As the growing stench of disaster begins to gather around the Bush Administration ,a remarkably similar situation is unfolding in Canberra, the Australian capital. Nowhere in the Bush Coalition has there been an ally half so good as the Australian P.M. John Howard. When Bush says jump his only request for information is to ask “How High”?
Now, however, the growing public dismay in Australia at the Iraq crisis is feeding into a terrible sense of danger and fearful expectation after the terrible events in Madrid.. Australians sometimes have an unrealistic sense of their own isolation from world events, but this is dissipating quickly, and a worried and angry public is homing in on Howard, and his conservative Government, as the ones to blame for their feelings of insecurity.
This week a major new opinion poll has predicted a landslide vote against Howard in the federal elections due before Christmas. The poll gave Labor a lead of 10%,which would ensure a massacre amongst conservative members of the House of Representatives. This is also partly due to the extraordinary success of the new Labor Leader Mark Latham, whose style and manner has won widespread support, and against whom Howard seems unable to get any traction. Latham famously described George Bush as ” the most dangerous US President in history”, a statement he has not retracted. Now, he has promised that a Labor Party Government, if elected later this year will withdraw from Iraq within a few months, and he said he would hope to see the Australians out of Iraq by Christmas. While the Australian contingent of 800 isn’t large, its withdrawal would be seen as another rebuff for Bush, and given that the Australians were amongst the original forces committed to Iraq, the symbolism would be bad for Bush, even more so as the Australian elections will most likely take place just before the US presidential Elections,and an Australian withdrawal would be widely publicised.
Howard has predictably denounced the Labor leader’s plans, but some cynics suggest that Howard, who will do anything to survive, may even trump Latham and make an earlier withdrawal, disregarding Bush’s political needs. Howard has had a hugely damaging public brawl with the Chief of the Federal Police, Bill Kelty, a highly respected man who earned many plaudits for his work in Bali, in the aftermath of the terrorist bombing there in 2002, which killed many Australians. Kelty expressed his views (shared by 65% of voters) that Australia was more vulnerable to terrorist attack after its entry into Iraq. Howard ,amazingly, disputed this and publically reprimanded Kelty, but was forced to retreat under fierce attack from an outraged public.
Clearly worried by the Madrid events, Howard now fears that the mantra of “national security” may no longer afford him protection from his critics and an alarmed Australian public. The latest polls have shown just how desperate the situation is for Howard. His response to this danger is hard to predict, but he also faces the possibility of an internal revolt inside his own Party, but whatever happens,t he question of the stationing of an Australian force in Iraq is now a major issue in the coming elections.
BRIAN MCKINLAY is an historian, and author of a number of books on Australian history, most notably a three-volume “Documentary History of the Australian Labor Movement” and “Australia,1942: An end of Innocence.” He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org