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February 11, 2007
Even Our Friends Should Butt Out Of Our Politics

Am I the only conservative with misgivings regarding John Howard's proclamation about Barack Obama? Howard, the Prime Minister of Australia and a great friend to the United States, wants to wage an aggressive war against al-Qaeda and radical Islamist terrorists. Australians have been brutally targeted twice in Bali, with hundreds of them dead from suicide bombers, and their proximity to Indonesia makes them well aware of the dangers of appeasement to Muslim extremists. However, I think Howard went too far today in involving himself in the next American election:

Australia's conservative prime minister slammed Barack Obama on Sunday over his opposition to the Iraq war, a day after the first-term U.S. senator announced his intention to run for the White House in 2008. ...

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch Bush ally who has sent troops to Iraq and faces his own re-election bid later this year, said Obama's proposals would spell disaster for the Middle East.

"I think that will just encourage those who want to completely destabilize and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and a victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for an Obama victory," Howard said on Nine Network television.

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

Howard certainly had a point regarding Obama's policy stands on Iraq and the war on terror. Had he limited his criticisms to just the policies, Howard would have made a great argument for tenacity and will. However, he stepped over a line when he claimed that al-Qaeda should pray for an Obama victory.

We have a long tradition of demanding outside governments stay out of our elections, even rhetorically, and that they should allow the American electorate to make our own decisions about leadership. Granted, we have not always been good neighbors about doing that ourselves, and Australian elections in particular came in for some heavy-handed CIA interference in the 1970s. (It was this interference that initially created the impulse of Christopher Boyce to start selling secrets from TRW to the Soviets when he inadvertently stumbled onto coded intercepts from CIA stations overseas.) This kind of rhetoric, though, would be beyond the pale for mainstream domestic politics, let alone from the leader of another nation.

Predictably, however, the Obama campaign managed to make itself look even worse. Spokesman Robert Gibbs managed to insult the Australians in kind by implying that the Aussies hadn't sacrificed in the war:

"If Prime Minister Howard truly believes what he says, perhaps his country should find its way to contribute more than just 1,400 troops so some American troops can come home," he said. "It's easy to talk tough when it's not your country or your troops making the sacrifices."

That shows why the inexperienced Obama needs to spend another ten years or so getting some seasoning. The Aussies have been one of our strongest friends in the world over a long period of time. They have contributed troops and suffered losses, just as we have, while the Islamist threat sits a lot closer to their nation than it does to ours. Perhaps Obama's entire campaign flunked geography, but someone had better send them a globe and point out the proximity of Indonesia to Australia -- and Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and so on. The Aussies are very isolated in that corner of the world, and they need to protect themselves as well as assist us in Iraq.

I have tremendous admiration for John Howard, and I understand the concern that drove his commentary. It's still inappropriate, regardless of the stupidity of Obama's response. I wouldn't want our allies commenting on Republican candidates, and they shouldn't comment on Democratic candidates, either.

UPDATE: Fixed a couple of typos. Also, read the two posts at TMV for the perspectives of Joe Gandelman and Michael van der Galien.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 11, 2007 9:25 AM

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