Wednesday, February 14, 2007

For The PM, US Fallout From Linking Democrats To Al Qaeda Grows Only More Intense

Outraged Decorated Marine Veteran Tells Howard To Commit More Troops To Iraq War

John Howard Refuses, But Publicly Commits American Troops To Iraq For Another Year, Or More

By Darryl Mason

To rehash a worn-out, thoroughly disproved argument about the Iraq War must have seemed like no big deal to Prime Minister John Howard when he sat down early Sunday morning for an interview on a national current affairs show.

What he said wasn't all that different from the mantra that he's been chanting for the past three years : that any major withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, before "democracy has taken hold", would be viewed as a major victory by Al Qaeda and a veritable international cast of assorted terrorists.

But this time, John Howard wasn't using the Rumsfeld-trademarked argument against an Australian political opponent, or to whip up unease amongst the Australian public.

Howard's dementia-level international gaffe came when he tried to claim that presidential hopeful Barak Obama, or any other Democrat who wanted to withdraw some combat troops from Iraq in the first quarter of 2008, would hand a victory over America to Al Qaeda.

This time, the American reaction was so intense, and so intensely embarrassing, that Howard couldn't even rely on his "good friend" President George W. Bush to come to his rescue.

It was pointed out to American journalists that Bush had not spoken to Howard in more than six weeks, and Bush made no comment in support of his friend and ally, nor did he issue a statement.

Howard was on his own.

The barrage of criticism and the daily "laceratings" (Howard's description) in federal Parliament became a noxious breather from the intense wave of American anger.

The level of coverage in the US was given a huge boost by the fact that Howard had made these comments on a Sunday morning.

By the time the biggest American news night of the week, and the roll call of current affairs talk and magazine shows, got rolling last Sunday evening, Republicans and Democrats alike were falling over themselves to blast Howard for "interferon" in American politics.

On many American network and cable news shows, the 'Howard Vs Obama' story was number two and even number one, straight out of the gate.

Howard has clearly been left stunned, even mortified, by the American reaction.

There were claims made against Howard in the US that he was being insensitive to the horrific losses of life, and treasure, suffered by the United States in the War On Iraq. The War On Iraq has cost America more than 3100 lives, leaving more than 25,000 wounded and a monumental spend already reaching $AUS400 million.

Then, perhaps even worst of all, came the lead or second-to-lead American Monday night news revelation that Australia had a mere 1400 troops in Iraq. And that as a Coalition of the Willing ally we had suffered no combat deaths, and spent most of our time in the desert training the Iraqi Army, blasting away on firing ranges or shepherding diplomats in and out of the Green Zone.

As an American news-addict friend told me when I called to get his take on the US coverage : "If you ain't dodging bullets, you ain't in the war."

Howard is failing to win the war of opinion over Iraq, or even to seize the high ground.

You could clearly see the look of deep concern on the faces of Howard's ministers as he tried to rebuff the calm, quiet demands in Parliament from Opposition Leader Keving Rudd for the prime minister to apologise to Obama and US Democrats, on Monday and Tuesday.

Howard yelled and waved his hands around and occasionally shrieked, as he tried to light fires with old irrelevant quotes from Labor leaders and ministers. But the noise from his side of Parliament was far more subdued than usual. They were not rallying behind their leader this time. At least, not like they usually did.

Howard tried to reframe the controversy, yet again, last night by claiming :

"My deep concern is that if America is defeated in Iraq a humiliated, enfeebled America might withdraw its interests in our part of the world..."

Trying to now make it all about Australia is an argument unlikely to turn down the heat. And it completely ignores the tremendous losses the US has suffered, and says nothing about the 100 or more Iraqis now being blown to pieces every day the war goes on.
" job is to try and call what I think are the consequences of certain actions against Australia's national interest..."

"...if America is defeated in Iraq, it will be a colossal blow to Western prestige and it will give an enormous boost to terrorism and to terrorists not only in the Middle East but in our part of the world and that will not be in Australia's national interest..."
His words have become cold, calculating and genuinely disturbing. And they show clearly just how far removed Howard is from what is happening in Iraq, or perhaps more importantly, what is now happening in the United States, where more than 60% of Americans want their troops to pull out now, civil war or not.

Howard has claimed that any withdrawal at all of US troops from Iraq in the next twelve months hands victory to Al Qaeda and terrorists across the world. This time he did not specify Democrats, or Barak Obama.

His words, without direction, were aimed at the Bush White House as well. Not as a warning, but as a tip of the hat.
"...if we are out in a year's time it will be in circumstances of defeat. When I say we, I mean all the coalition forces and obviously if the Americans go, then other forces will go as well.

"Now that would be circumstances of defeat and I know that the consequences of that for the West, its prestige, American prestige and influence in the Middle East, to spur that would give the terrorism in the Middle East, the implications it would have for the stability of other countries in the Middle East and also in our part of the world, the spur to terrorism..."
You don't need any clearer indication than that, that Howard has already been told by the Bush administration that there will be no withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in the next twelve months.

It is simply not going to happen. Full stop.

In Australia, it's now three days on from Howard's already infamous quote :
"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."
And it doesn't look like the pressure and attacks on Howard, from within Australian and American politics, is slowing down. Incredibly, the level of fury and outrage seems only to be rising, increasing, multiplying.

The Australian defence minister, Brendan Nelson, tried to come to Howard's defence by committing Australian troops to Iraq for another year, or more :
"Only when we get through the next six, 12 months or whatever period of time it takes will we be in a position to make any reasonable and responsible judgement about whether the United States, Britain or anyone else is in a position to withdraw..."
Clearly Howard's crew believes they are on the right track. That they have seized control of the national debate and can use it to show up Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd as being "weak" on national security. They are all likely to be proven very, very wrong. As with the situation in the US, Howard has lost clarity on the views and opinions of Australians when it comes to how long our troops should stay in Iraq.

Rudd challenged the prime minister to a televised debate over the future of Australia's involvement in the Iraq War.

But Howard refused.

Not a good look for someone now trying to claim that Rudd is "gutless", because he won't spell out what he thinks will happen in Iraq following a coalition troop withdrawal.

It's a rare day in political hell
when a coalition leader manages to get both the Democrats and Republicans offside. I can't think of another incident from a leader, say Tony Blair, that even comes close to generating the level of fallout that Howard's absurd claims have now created.

And now comes the hardest question of all for Howard to answer : If he believes in the War On Iraq so much, so vehemently, that he would accuse American politicians of trying to hand victory to Al Qaeda, why doesn't he commit more Australian troops to the fight?

Saying we don't have enough forces, that our Army is too small, that combat-trained troops are already on other deployments, won't cut it in the United States.

It's barely a good enough excuse back home. The Americans are going to eat Howard alive if he thinks that's some kind of excuse for short-changing the war effort.

Decorated Marine veteran, and American senator, John Murtha, has demanded Howard keep his nose out of American politics and domestic affairs, or commit more troops to Iraq. Now :

John Murtha, a decorated Marine veteran who is close to military commanders, and who galvanised leading Democrats into demanding a phased withdrawal from Iraq, said he appreciated that Australia had been a good ally, but that it was US soldiers whose lives were being sacrificed in Iraq and US taxpayers who were paying for the war.

"John Howard is trying to interfere in an election and that's uncalled for," he told CNN. "I agree with Barack Obama that if Mr Howard believes it is so vital for coalition forces to stay in Iraq, he should find a way to send more Australian forces."

"The Iraqis will deal with al-Qaeda as soon as we are gone," he said. "They don't want them in the country and al-Qaeda will be gone once we have withdrawn."

Note : The US Ambassador to Australia just said during a National Press Club address that Murtha is the only person he knew of who was making this argument. The ambassador needs to read more Arab media, where arguments exactly like the one Murtha made have been debated for more than a year now.

Howard Advises Al Qaeda On Winning A Victory In Iraq Against America

Howard's Fears Of An American Defeat In Iraq Are All About The Damage To Australia's "Interests"

The Tide Of Events In Iraq And The US Are Running Against Howard, And The Australian Public Knows It