The Prime Minister’s address earlier today to a joint meeting of the US Congress evidently went down well with the Washington elite. That’s unsurprising given most of it was a blatant appeal to those two great American traits: their sense of exceptionalism and their sentimentality.

And not a “conga line of suckholes” to be seen.

In truth, though, Mark Latham was a departure from the broader Labor tradition of enthusiastic support for the US and our alliance with it, particularly as embodied in our current ambassador to Washington, Kim Beazley, perhaps the greatest Americaphile Australian politics has ever produced.

That alliance is the reason we remain in Afghanistan, fighting alongside the Americans. And no amount of bonhomie in the halls of power in Washington can cover the fact that conflict is going from bad to worse. It is becoming clear the profound damage done to the allied effort in Afghanistan by the US decision to attack Iraq cannot be repaired, at least not with the level of resources either the allies, or what passes for the Afghan government, are prepared to accept.

In the meantime, the casualties continue to rise, among US troops, among Australian troops, and among Afghans, civilian and otherwise.

For all its sentiment, Julia Gillard’s speech was sharp and steely on one thing: her absolute commitment to supporting the US’s military ventures. In this, she has not deviated one whit from the position of John Howard, who effectively outsourced Australian foreign policy to the good offices of the US State Department. The only difference is that, for prime minister Howard and president George W. Bush, the conflict in Afghanistan was actually winnable. Gillard and Obama don’t have that luxury.

Peter Fray

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