With polls favouring his opponent and his place in history in the balance, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has decided to extricate himself from the politically unpopular Iraq imbroglio ASAP. Today we learn that as many as 3,000 of Britain’s 7,000 troops may be home by Christmas, and up to 1,500 are likely to leave southern Iraq within weeks.

Stay the course? Not at those prices.

In Australia, meanwhile, with polls favouring his opponent and his place in history in the balance, Prime Minister John Howard has decided to do more than stay the course in Iraq. He’s increasing our troop commitment.

Quite a study in contrast: the leading partner in the coalition who got his country’s Guantanamo Bay detainees home and is departing Iraq … and the Australian PM who has so far refused to get his country’s Guantanamo Bay detainee home and is staying put in Iraq.

Beyond the contrast, Britain’s planned withdrawal is another sign of how a once dependable earth is shifting uncertainly for Howard: Rudd favored in the polls, the states turning against the $10 billion water initiative, the Hicks case beset by delay, interest rate rises flagged by the Reserve Bank — and even disquiet in his own electorate about his leadership and his senior moments.

Where will it end?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey