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Analysis: Australia stands with the U.S.

By JOHN ELSEGOOD, UPI Outside View Contributor   |   June 28, 2005 at 4:17 PM
PERTH, Australia, June 20 (UPI) -- "God Bless America." Those words are heard a lot in the United States, but in the past month their most telling rendition was in Iraq, from Australian Donald Wood, who added, "You don't know how pleased I am to see you!" to a small team of U.S. officers after being released, along with an Iraqi teenager, from a kidnapper's safehouse in Baghdad.

After 47 fear-filled days in captivity the 63-year-old engineer was released as the result of a lucky find during a routine patrol by an Iraqi army unit, according to U.S. Gen. Don Alston.

Still, the good news didn't last long. As Wood and his family, including his American wife, were celebrating his release, five Iraqi police officers were killed and 25 others wounded by a suicide bomber while five U.S. Marines and one sailor also lost their lives.

These incidents remind us of the truth of Richard Nixon's words: "When a president sends American troops to war a hidden timer starts to run. He has a finite period of time to win the war before the people grow weary of it."

In Iraq the war was quickly settled, but it is the winning of the peace that is proving so intractable and giving fresh relevance to Nixon's warning.

U.S. opinion polls are turning downward over the Iraq situation and the unease has spread to Congress, where even pro-military Republicans like Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, have begun urging President George W. Bush to set a timetable for withdrawal.

That proposal would have Nixon and his old Democratic sparring partner, former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, spinning in their graves. Both are on record as saying that once you start setting timetables, you hand the initiative to the enemy, in this case the terrorists and insurgents, who simply have to endure past the deadline to win.

Recent Australian polls and media commentaries are also interesting, but far from uniformly dismal. The foreign editor of The Australian, Greg Sheridan, invoked his own ghosts from the Nixon era by using the words of Nixon's first vice president, Spiro Agnew, in referring to the current French and German leaders as "nattering nabobs of negativity" who are "on the nose with their electorates" while Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australian Prime Minister John Howard have been handily re-elected.

Sheridan, in his June 18 article "Polls apart on public's true feelings," uses the Australian Strategic Policy Institute polling to make a number of observations, chiefly:

•-- 84 percent of Australians think the alliance with the United States is important to our security.

•-- Only six percent regard the United States as a threat to Australian interests, unlike what Sheridan a "preposterous" Lowy poll in March, that found 60 percent of Aussies thought of America that way.

•-- 52 percent supported Prime Minister Howard's handling of the Iraq situation, although now 60 percent regard the war as not worthwhile, presumably because weapons of mass destruction stockpiles were not found.

Interestingly, while only a slim majority favor Howard's Iraqi stance, it nevertheless was not an issue the Labor opposition felt comfortable about raising in last October's federal election. In fact, Howard had effectively demolished the Labor Party leader, Mark Latham, over the issue before the campaign had even started.

Latham had foolishly promised to bring the troops home by Christmas if Labor won the election. Instead his party lost ground, and soon after the election it was Latham that had gone, not the troops, as the experienced Kim Beazley returned as Labor leader.

These facts and figures do not indicate an electorate that is massively disenchanted with the government's foreign policy -- or Australian involvement with the United States in Iraq.

That is fortunate for Howard, because pressure is building on his government to increase the number of military personnel, according to Sheridan's colleague, Patrick Walters.

Walters, The Australian's national security editor quotes a senior Australian government source: "We have a contradiction at the heart of our policy. This is a desperate time for the United States in Iraq. They are critically short of troops. The fact is (Britain) is the only country fighting and dying with the United States."

However if there is increased Australian deployment, it will probably be in Afghanistan, rather than increasing Australian personnel in Iraq, to coincide with the run-up to parliamentary elections in that country. Australia's elite SAS force was previously used in Afghanistan with success during the war against the Taliban regime in 2001-02.

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(John Elsegood is a political commentator and writer in Perth, Australia.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

Topics: Dean Acheson
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