The nature of the Australian-American alliance is becoming a domestic political issue in Australia, and one of the main differences between the two major parties. The actual differences are really quite minor, but in today’s political environment the differences have been magnified and become the things which elections can be fought over.
The Australian Labor Party (ALP) under the leadership of Mark Latham, who seems to have revitalized the ALP, is committed to the alliance, but wants it to be more of an alliance of equals, rather than the obsequious sycophantic relationship which John Howard has with George W. Bush. Before he was elected leader of the Opposition, Latham called John Howard an arselicker with respect to Howard’s behaviour towards the US. He called the governing Liberal / National coalition a “conga line of suckholes.” The citation to the offical Hansard record of this debate is: H.R. Deb. (5.2.2004) 10927; it's also on page 37 of the 180 page pdf version of the Hansard transcript.
[I been wanting to quote these choices phrases for a long time. I wonder if this will cause my blog to be blocked out by filtering software? That would be a novelty]
The main debate about the nature of the alliance with the US is focused around two main issues. First the presence of Australian troops in Iraq. Second (and less prominently, although having far-reaching ramifications), the proposed US-Australian free trade agreement (FTA). They are interlinked. The progress in the FTA is widely viewed as Australia’s reward for being such a staunch (I say sycophantic) ally to the US, being in lock-step with George W. Bush over Iraq.
As an Australian who lived in the US for over six years and has fond thoughts about the people and place, I certainly think that it makes sense for Australia and the US to be friends and allies. There is certainly a natural affinity amongst the peoples of both countries.
But if the two countries were true friends rather than being master and servant, our alliance would be strong and mature enough that we could disagree about things like Iraq. When the US chickenhawks became obsessed with Iraq, a true friend would have told them in no uncertain terms that it was a mad crusade which would only increase the risk of terrorism from the Middle East.
It’s also interesting that both Australia and the US are facing national elections this year. If Bush should win in the US (God forbid) and Latham in Australia, the Australia-US alliance will be strained somewhat. Not too much. Mark Latham has already toned down his rhetoric since becoming leader of the Opposition. He is first and foremost a politician and is not so stupid as to allow John Howard to mobilize Australia’s paranoia by being too controversial in the final stretch. But he will take out Australia’s largely symbolic contribution of troops in Iraq by the end of the year. Because of that pledge and because he has repeatedly criticized George W. Bush ("Bush himself is the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory”, H.R. Deb. (5.2.2004) 10926; page 36 of the pdf version) Mark Latham will never be popular with the Bushies.
Of course, I am hoping against hope that both Latham and Kerry will unseat their respective conservative incumbents.
Should John Kerry win, but Howard gets back in Australia, I doubt there will be any problems with the alliance. Kerry is a centrist, not a left-winger – and certainly not by Australian standards. Besides, if there’s regime change in Washington D.C., John Howard will do his utmost to ingratiate himself with the new American President. That is one thing which he does very well.