John Howard is a weak man, the worst possible leader of Australia in an era with potentially catastrophic consequences for the Nation and what we stand for.
Strong men encourage dissent from people of good faith with expertise, not silence it. Strong men are unafraid to say no to close friends (in this case America, when it was obvious President George Bush's decision to invade Iraq would mean disaster for America, and potentially for Australia).
And strong men, if they make a decision they believe to be right but which is unpopular, seek to persuade their people of the rightness of the cause, not avoid the issue until there is no choice.
I've always believed that democracies based on the British tradition, achieved through the blood of many people over many centuries, are a beacon for the world. Yet the democracies of Britain and two of its offspring, the US and Australia, decided on a course that has strengthened immeasurably the cause of those who wish to destroy what we believe in by invading Iraq without a sensible plan to secure the peace.
There is one common denominator in the Anglo nations which invaded Iraq (our sisters Canada and New Zealand did not do so). The leaders in all three are totally focused on spin - for many reasons - and have forgotten, or jettisoned, what we stand for (or used to).
Just like Australia's "leaders" these days, the people who know don't tell the people who need to know so the latter can get away with lying to the people. That's probably why Rumsfeld didn't tell Bush about the reports of torture by U.S troops in Iraq - to give him an out!
Bush has spent more than $100 billion on this war so far. Imagine what could be done for Americans, and the world, with that amount of money. Imagine how a president with brains and courage could have united the Western world and moderate Muslims against Islamic extremism, and reduced the West's dependence on the oil that drives our persecution of Iraq?
And imagine if Tony Blair and Howard had had the courage to say no to an idiot President advised by mad ideologues like Rumsfeld. Maybe, just maybe, the American people would not have fallen for the lies Bush told over the 3000 bodies of American citizens on September 11. Maybe, just maybe, the civilised world would be united against the enemy, and be attracting to our cause the people who the enemy is trying to recruit, instead of forcing them to join the other side.
But no. Our "leader" said yes straight away, and lied to us for months before sending us to war against our better judgement. And he's allowed this rogue superpower to keep two Australian citizens in Guantanamo Bay without charge or access to lawyers. The allegations of torture there are long standing, but Howard and Philip Ruddock look to camera with their most "sincere" faces and say they've been assured by the Americans it is not so.
And now that we know what the Americans do to prisoners, the Australian Government says nothing. Nothing. How could they? While the Americans torture the Iraqis in their own country, we lock up Iraqis who fled Saddam in our own detention centres. Poor fellow, Iraq.
You know how they get away with it? Because we, the people, let them. In the end, Bush, Blair and Howard invaded Iraq because our democracies were not strong enough to stop them. Blame politicians, blame the media and blame ourselves. The question for all of us, after we purge Australia of this weak, amoral excuse for a leader, is to work out how we can ensure we never let any "leader" do this to us again.
Source: Abridged version of Margo Kingston's article in the SMH May 9, 04