When it comes to American military adventures, John Howard is the Macbeth of Australian politics: “in blood/Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more/Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”

So it’s not surprising that Alexander Downer responded to Seymour Hersh’s claims of Australian enthusiasm for an Iran attack less with a denial than a wink: “The American position is that they just don’t rule in or rule out the military option. That’s particularly in the context of Iran’s nuclear program, which the whole of the international community is concerned about. We’re not planning to get involved with any military action against anybody.”

Naturally, Australia wouldn’t “get involved” in the actual attack — the Americans and the Israelis handle that side of things. The real question goes to whether Howard will provide political support. Downer’s response suggests strongly that he will.

What about Kevin Rudd? As The Australian reports, “In a dramatic lift in diplomatic pressure on a bellicose and defiant Iran, Kevin Rudd has committed a Labor government to take ‘legal proceedings against President Ahmadinejad on a charge of incitement to genocide’”.

This, on its face, seems a rather peculiar strategy. Why foster the neo-con identification of Ahmadinejad as the new Hitler? After all, if Iran truly threatens a new Holocaust, wouldn’t that make those pleading for military action rather, well, rather Churchillian? With his fussy talk of legal action, Rudd thus becomes Neville Chamberlain, waving a piece of paper at jackbooting fascists, while identifying John Winston Howard with his bulldog namesake.

To understand Rudd’s position, recall that, not so long ago, Peter Garrett explained that he was “no fan” of George Bush. A fairly unremarkable statement, one would think – given that two thirds of Australians hold a negative view of Bush’s leadership. Nonetheless, Rudd quickly stepped in to hose down a perceived crisis. He explained:”When it comes to the overall relationship with the United States, I am a life-long supporter of our alliance with the United States. That doesn’t budge one bit, never has budged one bit.”

Because of that, it’s very difficult for Rudd to talk about foreign policy without bizarre contortions.

For a sense of the kind of mouth-breathing insanity leading the charge to war, have a look at the Daily Mail’s account of a briefing delivered about Iran to British MPs, in which one of Bush’s senior advisors repeatedly explained: “I hate all Iranians.”

Everyone knows these kind of extremists are driving Bush’s policy on Iran. But in today’s Labor Party, you can’t actually say so.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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