In the days before the 2003 Iraq invasion, the Australian prime minister, John Howard, committed the country to war with a majority of citizens against the deployment. Howard said that, “the government strongly believes that the decision it has taken is right, it is legal [and] it is directed towards the protection of the Australian national interest.”
Nearly four years later, Howard is virtually alone internationally in his pro-war rhetoric. For him, standing by the US president, George Bush, is a sign of strength and mateship, even if the war was lost at least two years ago. Howard’s main argument for arrogantly maintaining around 1,450 troops in Iraq (against the will of the Iraqi people) is that, “you either stay or you go, you either rat on the ally or you don’t”.
Howard’s recent foray into the American presidential campaign, by criticising Democratic hopeful Barack Obama and claiming al-Qaida is hoping for his victory, is both counterproductive and displays a level of unnecessary hubris that leaves Australia increasingly isolated in the American capital.
Although a growing number of Australians feel distinctly uncomfortable with its closeness to Washington, Howard’s gaffe is aimed squarely at a domestic audience. The new Labor opposition leader, Kevin Rudd, is riding high in the polls and is the first serious challenge to Howard’s 11-year leadership (an election is due by the end of the year.) Rudd, while unconvincingly not setting a timetable for Australian troops in Iraq to be withdrawn, clearly states the view of Australia’s majority when he says that the country’s deployment is Australia’s greatest foreign policy failure since the Vietnam war.
Even Murdoch’s Australian newspaper, a long-time supporter of the invasion and “liberation”, has questioned Howard’s Obama misstep.
The defence minister, Brendan Nelson, talks of a US military defeat that:
“… will present my children with a vastly different, less secure world than they face today and under no circumstances should we allow ourselves, if you like, to lose morale muscular and to step back from this.”
Nelson argues for the Iraqi security forces to step up while ignoring the fact that the sectarian-ridden army is part of the problem.
Howard has forgotten that the Australia/US alliance is more than the Bush administration. His allegiance to the neoconservative, “regime change” agenda has shown Australia to be the most useless kind of ally: an obedient one.