In the White House's latest attempt to suggest that the United States has garnered significant international support for an at´tack on Iraq, President Bush met Monday with Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Like British Prime Minister Tony Blair, How´ard pledged unquestioning support for the US administration's position -- even as the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and other more skeptical lands continued their efforts to avert war.
Howard dutifully echoed Bush's recent "the-game-is-over" rhetoric: "For something serious to happen to turn around the direc´tion of this whole thing, there would have to be a total change of attitude by Iraq," the Australian declared. "It's not good enough to give a little bit. This has happened before. We're not going to play that game again."
White House stenographers, er, reporters scribbled notes on Howard's comments and proclaimed Australia to be fully in the US camp -- just like Estonia and Albania. What they failed to note is that Howard is not speaking for a united Australia. Like most of the countries that have announced official support for the US position on Iraq, Australia is deeply divided.
The latest national opinion poll shows that 76 percent of Australians oppose Australian participation in a US-led war on Iraq. And that sentiment was reflected in an unprece´dented move by the Australian Senate last week, which voted 33-31 to censure Howard for committing 2,000 soldiers -- 450 of whom are already on the ground in the Middle East -- to join US troops in a potential war against Iraq.
"The Senate declares that it has no confidence in the Prime Minister's handling of this grave matter for the nation," read the measure, which also registered the opposition of the upper chamber of the Australian government to an attack on Iraq led by the US, and which insisted that moves to disarm Iraq be carried out under UN authority.
"The result means that Mr Howard does not have the mandate of parliament to deploy troops in a war without United Nations backing," explained Senator John Faulkner, the leader of the opposition Labor Party.
"This is an historic vote by the Senate," added Green Party Senator Bob Brown, a prime mover behind the censure vote. "It's the first time in history, in 102 years, that this Senate has voted no confidence in the Prime Minister of the day. The Prime Minister made the decision to deploy 2,000 defence personnel with no reference to the parliament, without the backing of the Australian people, without a request from the United Nations. He stands condemned, censured and without the confidence of the house of review, the Senate in Australia."
Censure by the Australian Senate, just one of two legislative chambers in that country, is not sufficient to force Howard to change course. But the vote, and continued questioning of Howard's approach by opposition leaders in the other chamber, the Parliament, signal that Australia is far from united for war.
Just as the White House press corps continually fails to take note of the level of dissent in the US, it it now missing the story of serious opposition in countries that the Bush administration would have us believe are "on board" for war.