John Howard’s Grand Tour

As the last remaining members of “The Coalition of the Willing” make their exit from Iraq, and even as the hitherto faithful Berlusconi talks of withdrawal in September, there is just one ally who makes it clear that he is in the battle to the bitter end…and that Australia’s P.M. John Howard, the little Sancho Panza, to Bush and Blair, the two Don Quixote’s of the modern world. Howard has just announced the commitment of another 350 military personnel to Afghanistan, a country he abandoned 3 years ago in his eagerness to gallop off on the heals of Blair and Bush, in their plunge into Iraq. Indeed while Howard was then in 2003, telling the Australian public that no decision had been made to send the troops to Iraq, later documents which came to light showed that the Australian had been committed and despatched before the war began, in keeping with promises made to Bush . His decision this week regarding a new commitment to Afghanistan, coming as it does in the week of the London bombings is rather more open, though Howard was clearly displeased at the reports in the London press that in addition Blair wants Howard to take over much of the work of the British force stationed in Basra, to enable to Blair to make some token withdrawal, and also a further commitment to Afghanistan. Despite denials of the ” I don’t know nuthin ” kind, Howard obviously has been approached by Blair.

Like Blair and Bush, Howard is a 21-carat gold lying politician of a very accomplished order Howard only recently sent another force to Iraq to guard the small Japanese contingent doing “humanitarian” work, which may have something to do with the presence of a Japanese oil drilling operation in southern Iraq. The Jananese are said however to be literally locked into their bases Howard is about to leave Australia on a special visit to Washington and London, where his hosts will provide all kinds of hoopla, and he in turn will do the poodle act which he has perfected. Howard won last years election, perhaps surprisingly in view of the huge anti-war demonstration which occurred across the country prior to the war. Howard, a past master of the smear and fear type of campaign, won on a concocted issue alleging that his Labor opponents would raise interest rates, a matter of some dread in the suburbs, where foolish homebuyers have acquired huge mortgages in the recent housing boom. Howard is in all respects a true neo-conservatives. At home he just embarked on a neo-liberal agenda, with attacks on labour laws, workers rights, and the country’s large trade union movement. In recent weeks big demonstrations have hinted at the struggle to come. He will also attacked the country social welfare structure and the long established Medicare scheme…a national health scheme he has always loathed, seeing it as socialised medice. Lately he has even had his treasurer, Costello, a man much disliked for his unctuous “smirk”, go of and cuddle up to a conference of evangelical protestants in Sydney, and tell them they are the salt of the earth.

Even his affection for Israel is of a piece. After the occupation of Iraq it was revealed that one of the Australian forces principal tasks was to see that Saddam’s forces in the Western desert didn’t launch on Scuds onto Israel, Indeed this earned his th public gratitude of Israel, and of the local Zionists who awarded him a medal of some sort for being a friend of the Zionist state, a reward he justly deserved.!! In his public speeches he lauds Israel, and has has precious few words for the Palestinian cause.

No wonder a former Labor Party leader said that Howard was ” an arse licker”, and that his Cabinet was a chorus line of “suckholes “. Australian politics do have a robust character! In the region, New Zealand has long ceased to see Howard as an ally, and in South East Asia he has few if any friends, and certainly no admirers, since he famously echoed Bush in his policy statement that he would undertake premptive strikes anywhere in the region against “terrist bases”–a Howard “code word” for Indonesia!

But none of that matters this week. Washington and London beckon. In the words of the Cole Porter song.:”Who could ask for anything more? ”

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: