11 Feb. 2007

Howard On Obama: The Real Game

Following US Democrat Barack Obama's rather extraordinary speech announcing his 2008 presidential candidacy (surely the most blatantly inspirational piece of US political rhetoric since JFK) Australia's diminutive PM John Howard launches an extraordinary pre-emptive attack on Obama:
"I think that would just encourage those who wanted completely to destabilise and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for (an) Obama victory," Mr Howard told the Nine Network.

"If I was running al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats."

Labor described Mr Howard's attack against Senator Obama as unprecedented.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Robert McClelland said Mr Howard was virtually telling people not to vote Democrat.

"It's the first time that I can recall that an Australian prime minister has engaged in US politics in such a partisan way... actually telling US citizens what side of politics they should vote for," he said.
Well, given how US politicians have meddled in Australian politics over the past decade, it is hardly unexpected. When you are behaving like the 52nd state of the USA, I guess it goes with the territory.

Here's Obama's spokesman rebuking Howard:
``If Prime Minister Howard truly believes what he says, perhaps his country should find its way to contribute more than just 1,400 troops so some American troops can come home,'' he said. ``It's easy to talk tough when it's not your country or your troops making the sacrifices.''
Ouch! Take that, bitch. While I am sorry to see Obama engaging in such obviously political games, it's a line of questioning that might go a long way on the 7:30 Report in Australia: if the war in Iraq really is as important as Howard pretends, why isn't he pouring tens of thousands of Aussie troops in there?

Howard likes to portray it as a US war. Here's how Howard views the prospect of a US pullout:
"If America pulls out of Iraq in March 2008 it can only be in circumstances of defeat," Mr Howard said.

"There's no way by March 2008, which is a little over a year from now, everything will have been stabilised so that America can get out.

"If America is defeated in Iraq, the hope of ever getting a Palestinian settlement will be gone, there will be enormous conflict between the Shia and the Sunnis throughout the whole of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Jordan will both be destabilised.

"Al-Qaeda will trumpet it as the greatest victory they've ever had, and that will have implications in our region because of the link ... between al-Qaeda and JI (Jemaah Islamiyah)."
Let's keep that on record for future reference, shall we?

And here's what Howard thinks of Labour's plan to withdraw Aussie forces:
"You either rat on the ally or you stay with the ally," he said.

"If it's all right for us to go, it's all right for the Americans and the British to go, and if everybody goes Iraq will descend into total civil war and there'll be a lot of blood shed."
Hmmn. Ally? Johnny should look that word up in a dictionary.

Have a think about what Howard has done here.
Imagine (if you will) that Howard wins again at the end of 2007 and then Obama wins in the USA in 2008. How is our precious alliance with the USA looking then?

The truth is that national politics has become a globalized commodity, as Howard knows all too well. And that's the real game, right there.

I think you have to look at Howard's Obama comments in the context of a growing fusion of US, UK and Australian politics. Australian domestic politics is now just one more item on the corporatized globalisation menu. And of course Rupert would know all about that.

There has been high-level US political interference in the past two Aussie elections, there are now quite unprecedented levels of political connectivity between Washington, London and Canberrra (e.g. Australia has a team of full-time diplomats working within the US State Dept) and of course we have things like Howard's son working on Bush's election campaigns (or was it Blair's? or both?).

Mind you, I hope Kerry O'Brien picks up on the Obama camp's comeback line: "Mr Howard, if the war in Iraq really is as important as you say, why has Australia always maintained such a small deployment and confined them to relatively safe roles? You can't have it both ways, surely?"

See Talking Points Memo for some surprised US reaction, plus commentary from our own Tim Dunlop.

UPDATE: Response from Obama himself:
"I think it's flattering that one of George Bush's allies on the other side of the world started attacking me the day after I announced," Mr Obama told reporters in the mid-western US state of Iowa.

"I would also note that we have close to 140,000 troops in Iraq, and my understanding is Mr Howard has deployed 1,400, so if he is ... to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them to Iraq.

"Otherwise it's just a bunch of empty rhetoric."
And from other US politicians:
Democrat senator Ron Wyden said it was hard to be polite about Mr Howard.

"The most charitable thing you can say about Mr Howard's comment is bizarre," Senator Wyden said.

"We'll make our own judgments in this country with respect to elections and Barack Obama is a terrific public servant."

Even Republicans have criticised Mr Howard for interfering in US domestic affairs.

"I would prefer that Mr Howard stay out of our domestic politics and we will stay out of his domestic politics," Texas Republican senator John Cornyn said.
Elsewhere, Atrios labels Howard "the mini-poodle".

UPDATE 2: Kindergarten politics at its best, courtesy Alex "Ass Kisser" Downer :
"I hate to disappoint people who don't agree with John Howard and me and the Australian Government but it's a free world and we are entitled to a point of view," he said.

"This is a very big issue, many governments around the world feel very strongly about it."
Liberal backbencher Cameron Thompson goes even further up-channel:
"I think John Howard is absolutely correct when he says that Barrack Obama's policy is not just wrong, it is I think fundamentally evil."

UPDATE 3: PM not sorry for Obama attack:
Mr Howard said the Labor Party had no right to attack him because it often criticised US President George Bush over the Iraq war and no one accused Labor of putting the US alliance in jeopardy.
Oh really? It seems like only yesterday that US Ambassador Tom Schieffer was criticising Mark Latham for his comments on withdrawal of troops from Iraq. And being loudly backed up by Mr Howard and his Liberal Party colleagues. Former Minister for Veterans Affairs, Bruce Scott said:
I think the international terrorism organisations, al-Qaeda, will say, well, we've got an ally in Australia, and that's Mark Latham.
And Howard government MP Ross Cameron said Osama bin Laden would be "celebrating the advent of Mark Latham", whose comments were an invitation to terrorists to "belt" Australia.