Lessons in insanity

As predicted, George W Bush is sending another 20,000-odd Yanks to Iraq to join the push against that door clearly marked pull.

(In-SAN-ity, noun: 1. Inability to come to terms with reality; a constant state of derangement. 2. The belief that constantly repeating the same action will eventually lead to a different result.)

While weeping over the death of a single soldier, Bush has sent a multitude to join him, in the manner of a primitive shaman sacrificing the followers of a dead hero to keep him company in the grave.

Virtually none of the professionals believe the new strategy is anything more than a device by which Bush hopes to save (his own) face to provide a buffer period during which he can blame the Iraqis themselves for the manifest failure of his grand folly.

Bush himself admits that it will cost some American lives, and who knows (or cares) how many more Iraqis will have to die before the spin doctors are ready to declare victory and leave, in Henry Kissingers callous phrase. There is now both a popular and a political majority of Americans opposed to any escalation of the war; (even in his own country Bush is a clear loser), and of course international opinion is overwhelmingly in favour of an immediate withdrawal.

So where does our own Dear Leader stand? Well, he says, emerging briefly from a round of pressing photo opportunities at holiday sporting events, its got to be worth a try; anythings better than a perceived American defeat. Back to the cricket, or tennis, or whatever it was. For once it is hard to disagree with the dreaded Sheikh al-Hilaly: our Prime Minister is indeed Mr Me Too.

As always, Alexander Downer was frothier: The Labor Party, he bubbled, wanted to leave Iraq in the hands of thugs and terrorists. Well, so apparently do the American Democrats, large sections of the Pentagon, and nearly two out of three American voters. And in any case, who does he think is running the place now? The YWCA?

As usual Lord Downer seems stranded in Fantasy Land, the happiest kingdom of them all. If he really believes that the extra troops will somehow bring to Baghdad (let alone the rest of the country) sufficient stability to enable the Iraqi forces to look after their own security for more than a week and a half, then he is the only one in the world who does. But even Downer isnt that silly; at least he is a sharp enough politician to have refused any request for additional Australian troops even before the request was made.

Downer, like Howard, is simply being polite to his great and powerful friend in the manner of Evelyn Waughs editor who used the formula Absolutely, Lord Copper, when his boss was right and Up to a point, Lord Copper, when the boss was wrong. Reading between the lines, Canberras response to the Bush initiative has been: Up to a point, Mr President. And incidentally, George W, from now on youre on your own.

Bushs response to all this negativism has been a defiant: Well, what would you do? And one must admit that its a hard question to answer. While there is now almost universal acceptance that the invasion of Iraq has been a disaster (and, in spite of the last-ditch apologists, was always going to be a disaster, no matter how the occupation was handled) there is still a marked reluctance to cut and run; and Howard is of course right when he says that to do so would not only humiliate America in the propaganda war against terrorism (the only real war there is) but hamstring any future effort to involve Washington in more productive intervention in the future we could forget about sending peacekeepers to Africa, for instance.

But the problem is, that short of a miracle this is going to happen anyway. The increase in troops is being spun as giving Baghdad one last chance; if, by the end of 2007, Iraqis are still not capable of looking after their own security, then no one can say Bush didnt try. This just might play within the United States itself (which is all that really matters to Bush) but in the wider world it wont fool anyone for a second.

Australias interests are not served by propping up a political campaign designed purely for American consumption, but this remains Howards position. He will leave our existing forces there, do his best to ensure that they are not put in any serious danger, and withdraw them as soon as Washington agrees. All the while loyally pretending that the new strategy is something more than a cover for his mates desperate desire to salvage his reputation to be paid for in blood. Mr Me Too indeed.

It has taken just on five years, but the Howard-Downer-Ruddock axis of acquiescence has finally decided (prompted no doubt by a big swing in the opinion polls) that enough is (nearly) enough. Having spent most of their waking hours since 2003 declaring David Hicks guilty of everything except cattle-duffing, they are now anxious that the government of the United States get on with proving it as soon as practicable. And if that doesnt happen, theyll just ... theyll just ... well, go back to talking about something else, presumably.

The sheer gut-churning hypocrisy of Howard drivelling on about the presumption of innocence and the right to speedy justice last week was matched only by the sickening subservience of his refusal to offer even the faintest hope of protection to an Australian citizen who has been cynically abandoned to arbitrary imprisonment and torture at the hands of a foreign power. When the rest of his regime has been mercifully forgotten, this indelible blot will remain as John Howards epitaph.

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