March 25, 2004 | Peter

What a Difference a War Makes

Well, we have a proper election on our hands, complete with increasingly stark choices between the two contenders. Mark Latham is smoking out John Howard, making it hard for him to maintain his lofty prime ministerial stature.
Howard is claiming that Oz has ‘international responsibilities’ in Iraq, and so we cannot remove our forces at a time of our own choice. This was, we should recall, an illegal war according to international law, and so this reference to ‘international responsibilities’ comes a little late.
And Latham is on a winner here. Iraq does smell like Vietnam in the desert, and Australians will want an exit strategy. I’m old enough to recall the footage from Aden as British troops fought a dirty war before they left. Middle Eastern villages can be just as messy places to fight as tropical paddy fields.
What is really at stake here, as Australians realise more and more, is Australian sovereignty. Either we set our own limits on what our forces do, or someone else will. 800 men really do not matter much to the US, except for the symbolism, but they are a significant part of our national military force at a time when there are apparent threats to Oz and Australians (by terrorists, among others).
With his ‘how high do I jump’ approach to the US in Iraq, the FTA, our sidelined intelligence services, our stand on Kyoto and the way the Australian military is being integrated into the US force structure (eg new strike fighter and new – or second hand – battle tank), Howard is steadily shifting Oz thousands of kilometres north-east to sit somewhere just off California. Latham’s reluctance to go all the way with this meta-policy is reminiscent of Curtin’s decision to put national interest over ideological loyalty in 1942 when he started the whole shift away from imperial Britain and towards the US.
So real issues are emerging in this election. I don’t expect the mass media to point this stuff out to the electorate (too much hard work), but the voters – so used to the claustrophobia of a political system in which the two main parties varied only on detail – must be noticing the fresh breeze of choice.
Wars always have ramifications far beyond their initial causes. Indeed, if they are big enough, and Iraq looks big enough, they change everything. Howard should have thought a little harder about all this before he sent off Australian men and women to a war a long way away for no apparent benefit to this country. If Latham gets in, and learns fast on the job, the conservatives could be out of business for years. Since he is probably the most intelligent aspirant for the top job since Keating, if we exclude the hapless Hewson, he could hang around for a very long time. Unlike Keating, Latham can set his own style as PM.
As for the US governor – I mean ambassador – he’ll be replaced when President Kerry comes to office in Rome – I mean Washington.

Posted by Peter at 11:12 am | Comments Off on What a Difference a War Makes |
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