Why would Australian Prime Minister John Howard separate out Barack Obama from all of the other contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination — and from all the prominent Democratic and Republican critics of President Bush’s dangerous foreign policies — for attack as the favorite son of the terrorists?
Why would Howard, suggest that the Illinois senator’s candidacy will”encourage those who wanted completely to destabilize and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for an Obama victory”?
What was Howard thinking when he claimed in an interview on Australiantelevision that: “If I was running al Qaeda 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”?
Is Howard, arguably the truest believer in the Iraq War this side of Dick Cheney, so supportive of the Bush administration that he is ready to attack anyone who challenges the president? No, that’s not the case. In fact, Howard has in recent days gone out of his way to tell Australians that he did not intend to “generically” criticize American Democrats; rather, he clarified, he was specifically attacking Obama. “I don’t apologise for criticising Senator Obama’s observation because I thought what he said was wrong,” explained Howard.
But Howard, a savvy student of US politics, is unquestionably aware that many prominent Democrats — including figures such as John Kerry, Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, who are far better known in Australia than Obama — have criticized both the war in Iraq, which Howard continues to support unquestioningly, and the general approach of the Bush Administration to the so-called “war on terror.”
So why the full-force assault on Obama, who has gained more global attention because he might be the first black presient of the United States than because of his stance on the Iraq War?
Perhaps some comments from a 2005 debate in the upper house of the parliament of the Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, will clear things up. After racial violence erupted in several suburbs of Sydney in the fall of that year, Howard dismissed concerns about the motivations behind the violence, despite reports that they had been provoked at least in part by neo-Nazis who targeted immigrants and people of color. “Every country has incidents that don’t play well overseas,” mused Howard, whose response provoked outrage on the part of civil rights campaigners in Sydney and the rest of Australia.
That outrage led to a parliamentary debate on the subject of “Racism and Prime Minister John Howard.”
During the debate, Sylvia Hale, a representative from the Sydney area, explained that, “Racism has preoccupied this House and the community over the past week. It is pertinent now to re-examine the Prime Minister’s contribution to the rise of racism in this country. John Howard’s primary political strategy has been to divide and rule this nation. He has consistently pitted one section of the community against the other, whether it be wharfies, Aborigines, the unemployed, refugees, academics, welfare recipients or tradeunionists. By identifying a minority and telling the majority that they should fear and loathe it because it is a threat to the way of life of the majority, the Prime Minister has had electoral success, but he has also created the social division that we all now confront.”