John Howard was among friends when he went to dinner celebrating the 50th anniversary of the magazine Quadrant, so he did not have to explain the change in direction which has come over his talking about Iraq.
Back in those exciting days of expelling Saddam Hussein from his Baghdad lair the message was all about the hope and optimism of creating a new bulwark of democracy in the Middle East. The subject was even so important that a special section was created on the Prime Ministerial website to keep the populace informed of the progress in this major campaign to bring peace to the world.
In Monday night’s speech to a gathering of supporters the emphasis when it came to Iraq was no longer on the prospects of success but, like George Bush in recent days, the danger of defeat. “There are, as Owen Harries reminds us, people who legitimately opposed the original action to oust Saddam Hussein,” the PM said “but it remains (to borrow a phrase) an inconvenient truth that if countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia simply abandon the people of Iraq this would be an enormous victory for the forces of terror and extremism around the world”.
In the United States, The New Republic magazine has drawn attention to a similar change in rhetoric by George W Bush. They call it the Other Vietnam Syndrome, the lesson the right took from Vietnam — that the true danger to national security is not misguided wars, but overzealous opposition to misguided wars.
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That Howard has taken a similar message from Vietnam is clear from his brief mention of Vietnam at the Quadrant dinner. The lesson our PM learned from that conflict was not that we should never have been there but that an example of the “philo-communism” of the Australia of the 1950s and 1960s was “all those who did not simply oppose Australia’s commitment in Vietnam but who actively supported the other side and fed the delusion that Ho Chi Minh was some sort of Jeffersonian Democrat intent on spreading liberty in Asia.”