Prime Minister John Howard is planning to pull the bulk of Australian troops out of Iraq over the next six months, beginning in the month running up to the election.
The ‘confidential’ letter from Howard to Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was clearly written to be leaked to Greg Sheridan journalist on The Australian and the Australian Government’s trusty amateur spy.
(Given the Government’s relentless pursuit of whistleblower Allen Kessing who did us all a big favour by highlighting the security problems at Sydney Airport will it also pursue the person who ‘leaked’ Howard’s top secret letter to Sheridan?)
Australian troops in Iraq
In the world of diplomacy, Howard did not have to write to al-Maliki to deliver a message urging the Iraqi Government to pull up its socks up, or else. That message which Sheridan so loyally and sycophantically conveyed on the front page of The Weekend Australian of 11-12 August was always meant primarily for Australian domestic consumption.
Howard has had a plan for withdrawal from Iraq in the pipeline for about six or eight weeks some of his most trusted advisers and troubleshooters have been put on notice to travel to Washington DC next month to work out details for withdrawal and future policy relating to Iraq but he’s held off in the hope that the opinion polls would pick up for the Coalition. They haven’t, so he now feels compelled to make a move by running a signal up the mast via Sheridan.
By now, we should know Howard’s modus operandi proceed as if nothing will change but drop hints that they will; when questioned, deny all planted rumours; and reiterate that change is not anticipated. Then, when it suits his political agenda (and only then), change; say that it’s in the ‘national interest;’ that circumstances have recently changed; and that this proves, yet again, the Government’s ‘flexibility’ and his own willingness to listen.
Howard will handle getting out of Iraq the same way as he got in: peddling lies, half-truths and strategic leaks until the moment of the Big Announcement, which on the issue of withdrawal will be close to the date when he calls the election.
Howard is desperately chasing votes and if internal Liberal Party polling suggests that Iraq is a vote-changing issue, then it’s safe to assume he will do whatever it takes to claw back those votes.
No doubt, Howard will have cleared the Australian troop withdrawal with US President George W Bush, who will have been briefed on the parlous political prospects of his little ally. Bush, in any case, is contemplating the timing of his own Iraqi withdrawal.
The Australian military presence in Iraq was only ever symbolic, so withdrawal is not going to alter the military balance. ‘Staying the course’ with Bush was only ever about saving face for Howard. But as he becomes ever more desperate, face-saving starts to come a poor second to vote-grabbing.
It is this sort of behaviour which does most damage to Howard. It has become a turn-off for more and more Australians who see him as too disingenuous and tricky by half.
So, when the withdrawal announcement finally comes, any electoral benefit that might have accrued for Howard will be lost because of the electorate’s tiredness with Howard dishonesty.
But Howard can’t see it, he simply doesn’t get it mainly because he has been doing it for all of his political career.
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