‘Iraq is at a tilting point,’ said PM Howard on Tuesday announcing a doubling of Australian troop numbers in al-Muthana Province to secure Japanese workers. At first he seemed to say ‘tipping point’ which suggests something different, though what is not entirely clear. Perhaps he misheard Tony Blair when Tony asked him. Perhaps it was George who first misspoke but we are supposed to believe that George had nothing to do with this.
Anyway, by nightfall Iraq was not about to tip; it was tilting – not, we can safely presume, in the Quixotic sense, but between civil war and something more benign than that. The same term did for the Coalition: with the Dutch and the Ukrainians leaving, the Coalition too is apparently tilting. That’s the point of the term: we are meant to understand the decision as an imperative, and yet also an ‘opportunity’: either way, there is no choice if we want to escape regret and shame.
This is also how we must understand the Prime Minister’s behaviour: before, during and after the election he assured the people that this would not happen. Just two weeks ago he told us, ‘We won’t embrace a major increase.’ It was a strange way of putting it, but yesterday’s announcement can’t be construed to mean anything but the opposite. He had also told us that Australia did not have the capacity to send more troops. That should do it: we’re not going to stay on the case if we think there are not enough troops for the job.
In normal circumstances this means he lied. He made mugs of us. He said one thing when it suited him and did another when it suited him.
But no, he is an honourable man. The sheriff called. Tony Blair called. The region in the shape of Japan called. What could he do? Seems Iraq has suddenly reached a ’tilting point’. Seems the PM’s advice is that ‘We now have the capacity to add 450 more troops’. ‘We cannot allow Iraq to fail. We have agonised for quite some period of time…We just ask the Australian people to understand…’ said Alexander Downer last night.
What we have to understand is how what was not possible suddenly became possible; what was not embraceable became embraceable; what was not desirable became imperative – and not only for the future of Iraq. ‘Not acting could have consequences at home,’ the Prime Minister says, but doesn’t say what these consequences might be. It’s ‘a real opportunity to be seized’, he also says.
It doesn’t take a cynic to think it was real opportunity to pull the oldest stunt in the book; or take an expert in mission creep to recognise something disturbingly familiar. All available buttons, including the terrorist threat, have been pushed. The effect is to make it all but impossible for Kim Beazley or anyone else to offer an alternative policy that doesn’t sound like hair-splitting while every minute Rome burns or becomes more likely to ignite. Labor might be right to say that we should concentrate on our own region, and the Prime Minister’s counter that the people our troops go to protect are regional Japanese is surely lame: but experience of quagmires shows that arguments against them do not take much effect until you’re in up to your neck. Until then virtually any logic and any lie – and various ’tilting moments’ – will work to draw you in.
It would seem that another tilting point was arrived early in the New Year for Tony Abbott, natural son Daniel O’Connor, his adoptive family and his relinquishing mother and their families. Abbott, who now appears to have a direct line to a higher power and the radiance to go with it, was even heard to say on 2BL this week that his attitude to abortion is not as extreme as it had been painted by some people and that he did not want to use his own experience to score any points. Strange then that he made much of his son’s first words to him on hearing who his father was: ‘Thanks for having me, Dad,’ Daniel was quoted as saying.
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