Howard Looking Shaky

Mark Seymour’s thoughts on Australian Prime Minister John Howard, as posted on his Internet site.

Author: Mark Seymour.

Date: 24 October 2006.

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In politics credibility is everything and winning is the ultimate form of that. Unfortunately for John Howard something’s gone horribly wrong in Iraq and everybody knows it. Whether or not it is right to leave the troops there or pull them out and even if you’re John Howard’s greatest admirer, you’d have to be blind or stupid not to be wondering if Howard has finally made a mistake. The thing is though, he hasn’t made many. In fact you could say he’s had a dream run and most of it is of his own making. His greatest trick has been to appear to be acting in good faith even when the stakes are potentially terminal and in pure political terms, there’s nothing more terminal than a war. Howard is not a risk taker. He has a nose for the public mood. He moves cautiously which is why Australians trust him. But if recent polls are any indication, he appears to be uncharacteristically out of whack with popular sentiment.

Let’s just say for the sake of argument, that it was reasonable for John Howard, along with the leaders of Britain and the United States, to believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a link between Saddam and Al Qaeda; that combined with Saddam’s reputation as a mass-murderer and you could say they had good cause to invade Iraq and get the bastard. Let’s put aside the fact that to do this, they needed to spend billions on logistics, hardware and people to get the job done. It was, in anyone’s book, a humungous effort and the troops on the ground had good reason to be cheerful when they won.

Go even further and put all strategic intelligence aside. (After all, most of it was wrong.) Let’s say Howard simply believed he was doing the right thing and leave it at that. Well good on him! Maybe he truly believed we couldn’t lose. Again, he’s no risk taker. That’s why it seemed out of character at the time that he would fly so directly in the face of public sentiment. It looked like he new stuff we didn’t. So what are we left with? Military incompetence, bad intelligence, dubious diplomacy, corporate nepotism and greed… torture, human rights abuse and of course, the as yet unknown number of innocent people who have died violently, the usual stuff you get with wars. And none of it has worked!

I’m not sure how John Howard’s gonna wriggle out of this one. It was his idea to follow the U.S. unconditionally. It was his idea to ignore public sentiment in 2002. The liberals can go on all they want about “staying the course” but as soon as the White House decides to change course, which it must, given a whopping two thirds of Americans want their lot out of there, Australia will too for the simple reason that Howard has no independent policy on Iraq. Every comment he is currently making about this disaster is conditional on American foreign policy. Quite simply, he’s in a holding pattern. Meanwhile, the death toll is running at one hundred a day. What is worse, we as Australians can now share in the collective responsibility of helping to further destabilize the Middle East by supporting an invasion that has unleashed untold suffering, agony and death on thousands of innocent people and achieved absolutely zero in the so called “war on terror”.