Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom

Cross posted at LP.

People have been saying it for months now, Howard thinks that he can win this election by playing the "man of conviction" role and talking up his government's economic credentials. In the past week we've seen him try to play his great international leader shtick, only to have his message drowned out by the Santoro scandal.

You have to hand it to him, the plan was beautiful. Last week he signs the defense pact with Japan, jumps a plane to Afghanistan, and then to Iraq. This is all meant to build a perception that Howard is a leader full of resolve who is serious about victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. More importantly it was designed to look like Howard has control over the situation in these countries.

Then comes this week and the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Howard, having been seen to be micromanaging the Australian involvement in the previous week, quite obviously has "a plan" and so is immune from all sorts of sticky questions like "what do you think of the fact that George Bush didn't say the word 'victory' once during his address to the American people?". Then, Howard gets the opportunity to get back on the front foot against Labor by  giving a speech marking the occasion. He puts on his "great leader of the nation" face and suggests that Iraqis need "our resolve, not our retreat" and "patience, not political positioning". The whole speech is designed to build the perception that Labor's withdrawal policy is confused and to push the line that victory in Iraq will come with conviction. He leaves it unsaid that obviously he has plenty of conviction and resolve all sorts of really great leadership qualities.

Howard asks Australians to leave aside any issues that we might have had about going to war in the first place and to focus on the future. However, what we don't hear is anything about what his brilliant strategic vision for success is. His only attempt at addressing this key issue is to presume that "the surge" will actually work if given enough time. What happens to Iraq if the surge is a failure? Do we put in more troops? Do we pull them out? Do we re-deploy? Do we stay the course and hope that things will change? None of these questions are discussed.

Howard's speech is all about perception and has little substance. That's the take-home message. It will be interesting to see who in the media realizes that nothing in Howard's speech is new, it has just been framed with a whole lot of new rhetoric. His language is designed to give Australians the sense that victory in Iraq requires nothing but grit and determination, that somehow the Iraqi civil war is simply a test of our nation's character. Behind his words he is pushing the mythical message that Kevin Rudd and the Labor party do not have the strength to lead Australia because they do not share his conviction.

Howard's whole game reminds me of this classic line of Kodos' (masquerading as Bill Clinton) from the Simpsons:

"My fellow Americans. As a young boy, I dreamed of being a baseball, but tonight I say, we must move forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!"