Friday, March 02, 2007

Howard, Hicks, Blair, Obama, Osama & all that jazz ...

Two weeks ago, Australia 's Prime Minister John Howard entered the fray of domestic US politics. Howard lambasted US Democratic Party Presidential nominee Barack Obama. Earlier, Obama had pledged to withdraw troops from Iraq by March 2008. In response, Howard claimed Obama, would be giving Osama something to celebrate about.

If I was running al-Qaida in Iraq , I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats.

It was as if Mr Howard was suggesting that there really was only one letter's difference between Obama and Osama. As for leading al-Qaida, Howard's critics would argue that this may not be such a bad idea for world peace if his management of US-Australia relations under the ANZUS Treaty is anything to go by.

Australia 's Labor opposition leader Kevin Rudd has suggested that going to war against Iraq was the single biggest failure of Australian foreign policy since the Vietnam war. He wants Mr Howard to set a timetable for withdrawal in the same manner as British MP Tony Blair.

Britain pulling troops out of Iraq? The United States' biggest partner in the Iraq debacle cutting and running? Isn't this the sort of stuff that pleases Osama bin Ladin. Strangely, Mr Howard has been comparatively less critical of Mr Blair.

John Howard likes to think he's a big fish in the US pond. The reality is that the most influential Australian in Washington gave up his Australian citizenship years ago. Rupert Murdoch has far more influence on US foreign policy than the man George W Bush once mistakenly described as "John Major".

Yet Howard's approach to relations with the United States has achieved little for ordinary Australians when it really mattered. For years, Mr Howard was happy to sit on his hands and look the other way when the family and supporters of Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks were knocking on his door. As far as Howard was concerned, Hicks was as guilty as sin. Why? Because the Americans said so.

Howard's friends in the tabloid press were happy to join him, using up column space to malign Hicks even before a single charge had been laid against him. Some columnists were even prepared to use sectarian cheap shots, always referring to Hicks as "Mohammad Dawood", a name he allegedly adopted before adopting Islam.

Former inmates at the Guantanamo Bay facility who met Hicks state that he no longer regards himself as a Muslim. In his 2006 book Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim's Journey to Guantanamo And Back, former British detainee Moazzam Begg notes that during the fasting month of Ramadan, Hicks openly ate in front of other inmates who were fasting.

Begg also gave details of the appalling conditions in which detainees were kept at the facility. He writes about their being caged up like animals in tiny cells, with bright lights on 24 hours a day, with little or no natural sunlight and frequent interrogations. Begg also mentions the intimidation and torture of detainees, confirming reports of other released detainees such as Australian Mamdouh Habib.

Now that influential and powerful forces have gathered behind Hicks and a federal election is coming up, Mr Howard has suddenly converted to the Hicks cause. But after spending years aligning Australia unquestionably to US foreign policy, one wonders how seriously Cheney will take Mr Howard when he finally makes a request.

Earlier in the week thousands of Sydney-siders turned out to welcome the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth luxury cruise liners. I doubt they'll be turning up to wave to Dick Cheney when he visits Sydney this week.

(Crude Aussies like me would say Sydney-siders seem more interested in a pair of huge English queens than America 's Vice Presidential Dick.)

It's unlikely Mr Howard will have much to differ with Cheney about. No doubt they'll be gloating about the success of the Iraq war. And what a huge success it has been. Those blasted weapons of mass destruction have been found and destroyed. Peace and freedom have been restored. All the terrorists are dead or locked up in Guantanamo in the same cell as the young Aussie David Hicks. As Australia 's Foreign Minister declared triumphantly some years back, the war in Iraq has been won.

Naturally there are still a few small steps before full victory is secured. Remember that bombing in London on 7 July 2005? I think around 50 people died in that single incident. According to one American report cited by Virginia Haussegger in the Melbourne Age on Saturday, ten times that number of people who die in Iraq .

That's 500 Iraqi civilians. Dying. Each day.

And when they aren't boasting about Iraq, Mr Howard will make sure the cameras are present as he tells Cheney how upset Aussies are over Hicks. Yeah, right. As if Cheney will care. Hicks would probably be better served having Howard requesting not-so-straight-shooting Cheney to be the sole member of any proposed Guantanamo firing squad.

So there you have it, my Kiwi cousins. John Howard has ensured Australia 's relations with the US are as favourable to Australia as our cricketing relations with New Zealand.

An edited version of this piece was first published in the Wellington Dominion-Post on Monday 26 February 2007.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007


Anonymous said...

Of course America should pull out of Iraq as quickly as possible and do anything else that will turn it into an endless sectarian bloodbath between shiite and sunni. Hopefully this can also spread the fighting into neighbouring muslim states. Far easier just to keep on bombing them with jets and cruise missles and occasionally stirring the pot with new invasions. Hopefully this war will go on for 100 Hundred Years and consume the lives of millions of muslims. Then they will beg us for forgiveness. And we will remember all the muslims who danced in the streets and celebrated after 911. And we will ignore their pleas and laugh as they die.

Anonymous said...

Yes it's not good that 500 Iraqi civilians are dying each day. 50,000 would be far more appropriate as revenge for all the evil that Islam has spread throughout the world and for the Bali, 911, Spanish and London bombings. Muslims should feel the pain they have inflicted 1,000,000 times over. Every muslim who dies is one less suicide bomber. When there are no more muslims left in the Middle East we can turn our attention to traitors and terrorists who have invaded Western cities and who conspire in the mosques while worshiping Satan. The world will not be safe until all the muslims have been herded into the deserts of Africa where they can be ignored and left to die.

Anonymous said...

New Zealand seems like a much better and darker place for a black man like you Irfan.

jr said...

Irfan, why do you post these idiots on your blog? Their paranoid racist stupidity really detracts from the good sense of what you write.

Anonymous said...

jr 9:52pm - hear hear. maaate this bloke and i must be twins. e.

Anonymous said...

If you are saying that ALL Muslims are terrorists and extremists, YOU ARE WRONG. Many Muslims are not terrorists and do not support terrorism, 911, and the bombings done by terrorists. If all Muslims are terrorists, then why have we not have mass bombings in America where there are millions of Muslims? The terrorists that claim to be Muslim are really lying. Islam does not in away support the killing of people unless they are attacking you, your people, or your religion. Islam prefers you to settle all conflicts with compromise. If you still do not believe what I am saying is true, then I must say that you do not understand Muslims and should not say anything against them because many of them don't do what you think they do.