There is much speculation as to the efficacy of the US-Australia Alliance. Some question the need for the Alliance, others the nature of it, arguing that it has stripped Australia of independence in thought and action.
We need a close relationship with the United States just as we need close relationships with other powerful countries and with what used to be termed “like minded countries”, although the domestic and foreign policies of the Howard Government have ensured there are few countries with which we now have a like mind.
These failings have been highlighted by the remarks directed at US Senator Barack Obama, by the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard. Apparently, without prior thought or consideration, the Prime Minister put Australia’s future relationship with the US on the line and kick started the debate over Iraq that many say should have begun some time ago.
The Prime Minister supports the Republican Administration of George W Bush. It seems that over Iraq his defence of the indefensible will see him die in a ditch supporting the president he most admires. His defence of Bush's Iraq policy and his attack on Barack Obama indicates that he has irrevocably tied himself to the fate of the current US Administration.
There is no difference in policy and perception between the United States and Australia on major foreign policy issues: from climate change through to Iraq, the war on terror, and the incarceration and treatment of David Hicks.
The visit of US Vice President, Richard Cheney, will confirm this but do nothing to boost the Prime Minister’s flagging ratings in the polls. Cheney is the most significant individual, among a rapidly dwindling group of confidants, still shackled to the lame duck, none-too-bright, president who put all the prestige of his office into a foreign policy and military disaster that will take several decades to get over and which will change America.
Cheney, the cynical Washington insider, the opportunist, the foreign and defence policy sciolist, has much in common with John Howard.
They are the same age. They are right wing professional politicians. They both supported the war in Vietnam but did not volunteer. They both have little compunction about sending young men and women off to a war not sanctioned by the UN or international law.
With little thought other than to impress, the Prime Minister, on the eve of the Cheney visit, has committed a further 70 trainers to the civil war in Iraq. Which side will benefit from this training? And how will the Prime Minister square this decision with the electorate in the face of the Blair Governments’ surprise and unexpected announcement that it intends to begin a staged withdrawal from Iraq of 2,500 British troops, out of a total of 7,500, by Christmas?
With no prior consultation the decision has wrong footed the Prime Minister and underlined a developing brittleness in the relationship between the US, Britain and Australia as the situation in Iraq worsens and Bush’s power declines.
The Prime Minister has accused the Leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd, of lacking the experience and maturity to be prime minister. The Prime Minister has not demonstrated a great deal of maturity in his attack on Barack Obama.
Kevin Rudd has had a distinguished career outside of politics. He served his country overseas as a diplomat facilitating a sophistication and balance in dealing with world leaders that appears lacking in the Prime Minister.
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