So, no weapons of mass destruction. And no programmes to manufacture them either. The final findings of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) come as no surprise, and they conclusively relegate to the realm of fantasy two tiers of the vapid justifications advanced for the conquest and occupation of Iraq.
But, given that the ISG is an organ of the US government rather than an independent entity, it was more or less inevitable that it would try to offer some comfort to the invaders. This takes the shape of its conclusion that Saddam Hussein was determined to revive his weapons programmes once the United Nations sanctions were lifted.
Conveniently, this assertion cannot be substantiated. It is purely speculative and based on hearsay, yet it is now supposed to suffice as a reason not only for maintaining sanctions even after they had served their ostensible purpose, but also for a military assault that has cost tens of thousands of civilian lives.
This, surely, is the stuff that dystopias are made of. Even neo conservatives would distance themselves from the implication that the possible long term intentions of a leader, elected or otherwise, should constitute reasonable grounds for pre-emption through exclusively military means. But not George W. Bush and Tony Blair. To them, the ISG’s speculative coda proves that they were right to wreak havoc in Iraq.
In a just world, Bush and Blair would be hauled up before an international tribunal and tried for crimes against humanity - alongside the likes of Saddam and Osama bin Laden.
The difference between the two pairs would, of course, be that while Bush and Blair could be prosecuted in tandem for the same offences, Saddam and bin Laden would require completely separate trials. They had nothing to do with each other, as the US Defence Secretary acknowledged last week.
Being who he is, Donald Rumsfeld subsequently claimed he had been misunderstood. It was, in other words, just another case of the truth inadvertently slipping through lips that ought to have known better.
By the weekend, Rummy had slipped quietly into Baghdad, reportedly armed with a plan to ensure that over the next few weeks the news from Iraq isn’t bad enough to undermine the US president’s bid for re-election.
That can only be achieved by killing the truth (or, perhaps, members of the international press corps) alongside Iraqis. And all for the sake of preventing regime change in Washington DC.
That shouldn’t require too much effort, given John Kerry’s tendency to queer the pitch for himself. Although his fortunes have recovered somewhat after he out-pointed the incumbent in their first two debates, Kerry has been far too cautious on Iraq. He has chiefly restricted himself to the argument that the mess in Mesopotamia is a consequence of the Bush administration’s mis-judgments.
That’s accurate enough as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go far enough. Kerry concedes that the official arguments for the invasion were based on falsehoods, but hasn’t been able to muster the courage to unequivocally condemn the war as a duplicitous misadventure that shouldn’t even have been contemplated.
Australian opposition leader Mark Latham made the same mistake during the campaign that preceded last Saturday’s election, which saw the conservative incumbent, John Howard, returned to power with an increased majority for a fourth term as prime minister.
Australia has only 800 troops in Iraq - a token presence by any measure. But they were deployed in the face of overwhelming public opposition, and the process was accompanied by a series of fairly blatant lies.
Over the past couple of years, the Howard government has also faithfully regurgitated the untruths passed down from Washington and London. Last week’s election was the first opportunity for voters to express their dismay. But they didn’t. Because throughout the campaign almost no one mentioned the war.
To his credit, Latham never resiled from the position he adopted a few months ago, when he promised that Australian troops would be home by Christmas, and any civilian assistance to Iraq would be provided under US auspices. But it’s not something he iterated very often, evidently under American pressure.
On domestic issues, the shrewd and mendacious Howard outwitted the Labor opposition, chiefly through scare campaigns concentrating on Latham’s relative inexperience (he became party chief less than a year ago) and the fact that under previous Labor governments, interest rates were considerably higher than they are now.
A large proportion of Australians have mortgages or loans, and weren’t willing to take a chance with Labor, despite assurances from leading economists that interest rates depend to a far greater extent on the international economic environment than on which party is in power.
During the five-week campaign, the government also made promises worth tens of billions of dollars, focusing on crucial groups of voters in marginal constituencies. The strategy paid off, in keeping with the trend in Western societies towards what has been described as the best democracy money can buy.
Over the next three years, Australian voters will have ample opportunity to regret their folly, for not only have their increased Howard’s majority in the House of Representatives, they have for the first time also given him control of the Senate - the upper house, where the combined force of Labour, Greens and independents has hitherto been able to defeat particularly offensive pieces of government legislation.
That will no longer be possible. Nor is the new Senate likely to keep up the tradition of revealing inquiries into matters of public interest. The Howard government’s agenda includes changes in industrial relations laws that would make it much simpler for employers to dismiss employees; changes in media ownership regulations that would enable the same company to own newspapers as well as television channels - something that Rupert Murdoch has long lobbied for; complete privatization of the nation’s main telco; further undermining of state-provided health care; shifting resources from state-owned to private schools; and making further education increasingly inaccessible.
And, to top it all, the far-right spot on the parliamentary spectrum has been occupied by a new party called Family First, which is expected to bolster the smattering of Christian fundamentalists within the ruling coalition.
Of course, Australian voters’ dire decision to opt for the forces of darkness is unlikely to cause many ripples beyond the nation’s shores. Australia, after all, is a small and relatively insignificant country.
An equivalent result in the US election would have repercussions worldwide. Granted, regime change in the US would not lead to dramatic policy shifts - but even subtle modifications in nuance could, in the circumstances, make a big difference.
And, unlike in Australia, the war is a hot topic stateside. It’s unfortunate that Kerry can’t be expected to emphasize that, contrary to repeated claims by the Bush administration that military action against Iraq was necessitated by defiance of Security Council resolutions, the ISG’s findings in fact prove that Saddam had done what was demanded of him.
Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter points out that Iraq sought to infiltrate inspection teams because it wanted to find out why sanctions remained in place despite its compliance.
Baghdad feared - correctly, as it turns out - that the US had an agenda quite different from that of the UN. It suspected some of the inspectors of effectively being American spies. Right again, says Ritter, adding that among the ostensible UN representatives who spoke regularly to senior US officials was Charles Duelfer, now chief of the ISG.
It is a pity that Kerry is reluctant to forcefully nail some of his rival’s biggest canards. Electorates the world over take it for granted that most politicians are professional fibbers.
But the sheer scale and audacity of the lies told and repeated ad nauseum over the past couple of years - not only in the US but in Britain, Australia, Italy and Spain - is breathtaking. Unless the trend is arrested (as it was in Spain), it threatens grave damage to democratic institutions.
It isn’t clear whether Kerry’s ambiguous message is winning many converts, and it appears unlikely he will be able to deliver anything resembling a knockout blow at the third and final encounter with the president.
The White House has nonetheless been worried. Bush looked particularly out of sorts during the first debate, and hawkeyed viewers spotted a square-shaped bulge on the back of his jacket, which had the internet buzzing with speculation about the possibility that he was equipped with an electronic device that enabled a live audio feed from a strategically placed adviser - possibly Karl Rove.
This allegation is unlikely to ever be supported by conclusive proof. The White House kept quiet for a while, then came up with the explanation that the “object” was no more than a crinkle in an imperfectly stitched jacket. The presidential tailor was persuaded to weigh in with a corroborative remark. But the whispers are still doing the rounds in the ether.
Apparently, the suspicions are not unprecedented. Writing in the webzine Salon, David Lindorff cites the instance of a D-Day event in France “when a CNN broadcast appeared to pick up - and broadcast to surprised viewers - the sound of another voice seemingly reading Bush his lines, after which Bush repeated them”. The very idea adds a whole new dimension to the concept of a puppet regime.