Only a few weeks into his presidential campaign, Barack Obama is getting criticism from a corner of the world he probably didn’t expect to hear from. Australian Prime Minister John Howard attacked Obama on his plans regarding Iraq.
According to CNN, Howard said that if he were a terrorist, he would pray “as many times as possible” for a win by Obama and the Democrats. Obama and his campaign didn’t waste time responding, and attacked Howard, who is a staunch Bush ally, on his own foreign policy. Obama stated that if the prime minister was “ginned up to fight the good fight in Iraq,” he should send more troops. There are more than 1,000 Australian troops currently in Iraq, mostly in non-combat roles.
While the verbal exchange was little more than ‘politics as usual,’ the context that it took place in reveals something about today’s political climate and how much influence President Bush still has on the world’s leaders.
Howard is facing an uphill re-election fight in his own country. The war in Iraq has become largely unpopular in the land down under and Howard’s continued support of both the war and Bush has not garnered him much clout.
Attacking a Democratic contender for president in the United States on this issue was not a smart move on Howard’s part, especially considering that he was running for re-election in his own country’s unfriendly political climate. And yet, Howard did just that.
This is not the first time a foreign leader
has taken hits for Bush’s cause. British Prime Minister Tony Blair championed the Iraq war for several years despite immense public opinion against it. Blair has a reputation in British political circles for being an opportunist who would do anything to get elected. Almost as soon as Bush was elected, Blair started courting him and supporting his policies, even when it became clear that citizens of the United Kingdom did not share his support.
Blair has been facing criticism ever since. The fact that he promised not to run for re-election shows just how strong the opposition is in his own country.
It’s odd that these world leaders are so persistent in their support of Bush when it has done obvious damage to their reputations.
Bush is not the golden boy he once was post-9/11. He lost the world’s support a long time ago, has whittled away his domestic approval rating and is even losing some Republican support.
In fact, a Republican from Texas even advised Howard to stay out of American politics. Sen. John Cornyn responded to Howard’s comments, telling CNN, “I would prefer that Mr. Howard stay out of our domestic politics and we’ll stay out of his domestic politics.”
It is not hard to understand the motivation
to get cozy with the president of a powerful country. But there comes a time when such a relationship is just not advisable. Blair has effectively thrown away his career for Bush and the war.
John Howard should take Blair’s fall as a lesson. Refusing to stray from Bush’s ideological side at any cost is not a smart political move. It destroyed Blair’s once-comfortable popularity with the British people and seems to have cost him his office.
If Howard does not think more carefully
about his comments, he might end up in the same boat as Blair.
Stephen Zook can be reached at