John Howard might have been a bit slow on the uptake in regard to climate change, but has he also missed the political wind shift over Iraq?

Always the loyal Washington ally, Howard has refused to entertain any notion of withdrawal of troops, pledging their commitment until the job (whatever that is) is completed.

And yet in Washington, support for the Iraq war is ebbing away daily in Congress, especially among Bush’s own Republicans. Even the New York Times yesterday called for a withdrawal. President Bush, himself a lame duck President, is looking increasingly isolated, and so too is John Howard.

The latest polls in Australia now show more and more Australians are pressing for an end to the Iraqi debacle.

With Defence Minister Brendan Nelson unceremoniously slapped down for telling truths about oil and war, John Howard is looking desperate as well as increasingly removed from public opinion and, quite possibly, from an impending shift in policy.

Some 36 years ago, one of his less glorious predecessors, the inept and mendacious Billy McMahon, publicly heaped scorn on then ALP leader Gough Whitlam for daring to visit China which Australia, as a loyal US ally, refused to recognise (but was quite happy to sell wheat to).

McMahon set out to ridicule Whitlam and also try to curry favour with Washington, even asking the US Embassy to tick off on a speech he was to make accusing Whitlam of selling out Taiwan. What McMahon did not know, and was pointedly not told, was that the US was itself gearing for an about-turn on China and a month after the Whitlam visit, that arch crusader against communism President Richard Nixon himself, announced his intention to visit China, the groundwork already having been laid in secret by Henry Kissinger.

McMahon was made to look even more foolish (not an easy thing to do) and Whitlam’s bold foray took on statesmanlike stature.

Might history be about to repeat? Similar script, new cast?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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