The US diplomatic intervention has changed the balance in the debate on Australia's involvement in a war against Iraq.
Opposition Leader Simon Crean was forced on Sunday to cover his vulnerable point by declaring his support for the Australia-US alliance. "I am and always have been a strong supporter of the American alliance," Crean told the local television Ten Network, adding, "My support for the Australia-US alliance is unshakable."
The remarks may hint a turning point to the political balance in Australia.
On the country's involvement in a US-led war against Iraq, there has been a fierce debate. The Howard government inclined to follow the United States to make military actions even without UN sanction, while the Opposition confronted such stand.
The debate reached its peak Wednesday when the Senate passed a motion censuring Prime Minister John Howard for his deployment of troops to the Persian Gulf and commitments believed already made to the war prior to the UN' approval, and for his deceiving on the issue. The Labor seemed getting upper hand with 75 percent of Australians opposing any involvement without a UN resolution, with the anti-war sentiment in the community getting higher.
Labor's front bencher Mark Latham even directed his attacks to the United States, Australia's close and powerful friend. He told the parliament last week that he believed US President George Bush is "the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory." Latham boldly holds up the flag of nationalism, saying he believes there is a new nationalism in Australia. "It is the sort of nationalism that says we should engage with other countries with a very clear sense of our own interests. Australians are saying we are not a baby nation any more. We are a mature nation that takes a mature view about our own interests. This is the new nationalism and it is the reason why right-wing elite opinion in this country is out of sync with public opinion," he stressed.
This rhetoric touched the United States' sensitive nerve. Tom Scheiffer, US ambassador to Canberra, reacted swiftly accusing the Labor of fanning "anti-Americanism" and said it is not "very helpful to the US-Australian alliance." He pricked the very vulnerable point of the Opposition.
Anti-Americanism is not only unpopular in Australia but a fault at some degree. Jenny Stewart, a professor in public policy at the University of Canberra, pointed out as early as Nov. 25 last year that there is the dependent psychology which is ingrained in Australia's political culture. "In the 30 years since the Vietnam War, we seem to have learned nothing in dealing with our great and powerful friend. This is not, primarily, the Americans' fault, but emanates rather from the dependent psychology which is so deeply ingrained in Australia's political culture," he wrote on The Canberra Times.
The alliance with the United States means security to the country and Australians always see it as their first priority. While reviewing history of the Labor Party on The Australians daily on July 4, 2002, Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan reminded that every time it was seen unreliable on security and the alliance with the United States, the Labor Party lost vote. He said in the Vietnam War 30 years ago, the Labor Party strongly opposed Australia's involvement in the war and the stance was eventually proved to be correct. But, Sheridan pointed out, "Vietnam was a vote loser for Labor all through the 60s." He predicted Howard will do to Labor on the US alliance and security.
Sheridan was right. Immediately following the US diplomatic intervention, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Opposition leader Simon Crean has been "blowing the dog whistle of anti-Americanism." He threw out the national security card, saying "Crean himself has no understanding of geopolitics, no sense of direction of these great and difficult issues."
Crean obviously felt pain. He repeatedly expressed his royalty to the US alliance and criticized implicitly his daring general Mark Latham. "I believe that we've got to be careful of the language. I've said that and I'll say that to Mark Latham privately and have said that to him," Crean said.
The conclusion seemed to be: the Opposition will loss its momentum in the confront thereupon, and the argue itself at the end, whether or not the United Nations approves the war against Iraq.
(Xinhua News Agency February 10, 2003)