There goes that idea

I was thinking yesterday about a column for the Fin, on the subject of personal relationships between Australian PMs and overseas leaders (prime examples being Keating-Suharto and Howard-Bush) and arguing that such relationships weren’t in our long-term interest since they create a risk of conflict with the domestic opponents of the leaders concerned, who may themselves be in power in the future.

Somehow I suspect that, by the time my column runs on Thursday, that idea will look rather old-hat.

31 thoughts on “There goes that idea

  1. We now know where Obama stands with AQ (he is with them) and the ALP have temporarily halted their US bashing to blame Howard for hurting the US.

  2. Dear John

    Thankfully Osama bin Laden has not been heard from for quite a while and may have been dead for the past four years. But Al Qaeda does have allies in Australia. They are people like John Howard who keep reinventing OBL when there is an election in the offing and when ever the politics of fear will serve their expedient political schemes.

    Australian Prime Ministers do a lot of barracking (pardon the pun) to get the USA to do reckless and aggressive things, but do not push too hard for more than a token role in the show. (see: ‘A very small insurance policy’) It is obvious that Australian soldiers’ lives are no more than a political weapon in the hands of John Howard, as we saw with Brendan Nelson’s handling of the death of Jake Kovko, caused while he was “cleaning his weapon� indeed. But John Howard knows that if a lot of body bags started turning up in this country public opinion would turn against the war.

    Still working it out says, “The US is certainly not 3000 times the population of Australia yet that is approximately the current ratio Australian to US military deaths in Iraq�. This could also be a reflection on the relative professionalism of Australian soldiers, who may have a better sense of self-preservation. American soldiers have been extremely insensitive to Iraqi civilians, ensuring that there are lots of people whose homes have been ransacked and families terrorised who would like to kill them.

    So, should Australia show that it is ‘serious’ about pouring more troops into a conflict that is already lost? John Quiggin reminds us that, “Australia has about 1/15 the population of the US, which has 150 000 troops in Iraq. So, on a basis of proportionality, Obama should have said 10 000 rather than 20 000.� Although Jimmythespiv says, “we don’t have 10,000 much less 20,000 more soldiers anyway.� The Australian military is already costly to run and would not be of a higher quality if it was bigger, even if it was possible to recruit more entrants. What a waste of human lives that would be anyway!

    Some people think John Howard has made a mistake, others think he has nothing to lose or that he is being ‘clever’ (as usual). However, this hyperbolic rhetoric about Al Qaeda deserves to be taken at face value. Lets face it; John Howard says that Iraq was/is an existential threat to Australia – didn’t/doesn’t he? If he is so convinced about this threat he should do as Melanie says, “We had 19,000 in Vietnam. I guess we could go down the conscription route again.�

    That’s it! John Howard should be challenged to go to the election with conscription as the major issue. I wonder how long it would take to get genuine intelligence and international relations analysts out of the closet to tell us that Iraq was never a significant threat, only a ‘target of opportunity’ that proved more gristly than the Neocons and John Howard thought.

    That should keep his belligerent party out of office for the next thirty years while we deal with the legacy of squandered opportunities, economic mismanagement and neglect of the real threat – CLIMATE CHANGE!

    Willy Bach

  3. I don’t think Terje is onto anything:

    From today’s Crikey:

    What is happening to the Prime Minister’s political antennae? He could have hardly chosen a worse person to attack for their views on Iraq than Barack Obama.

    The Illinois Senator might be a newcomer to Washington, but he was a member of the Illinois state house when America went to war. And this is what he said then:

    I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaida.

    I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

    “Senior Liberal sources� tried some desperate – and dizzying – spin yesterday. They claimed the PM’s remarks had focussed debate away from the environment and on to national security, a Coalition plus. This is unadulterated crap.

    Howard is looking rattled at the moment, much like he was in early 2004 by Latham and the reading to kids thing. He could well recover, but I don’t think this attack on Obama is part of the recovery.

  4. The numbers.

    It might be a little late for this, but I wanted to explain/correct my ‘2,000 troops’.

    Mr Obama suggested Australia contribute a further 20,000. My interpretation was that this would replace the recent 20,000 (approx) US troop surge. Mr Downer suggested that Obama should ‘weigh-up’ Australia’s relative size before considering Howard’s words empty rhetoric.
    This implies that Howard’s words are empty rhetoric until he sends 20000/15 (thanks JQ) further troops. That’s about 1,350 troops. Rather than the total 150000/15 = 10,000
    Quantified empty rhetoric, but empty rhetoric nonetheless.

    Why John Howard said it, is a good question. He’s a canny politicial and this looks like a blunder he would normally steer clear of.
    I think he was probably scared by the recent poll results and wanted the discussion back on his issues, and he chooses issues around security and fear during election years.
    I don’t think he expected the Obama camp would have the time or interest to react, or to keep up the debate as long as he could.
    Whether he was right or not seems to miss the point. I think the issue is that he’s interferring in US politics, and I don’t think that’s done him any favours.
    I believe it was just an error of judgement.

  5. In today’s news, I see Howard quoted as saying of Rudd’s policy “My charge is that the consequences of the policy you are advocating would be to destabilise Iraq and threaten the security interests of this country through a defeat of the United States in Iraq”

    My question to Howard is “And how would we distinguish this from the current situation?”

  6. Barak Obama is right in his criticism of Howard, however he is merely echoing a sentiment often expressed from the heart of the various empires to which we have been attached. I have been reading Corelli Barnett’s ‘The Collapse of British Power’, ISBN 0330491814, and his analysis of the period up to the Second World War is like a commentary on the present situation in international affairs, particularly with regard to the US empire. But more pertinently, Barnett makes the point that even before WW1 and WW2, the dominion countries in the British Empire, like Australia, were not pulling their proportionate weight in Empire defence. The 20 million people in the ‘white’ dominions provided 11 cruisers and 20 destroyers, while the 50 million in the UK provided 12 capital ships, 7 aircraft carriers, 50 cruisers, 94 destroyers, and 87 fleet escorts, and 34 divisions of soldiers against 5 from the dominsions. Another point Barnett makes is that, because of its empire interests Britain often had to involve itself in affairs in which the UK had not real interest, or which were detrimental to its interests. For the US Afghanistan was a real interest, afterall it was where the attack on the twin towers was plotted. Iraq was merely an Oedipal sideline.

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