As mentioned in the previous entry, the uninspiring but scary Dick Cheney visits us later this week. If he is jetting into Sydney, certain Surry Hills streets will no doubt become impassable briefly as he is rushed from the airport to Kirribilli House or wherever, but then perhaps it is Canberra that will be so blessed. I have not checked such details.
It is possible John Howard is wishing, in his heart of hearts, that Cheney stayed away. Gerard Henderson has a piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald on the generally healthy state of the US-Australia alliance, but does say this:
…At present, key figures in the US appear to believe they can benefit from being associated with Australian political leaders. The impetus for John Howard being given a formal state visit when he went to Washington in May last year came not from Australia but from the US. George Bush saw benefit in being seen alongside the leader of an ally which has a strong economy and is well regarded in the international community.
It’s much the same with the visit to Australia this week of the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney. There is no evidence the Government thought it a good idea for Cheney to come here in an election year. His status has suffered following Bush’s decision to remove Donald Rumsfeld as defence secretary. Also Scooter Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff, is on trial for perverting the course of justice.
Clearly Cheney sees benefit in being publicly associated with successful nations which happen to be US allies.
Bush and the members of his Administration, with the exception of Condoleezza Rice, have never been that popular in Australia, even before the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. This contrasts with the situation during the presidencies of George Bush snr and Bill Clinton. Even so, support for the alliance remains high…
Kevin Rudd has committed a Labor government to withdraw combat forces from Iraq and, no doubt, will advise Cheney accordingly this week. Yet what is interesting about this is not how many Defence Force members a Labor government would withdraw from Iraq (about 550) but rather, how many would remain (about 900), including the security detachment in Baghdad and the air and naval components of Operation Catalyst.
The alliance works well because it is in the interests of both nations. Howard understands this and so does Rudd. And so does a clear majority of Australians; even if the Cheney visit is likely to attract Green Left Weekly readers onto the streets to rail against him — and the alliance in general.
The photo opportunities the visit generates may or may not help Cheney, but they surely won’t help Howard. It will be an interesting test for Kevin Rudd, who is now doing rather well, as the poll in today’s Australian shows: