The Guardian 21 February, 2007

Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

A swelled head is a dangerous thing

Have you noticed the extent to which John Howard seems to have fallen under the spell of his own publicity? Take his performance over the possible nomination of black Democrat Barack Obama, as that party’s candidate for President of the US.

In announcing that he was throwing his hat into the ring, Obama, a strong critic of Bush’s war, declared that one of his first acts if elected would be to bring all US troops home from Iraq within months.

He had scarcely uttered these words when the Prime Minister of Australia jumped up and attacked Obama’s candidature, poured scorn on his proposals and tried to imply that Obama was acting, perhaps unwittingly, on behalf of Al Qaida!

This impertinence provoked Obama to respond that if the Australian PM is so keen on the war in Iraq let him conscript 20,000 Australian soldiers and send them to fight there.

In the ensuing parliamentary debate over his sally into "statesmanship", Howard’s main argument — delivered in tones that indicated that he thought he was delivering a "most telling point" — was to inform the House that an early US withdrawal from Iraq "would be a major defeat for the United States of America". Well, duh.

Howard is the standard-bearer for Australian imperialism, keen to see this country lording it over the Pacific and Indian Oceans as Washington’s "deputy sheriff" with all the perks and benefits that would be available to the local wielder of the big stick.

In Howard’s view of the world, he can clearly envisage nothing more alarming than the defeat of the US empire. (Although, since Vietnam and the fiasco in Somalia — not to mention the crumbling of US hegemony in South and Central America — you would think that by now he would be getting used to it!)

If he thought that his announcement of the prospect of a "major defeat" for the US would be greeted by shrill cries of "Shame!" and the spectacle of Opposition MPs leaping about in haste to reassure the House and the media that they didn’t mean anything as unthinkable as that, he was doomed to yet more disappointment.

While there are obviously plenty of Labor MPs who incredibly do still believe the US alliance should continue to be the cornerstone of our defence and foreign policies, the present US discomfiture in Iraq has emboldened Howard’s parliamentary opponents, just as it has emboldened Bush’s Congressional opponents, to stand up and to raise issues that both leaders would rather have avoided.

For instance, Robert McClelland, the Labor Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs really got stuck in to Howard over the Iraq war on the ABC on 18 February: the war in Iraq, said McClelland, had been a "disaster"; but if a slew of more troops was sent now it would become a "catastrophe".

Howard, of course, has always been sufficiently arrogant to treat such criticism with disdain. He would contact one of his tame radio jocks to arrange an "exclusive interview", invite one or two commercial TV news teams along to film it, and deliver as "news" a carefully stage-managed event in which he could present his own views unhindered by difficult questions or contradictory attitudes.

His blatant attempt to meddle in the internal politics of the US, however, suggests that his arrogance has become pathological. Despite what Howard may privately wish, Australia is not a state of the US, nor are we as a nation intimately involved in that country’s electoral process. Nor should we be.

Like every other country on Earth, Australia will certainly be affected by the policies of whoever wins the US Presidential race. However, that in no way excuses his clumsy attempt to interfere in something as clearly internal to the US as the Democratic Party’s choice of a Presidential candidate.

Howard, on the other hand, would probably see nothing wrong in such interference. His government has been interfering in the internal affairs of countries in and around the Pacific for years. From Timor to the Solomon Islands and beyond, Australian army, navy and police forces are deployed on "humanitarian" missions that, whatever their stated lofty motives, soon become merely a cover for extending the influence and exploitation of Australian imperialism.

Usually, US imperialism tolerates, even encourages such enterprise on the part of its loyal ally. But, however much the US lets the Howard government act as a big fish in a small pond, Australia remains a minnow compared to the US.

Australian Prime Ministers who get a swelled head and forget their subsidiary and subservient global role are not only likely to stick their foot in their mouth: they are also asking to have their wrists slapped.

What is now perturbing Australian imperialism about Howard’s bellicosity is to what extent the wrist-slapping could adversely affect their trade with the US and access to US capital and continued freedom to exploit the Indo-Pacific region should an Obama-led — or even a more moderate Clinton-led — Democrat Government be elected in 2008.

The ruling class must be seriously considering whether a "regime change" in Canberra might not suit it better!

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