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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Way Outside the Beltway

It appears that Australian Prime Minister John Howard has finally figured out he should distance himself somewhat from Washington, DC. There’s only one problem. He didn’t take a shot at his buddy George W. Bush, who is profoundly unpopular Down Under as well as Up Here. No, Howard went after that real American political hot commodity, Barack Obama, and the Democratic Party.In a press interview, Howard said of proposals from Obama and other Democrats to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq:

“I think that would just encourage those who wanted completely to destabilise and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for (an) Obama victory,” Mr Howard told the Nine Network.”If I was running al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats.”

Wow. This isn’t Bushism; it’s Cheneyism gone publicly rampant. And in a country whose people (a) like the Iraq War even less than Americans do, if that’s possible, and (b) have a strong interest in maintaining good relations with both political parties in the U.S.The Obama campaign’s quick response was rather direct:

“If Prime Minister Howard truly believes what he says, perhaps his country should find its way to contribute more than just 1,400 troops so some American troops can come home,” [Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs] said. “It’s easy to talk tough when it’s not your country or your troops making the sacrifices.”

Indeed. Gibbs might have gone on to point out that even the very limited Australian troop commitment is deeply controversial in that country. Howard’s naming of Obama was perhaps not as weird as it would first appear to Americans. During my own recent visit to Australia, I was inundated with questions about the junior senator from Illinois; Aussies are extraordinarily well informed about U.S. politics. Moreover, Howard has been trying to make immigration a big wedge issue in the upcoming Australian elections, with the terrorist threat supposedly represented by Muslim immigrants being the public theme, and all sorts of racial fears lying just under the surface. Maybe an African-American politician with an Islamic-sounding name was just too tempting a target. Or maybe Howard’s just watching too much Fox News.

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