Is John Howard becoming a teflon-coated terror talisman? Caught in
Washington amid the chaos of 9/11 four years ago, now yesterday the PM
barely manages to unfold his napkin before lunch with Tony Blair before
they are
interrupted by the latest London attack. As Oscar Wilde might have
said: being caught in one terror attack can be considered unfortunate;
but being caught in two might be looked on as careless!. But today, as
he did in Washington four years ago, Howard
managed to enhance his reputation as a staunch Anglo-ally against
terror.


Following the attacks, Blair cut his lunch short and postponed the
planned joint press conference, during which Howard later assured
Britain he’d remain a “steadfast partner” in the fight against terror. Like Chauncey Gardiner in Being There,
Howard seems to find himself stuck in the spotlight far from home; an
ordinary man stranded in extraordinary circumstances, impressed by all
the serious action going on around him – but unable to influence
events. And like Chauncey, Peter Sellers’ memorable political idiot
savant, Howard manages to get away with it.

As he did two weeks ago, Blair seemed to be have trouble in the
immediate aftermath of the crisis communicating directly and
convincingly to the nation. Asked about the link between the Iraq war
and the terror attacks he came out with this banal line: “The
people who are responsible for terrorist attacks are the
terrorists…” Really, Tony?

Howard seemed on top of his game, cutting to the quick when asked the
same question: “No Australian government that I lead will ever have its
policies decided by terrorists,” he declared. “Once a country allows its
foreign policy to be determined by terrorism, it’s given the game
away.” No doubt bolstered by Bush’s sturdy words in Washington this week,
Howard seemed to have found some extra backbone, reflecting a
measured and confident performance.

And unlike Chauncey Gardiner, Howard had some practical solutions: “We
have 19th century laws for potential 21st century technology terrorist
attacks,” he declared, his mind set on emulating some of Britain’s
hard-edged security laws.
None of this, of course, appeared on British TV, fixated as it was with
the local action. For them, Howard might as well have uttered a
Chauncey Gardiner gem. How about this jolly aphorism: “Spring is a time
for planting… as long as the roots are not severed, all will be well
in the garden.”

Peter Fray

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