Sunday, November 25, 2007

Howard's End: Labor Victory Down Under Strips U.S. of Key Ally

I don't follow Australian politics closely, just enough to note that under the government of Prime Minister John Howard, the U.S. has had a staunch ally in the war on terror and Iraq. Mark Silva at the Chicago Tribune has a concise essay discussing the implication's of Howard's end for U.S. foreign policy:

President Bush has lost another key ally in the war in Iraq with the election losses of Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s government.

Like former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose third term was aborted after his popularity plummeted, the long-serving Howard had staunchly supported the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq as well as the fight against terrorists in Afghanistan. Australian Labor Party candidate Kevin Rudd has swept to power in a landslide victory over the second-longest serving prime minister in Australian history.

While Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney alike had forged a close relationship with Howard, they also had prepared for this widely predicted upset. Cheney met privately with Rudd earlier this year during a visit to Sydney in which Howard reaffirmed his government’s commitment to the war against terrorism.

Unlike Howard, Rudd has pledged to pull Australian combat troops from Iraq.

Rudd, a former diplomat who has served in China, rode a wave of public discontent over domestic problems -- interest rate hikes increases that Howard had promised to control, failed workplace reforms and a bid by Howard to retire midterm and anoint a deputy who would not have to face elections.

Rudd’s party needed to win 76 seats in the 150-seat lower house of Parliament to gain control, but his party has won at least 86.

"Today Australia has looked to the future," Rudd said after acknowledging the long public service of his predecessor. "It's time for a new page to be written in our nation's history."

Howard’s legacy includes a firm bond with the Bush administration. He was among the first to support Bush's original "coalition of the willing" to battle terrorism and has allied with Bush on most foreign policy issues.

In September, Bush traveled to Australia for the annual summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation and made a tour of Australian defense forces with Howard, who introduced him as a “good mate’’ of Australia.

Howard said then with Bush: “The thing we share most of all is common values, and the values are values that our two countries have fought together to defend, starting way back in the first world war at the battle of Hamel, which was the first time that Australians and Americans fought together, and under the command of that great Australian general, Sir John Monash, and from them on we've fought in every major conflict together.

“We are fighting together in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other parts of the world to defend the things that we hold dear,’’ Howard had said. “You come here as the leader of a nation to which we owe so much in terms of our defense during World War II. You come as a good friend of Australia, you come as a good friend of mine. And you come as somebody who has stood up for the things that you believe in and has demonstrated a great example of strong leadership in so doing.’’

In February, Cheney stood alongside Howard at a press conference during the vice president’s own Pacific tour, which included stops in Afghanistan and Pakistan after leaving Sydney.

“Decisions about what Australia does going forward with respect to force levels (in Iraq) is a decision for the government of Australia,’’ Cheney said then. “Those decisions are obviously going to be made by the Australian government based on their considerations, as well as I would expect conditions on the ground in that part of the world. It's not for us to suggest to our allies what their appropriate response might be. But certainly, I would say that the government has met our expectations in every regard. cooperation has been excellent.’’

Callling Howard "a good friend and ally," the White House on Saturday said he had "served the people of Australia well by pursuing policies that led to strong economic growth and a commitment to keeping Australians safe by fighting extremists and their ideology around the world."
See also Ottavio Marasco, from Melbourne, and his post, "Australia Went Into Reverse Gear Today":

Today’s loss has ended the career of one the Asia-Pacific region's most enduring conservative leaders and a key partner of U.S. President George W. Bush in the region.
My best wishes to Australians during their new era of Labor Party politics.