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Critics are 'sexing up' their arguments against the government's case for war

By Alexander Downer - posted Tuesday, 24 February 2004

When you accuse someone of dishonesty, you need to be scrupulously honest yourself. Critics of the Government's decision to support the liberation of Iraq should take particular note. Their hysterical claims of dishonesty typically rely on highly selective and disingenuous use of the information available. The critics ignore, twist and manipulate the information available to whatever extent is necessary to make their offensive allegations seem plausible. In short, they "sex up".

These critics (whose preferred position would have left Saddam Hussein in power) need to be mindful that members of the public will recall what they have actually been told. Just check the record.

For instance, Labor's Kevin Rudd, on February 4, wrote: "Let's be clear about Howard's reasons for war. In the legal opinion he tabled last March, the only reason canvassed was to eliminate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. No humanitarian reason was advanced." The Government, he says, has changed its justification since "the WMD argument came unstuck". (The Australian)


In fact, the Government has always made it clear that the legal justification for the war was to enforce Iraqi compliance with a series of UN Security Council resolutions relating to the elimination of Iraq's WMD programs, in particular UNSC 1441. Throughout the long debate leading up to the war, however, the Government made it clear that the Iraqi regime was barbarous, inhumane and treacherous.

We highlighted its mass murders, its sponsorship of terrorism and its use of chemical weapons against its own people. We said regime change could not be a legal basis for war but would be a welcome consequence. We said that eliminating Iraq's WMD programs was a critical step in the enforcement of global anti-proliferation objectives.

Rudd, however, continues to accuse the Government of being "loose with the truth". And, when he believes an existing inquiry could support the Government's position, he calls, pre-emptively, for another inquiry. How sincere is it to call for a new inquiry when the existing one is incomplete?

The Government stands by its arguments and its record for sharing intelligence assessments honestly with the public. We do not seek to hide from the fact that we made some references to stockpiles and that, so far, none has been found. This is an issue that warrants sensible debate. But that debate should be honest, recognising that the stockpile argument is only one part of the story.

No one would doubt anyone's right to highlight David Kay's assessment that there may not have been any stockpiles of WMD left in Iraq by the time the military action began. But an honest discussion of the issue warrants reference to Kay's other findings and comments. For instance, this response to CNN's question about whether the war was worthwhile:

"Absolutely, and I think not just for the Iraqis, which is clearest. I think the world is far safer. I actually believe that Saddam and Iraq were becoming more dangerous to us, not less dangerous. It was a society that was breaking up.


"Yet it was a stockpile of scientists and technology and actual equipment for producing (WMDs), while we're in a world where terrorists and others are seeking those weapons.

"They would have acquired it."

Kay found that Iraq had active WMD programs in contravention of the UNSC resolutions that Saddam had spent more than a dozen years defying. Kay also raised questions about the possible last-minute destruction of weapons or even their transport across the border to Syria.

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This article was previously published in The Australian.

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About the Author

The Hon. Alexander Downer MP is Minister for Foreign Affairs and Member for Mayo (SA).

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