Howard Attacks Obama and US Democrats

Less than twenty-four hours after Barack Obama announced his candidacy for the 2008 United States presidential election, the Prime Minister, John Howard, has attacked the Illinois senator over his policy of withdrawal from Iraq.

Responding to a question about Obama’s policy of withdrawing US troops by March 2008, Howard said: “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.”

The attack is unusual because it is considered undiplomatic for a head of government of one nation to intervene in the electoral process of another.

  • Listen to Howard’s comments (3m)

This is the transcript of John Howard’s Comments on Barack Obama. They were made during an interview with Laurie Oakes on the Channel 9 program, “Sunday”.

Oakes:

Proposition two for your comment: Australians are increasingly opposed to the Iraq War, and it’s starting to bite electorally, undermining the advantage you’ve had over Labor on national security issues?

Howard:

Once again commentary but I’ll address the substance of the issue. The Australian people have always been, when you ask them in a poll, against our involvement in Iraq. I accept that. As one of the answers I give to those who say I’m a poll-driven politician. It was about the least poll-driven decision I’ve taken in my entire political life but I believed in it; I believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. So, incidentally did Mr Rudd. Mr. Rudd in fact said it was an empirical fact that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. His argument with us was whether we should have tried to get another United Nations resolution but I’ve got to now look at the current situation, and the impact on the alliance, the impact on the future of Iraq, if we were to get up and go, and Mr Rudd can’t slip and slide and have it both ways, as he tried to do this morning. You either go or you stay, you either rat on the ally or stay with the ally, it’s as simple as that. And, if it’s alright for us to go, it’s alright for the Americans and the British to go, and if everybody goes Iraq will descend into total civil chaos …

Oakes:

On that very subject,

Howard:

…and there’ll be a lot of bloodshed.

Oakes:

On that subject, Senator Barack Obama’s announced overnight he’s running for the Democrat Presidential nomination, and he says if he gets it he has a plan to bring troops home by March, 2008 and his direct quote is “Letting the Iraqis know we’ll not be there forever is our last, best hope to pressure the Sunnis and Shiah to come to the table and find peace”. So, basically he’s agreeing with the Labor Party.

Howard:

Yes, I think he’s wrong, I mean, he’s a long way from being President of the United States. I think he’s wrong. 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 Obama victory. 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.

Oakes:

If he wins, and you’re still there, bad news for the alliance.

Howard:

Well I tell you what would be even worse news for the fight against terrorism, if America is defeated in Iraq. I mean, we have to understand what we are dealing with. We’re dealing here with a situation where if America pulls out of Iraq in March 2008. It can only be in circumstances of defeat. There’s no way by March 2008, which is a little over a year from now, everything will have been stabilised so that America can get out in March 2008. And, if America is defeated in Iraq, the hope of ever getting a Palestinian settlement will be gone. There’ll be enormous conflict between the Shi’a and the Sunnis throughout the whole of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and Jordan will both be (destabilised), Al-Qaeda will trumpet it as the greatest victory they’ve ever had and that will have implications in our region because of the link, the ideological link at the very least, between the Al-Qaeda and JI. Proposition Three.

Oakes:

..the proposition is the incarceration of David Hicks is biting as an electoral issue because it’s seen as evidence of an obsequious attitude to George W Bush and the Americans.

Howard:

Laurie, I’m very frustrated about the length of time it’s taken. I have to take up something Ray Martin said in that intro, where he said, there’s five years and they’ve found no charges against him. That’s not right. There were charges laid against David Hicks, but because the Supreme Court in the case of Hamden and Rumsfeld said the military commission had not been established in accordance with the constitution, they had to start again, so it’s not quite right to say they never, at any stage, reached a view that they had charges against him. We are pressing the Americans, almost on a daily basis, to bring this man before the military commission. I am very unhappy.

Oakes:

What if they don’t meet your mid-February deadline, we are just about there.

Howard:

Well, Laurie, the charging process has begun, but we will be watching, on a daily basis, progress towards the commission hearing starting and in the last few hours, Mr Downer has raised this issue in the meeting he had with Robert Yates, the new American Defence Secretary in Germany. And Mr Downer spoke to me on the phone about an hour ago and reported on the discussion, and he drove home again to the Americans, the concern that I’ve expressed to President Bush, and will go on expressing it; we are unhappy, frustrated with the amount of time it’s taken. I don’t think the Americans have handled that part of it well and it has made people legitimately concerned, even those who feel very strongly, as I do, that somebody accused of training with Al-Qaeda and returning to them in the full knowledge of what happened on 11 September, is nonetheless should not be held indefinitely without a trial and that is a view we’ll press very, very hard on the Americans.

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