John Howard Versus Barack Obama
Barrack Obama Versus John Howard on Iraq.
US presidential hopeful Barack Obama has blasted as "empty rhetoric" Australian Prime Minister John Howard's attack on Obama's plan to bring US troops home from Iraq. The 45-year-old senator waded into a major foreign policy row just one day after formally announcing his candidacy, telling Mr Howard he should dispatch 20,000 Australians to Iraq if he wanted to back up his comments.
"I think it's flattering that one of George Bush's allies on the other side of the world started attacking me the day after I announced," Mr Obama told reporters in the mid-western US state of Iowa. "I would also note that we have close to 140,000 troops in Iraq, and my understanding is Mr Howard has deployed 1,400, so if he is ... to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them to Iraq.
"Otherwise it's just a bunch of empty rhetoric." Mr Howard earlier attacked Obama's plan to withdraw US combat troops from Iraq by March 31, 2008.
First the facts. In 2006, the population of Australia was estimated to be about 20.26 million people, according to the CIA factbook; the population of the US was calculated at 298.44 million. There are therefore approximately 298.44/20.26=14.77 more Americans than there are Australians. On a per capita basis, Australia has the equivalent of 1,400x14.77=20,670 troops currently in Iraq -- not inconsiderable, but fewer than America on a that basis. But Mr. Obama's request to send another 20,000 Australian troops would be run the calculation the other way -- the equivalent of asking John Howard to send 295,400 in per capita terms. The correct matching per capita contribution would be about another 1,400 for Australia to send "another 20,000 Australians".
I think this dust-up has the potential to play in very unpredictable ways. First, many Americans will resent commentary by any foreign leader on a US Presidential campaign. Captain Ed is already of that view and in fairness, he would probably feel the same way if the commentator were Jacques Chirac or Osama Bin Laden. On the other hand, many Australians, including people who might be John Howard's domestic political opponents, will probably say "who the hell does Barack Hussein Obama think he is?" Many Australians are acutely aware of the commitments by this small nation, in population terms, not only in Afghanistan, but in Fiji, East Timor, Afghanistan, Indonesia and the Philippines. If there is one country in the world Barack Obama ought not to have twitted about not pulling its own weight, it would be Australia.
How things go from here depend to some extent, on how well Howard and Obama handle the follow-up events.