwiatkowski, who worked near the Bush people�s special plans unit to tart up intelligence on Iraq�s WMDs, said of the real reasons for war:

The neoconservatives pride themselves on having a global vision, a long-term strategic perspective. And there were three reasons why they felt the U.S. needed to topple Saddam, put in a friendly government and occupy Iraq. One of those reasons is that sanctions and containment were working and everybody pretty much knew it. Many companies around the world were preparing to do business with Iraq in anticipation of a lifting of sanctions. But the U.S. and the U.K. had been bombing northern and southern Iraq since 1991. So it was very unlikely that we would be in any kind of position to gain significant contracts in any post-sanctions Iraq. And those sanctions were going to be lifted soon, Saddam would still be in place, and we would get no financial benefit.

The second reason has to do with our military-basing posture in the region. We had been very dissatisfied with our relations with Saudi Arabia, particularly the restrictions on our basing. And also there was dissatisfaction from the people of Saudi Arabia. So we were looking for alternate strategic locations beyond Kuwait, beyond Qatar, to secure something we had been searching for since the days of Carter � to secure the energy lines of communication in the region. Bases in Iraq, then, were very important � that is, if you hold that is America�s role in the world. Saddam Hussein was not about to invite us in.

The last reason is the conversion, the switch Saddam Hussein made in the Food for Oil program, from the dollar to the euro. He did this, by the way, long before 9/11, in November 2000 � selling his oil for euros. The oil sales permitted in that program aren�t very much. But when the sanctions would be lifted, the sales from the country with the second largest oil reserves on the planet would have been moving to the euro.

The U.S. dollar is in a sensitive period because we are a debtor nation now. Our currency is still popular, but it�s not backed up like it used to be. If oil, a very solid commodity, is traded on the euro, that could cause massive, almost glacial, shifts in confidence in trading on the dollar. So one of the first executive orders that Bush signed in May [2003] switched trading on Iraq�s oil back to the dollar. (Soldier for the Truth: Exposing Bush�s talking-points war)

5. Yes, the US policy was flawed – remember, the neo-cons thought they’d go in, beat Saddam, and be out in a year with the booty. Has the Aus. forgotten its own propaganda?

6. And has it forgotten the words of its owner Rupert Murdoch, who pronounced before the war:

The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy, if you could put it that way, would be $20 a barrel for oil. That’s bigger than any tax cut in any country.

Who knows what the future holds? I have a pretty optimistic medium and long-term view but things are going to be pretty sticky until we get Iraq behind us. But once it’s behind us, the whole world will benefit from cheaper oil which will be a bigger stimulus than anything else.

(Bush) will either go down in history as a very great president or he’ll crash and burn. I’m optimistic it will be the former by a ratio of two to one. (Murdoch: Cheap oil the prize)

What is the Aus. doing here? Afraid the truth will finally burst through the propaganda? Trying to preempt Mike Moore’s movie? Whatever it’s doing, it’s deliberately avoided “any purchase on the facts”.

Before more from you on oil, for those of you following the Media Matters challenge of The Bushies’ favourite shock jock Rush “they’re just letting off steam” Limbaugh, see Media Matters. The network which runs his show won’t run the ads! How long before this happens in Australia? Antony Loewenstein recommends Get Me Rewrite! Stories make the world go around. So how come liberals can�t tell one?Greg O�Connor in Yeronga, Queensland recommends an interview with an American soldier who invaded Iraq and left with bitterness, at Atrocities in Iraq: �I killed innocent people for our government�.



Matt Marshall: Check out this website.

Brendan Mooney: I have been following the global Peak oil issue, Oil economics and the Iraq war quite closely and read this essay some time ago. Have a read, it’s quite interesting: Revisited – The Real Reasons for the Upcoming War With Iraq: A Macroeconomic and Geostrategic Analysis of the Unspoken Truth

Ian McPherson

Colin Campbell and Kjell Alecklett at ASPO have updated the Peak Oil model, and have now predicted that world Peak Oil will occur in 2008 (not 2010) � see peak oil and its latest newsletter. This model was generated in response to the fact that the Middle East (specifically Saudi Arabia) no longer has sufficient spare capacity to discharge a swing role (over oil prices).

The steepest section of the downward curve, between now and 2020, indicates the critical timeline for any development of alternative energy sources. 12 years is not a long time, and the price of oil will climb steeply during this time. Even more importantly, oil will be needed to R&D other energy sources.

The best introduction to Peak Oil that I have seen is a RealVideo presentation from Dr. Colin Campbell, Founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil: A turning point for mankind. If you have broadband, please check it out. It was recorded in Germany in 2000.


Phil Webb

There’s nothing like a long term problem to make people’s eyes glaze over.

In theory everyone wants to help curb global warming and pollution. But only if they don’t have to lower their perceived standard of living. At a time when the price of petrol is starting to edge it’s way up to a more realistic price, 6 of the top 10 best selling cars in Australia come with an engine choice of 3 litre V6 or 5 litre V8. At the same time the government is subsidising the purchase of not particularly eco friendly four wheel drive vehicles to the tune of $500 million per year, where the only time the vast majority of the 4WDs go off road is when they drive up the kerb. John Winston must be sweating in his size 7’s, knowing how sensitive those “battlers” in their V8 utes and Pajeros are to petrol prices.

This is just one aspect of oil use – the increasing prevalence of plastic based disposable lifestyles is also a major contributor. But the scale of the addiction is highlighted by the article in the SMH today, where commuters point out they would rather spend 2 hours per day in their car than catch public transport, unless it happened to pick them up at the end of the street, drop them off at the door of their workplace, take half the time of travelling in the car and of course be a reasonable cost. It isn’t just George and Dick who are addicted to oil.


Darrell Stone in Belmont, NSW

I always enjoy reading your Sunday column, but yesterday�s was long overdue.

For some time now, the concerns on the decline of the oil age have failed to reach the mainstream news media. It was pleasing to see chinks in the armour that have limited this discussion. It, and global warming, pose the greatest threat to our future, not terrorism. Our government MPs are too worried about their pension cheques to look at what needs to be done to prepare our society for a future with personal transport only for the wealthy and expensive food for everyone because of the loss of cheap oil.

On alternative energy, the NSW government is playing around with toy power stations to allow for peaks when we turn our air conditioners on. The federal government is going to subsidise oil search programs to the tune of $1.50 for each $1 spent.

If we were to use all of the wheat that Oz produces to make biofuel, it would only satisfy 9% of our demand � and leave us without any bread!


Michael Ekin Smyth

�Peak oil� is like reds-under-the-bed, or �Bolshevik hordes� or any of the many other spectres of doom and destruction that have been trotted out by various demagogues over the years. Like all of them it is based on an element of truth taken out of context and spun to meet other political needs and aims.

Certainly many agree that production from conventional oil sources will peak sometime in the relatively near future – in this decade or perhaps in the next few decades. But, so what?

The �real� price of energy – the percentage of overall global income needed to pay for it – has declined for centuries and is highly likely to continue to do so. Even if the rate of decline of energy cost flattened, or even reversed, markets could quickly adapt.

In 1980 the energy industry made up � ball park � nearly 10 per cent of gross world product. Today it constitutes somewhere between three and four per cent. If oil prices soared by a factor of say 4 � to about 160 dollars a barrel � that would only take us back to 1980 in real terms.

Once oil prices rise above 30 dollars � average over a whole 12 months of trading � the incentives for substitution begin to click in � big time.

Non-conventional oil sources � heavy crudes, oil slates etc � are currently producible at between 14 and 25 dollars a barrel. However given the front loaded investment cycle � it costs a lot to start up these projects � investors are not keen until there is a track record of between 12 and 24 months of consistently �high� prices. That has not, as yet, occurred. If and when it does, large numbers of projects based on non-conventional sources ill start to come on stream.

Other forms of hydrocarbon energy � gas, coal also begin to compete more effectively when prices are consistently above 20 dollars a barrel � in all areas except, of course, the transport market.

In addition, the incentives for alternatives � such as hydro, solar, nuclear and � crucially biofuels – grow exponentially. Biotech is likely to prove to be a crucial factor in the generation of new fuel �resources� within just a few decades. All of that, along with continued improvements in energy efficiency and the introduction of new technologies such as fuel cells, means that even if conventional oil �peaks� the long-term implications for the world economy are limited.

Within the oil market itself the competition from other fuels is just as important an influence on price as the overall supply. So, OPEC continues to be caught in its historic cleft stick. They can drive up prices in the short and medium term � but if those prices stay �high� (currently above say 30 dollars a barrel) � the incentives for competitors become too significant. Then competing conventional sources, unconventional sources and alternatives click in. The result? A price crash � very similar to the one we saw in 1986.

It is certainly true that we will continue to see changes in the energy industry – as we have seen continuously over the last few centuries. The dominance of oil is already over � after all, it makes up less than half the energy market � and it will likely continue to decline over coming decades. It will continue to be a very important isues, worth hundreds of billions each year, but in a global economy near 27 trillion, it has to be seen in context.

> As the basis for a doomster, �end of the world as we know it� movement it doesn�t wash. Nor does it wash as the key to any paranoid anti-democratic, anti-free market and anti-American conspiracy theories.