It couldn’t happen here? Terror bombings – or the defeat of a pro Iraq war government like that of Jose Maria Aznar – must be weighing heavily on John Howard.

Gosh. Frightening people seemed to be such a good tactic there for two and a half years – but now look what’s happened.

The Government has now got a whole new set of worries – and the election timetable may just have become a little firmer.

As the news was coming through that Jose Maria Aznar had lost the Spanish election, Phillip Ruddock – fairly scary himself at the best of times – was on AM telling us how he didn’t “think you can see any particular linkages” between last week’s bombings in Madrid and Spain’s involvement in Iraq – despite what the head of his own Federal Police said.

Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty says the Madrid bombings may well be linked to Spain’s involvement in the war in Iraq and the New South Wales Police Commissioner, Ken Moroney, thinks terrorists may be more likely to target Australia too because of its support for the Iraq war.

Our Federal Government begs to differ – yet the Prime Minister has convened a meeting of the National Counter-Terrorism Committee to discuss transport security arrangements in Australia.

What’s behind this change?

John Howard, Alexander Downer and Ruddock have been banging the drums louder than Keith Moon or John Bonham ever managed since 9/11 – but are now suddenly playing a different tune.

Could they have suddenly realised the possible consequences of their actions?

Only last week The Economist – a publication not given making wild prophecies – was tipping a sure return for Aznar, George W Bush’s firmest European ally in the war on Iraq after Tony Blair.

Yesterday, its website read “Spain’s ruling People’s Party has lost the election to the opposition Socialists, amid increasing signs that it may have been al-Qaeda that planted the devastating train bombs in Madrid last week-and not Basque separatists, as the government had insisted”.

Were the Spanish voters sick of lies? That’s more than likely – particularly when the saw the consequences of the lies from this time last year, from when we went to war, and how all their government could offer in the way of succour was more lies.

There’s certainly speculation that their British counterparts are.

More than a week before the Madrid bombs went off the pro-war London Spectator talked about how “an embattled and exhausted Prime Minister has lost the energy to fight for his most cherish personal beliefs… Tony Blair, who hoped to take Britain into the euro, has defined himself instead through Iraq”.

That was only part of the story. We have already seen how the Iraq was has played out in British domestic politics, how the British public have reacted to lies and spin and media management in, say, the overwhelming view that the Hutton Report into the death of WMD expert David Kelly was a whitewash.

The Spectator warned how there is more to come:

“The invasion [of Iraq] will be justified or discredited according to events within Iraq itself, which is now on the edge of civil war… The possibility can by no means be ruled out that the removal of Saddam Hussein from Iraq is having the effect as the death of Tito on Yugoslavia, ie not the bringing about the arrival of liberal democracy, but unleashing civil war, clan politics and in due course genocide… It is unlikely that the United States would have gone to war if it knew what we know today.”

Its forecast?

“A bad [northern] summer in Iraq will open the way for new regimes in both Britain and the United States.”

By a “new regime” in Britain, it means the replacement of Tony Blair by his Chancellor and Deputy, Gordon Brown – presumably before sittings at Westminster resume in the European autumn.

In the US, however, it means something much more dramatic. It means the election of President Kerry.

The fall yesterday of one of George W Bush’s key allies – remember the much publicised Bush/Blair/Aznar summit from just before the war – will have rattled John Howard.

A change of leadership in the UK – if it happens – will happen when it happens. It will be hugely significant, but at least for our Prime Minister’s sake can be portrayed as the result of internal dynamics.

“Regime change” in the US, however, will be a different matter.

John Howard told the ABC last night that “Iraq is irrelevant”.

However, the first President Bush wrote in his memoirs: “An occupation of Iraq would have occurred incalculable human and political costs. There was viable no exit strategy. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.”

His son could fall victim to these considerations – and if he does, we know when it will happen.

Political buffs don’t associate the first Tuesday in November with the Melbourne Cup.

To them, it’s election day in the Great Republic.

Tony Blair may fall sometime over the European summer – August, perhaps, the quietest time – or early in its autumn.

George W Bush will learn his fate on November 2.

If there are more deaths and bloodshed in Iraq or that might stem from Iraq, John Howard won’t want to look like the last domino.

He’ll want to go before Bush can lose – maybe even before anything can happen to Blair.

That earlier election we were talking about on Friday is now looking a lot more certain.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]


Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW