Friday, July 06, 2007

Iraq: Rudd vs Howard

It seems we voters will have a choice on Foreign Policy in the upcoming Federal election.

Iraq became one of Prime Minister Howard's "problems" during this term. Up until last year, he could manipulate voters with "the terrorists are coming" and "we are winning the war on terrorism". Now it seems, according to Defence Minister Brendan Nelson, that we are staying in Iraq because of our need for oil ("resource security"). He was quickly contradicted yesterday by both Mr Howard and Mr Costello (Treasurer), and today by Foreign affairs Minister Alexander Downer. Now "it's not about oil, it was never about oil".

So, why are our troops still in Iraq? Why did we really join the US war in Iraq? We have variously been told it was because Saddam had "Weapons of Mass Destruction"; to protect Iraqi people from Saddam; to fight terrorism; to install democracy; and now Alexander Downer says it's because "because if Iraq can't export any oil, Iraq can't earn any revenue" (told to Sky News, 6-July-07).

Now for the real reasons. The reasons we joined the US war in Iraq are entirely political. In short, US foreign policy is driven by what's good for the US; and what's politically good for the US President. Our political commitment to the ANZUS Treaty, and John Howard's personal wish to help his friend ensured that Australia went to war in Iraq.

John Howard's problem now is that voters are seeing the war as never-ending (as near the end of the Vietnam War); and Kevin Rudd has said his government would set a target for withdrawal. There would need to be a good deal of political manoeuvring on his part to achieve this: we can't just "cut'n'run"; but the concept is gaining popularity with voters, and that creates a problem for John Howard.

The Analyst