An Australian soldier in Baghdad. Will he go the way of the Spanish?
Will Australia follow in Spain’s dhimmi footsteps? From AFP, with thanks to Nicolei:
Australia’s Labor opposition faced intensifying pressure to reverse its promise to withdraw troops from Iraq if it won elections due late this year.
Opposition leader Mark Latham, currently well ahead in the opinion polls, gave no indication he intended to back down as defence experts warned that the 850 Australian troops in Iraq were more likely to be targeted if Islamic terrorists believed they could be forced to leave.
Prime minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain, alone among the 35 nations with troops in Iraq, has already said he would withdraw Spanish soldiers unless the United Nations took command of the military operation by July 1.
Professor Ross Babbage, head of the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, said Labor’s decision to set an arbitrary deadline could only signal to the terrorists that Canberra’s resolve in the war on terror was weakening.
“If the terrorists think they can make Australia leave Iraq, then the troops are more vulnerable to attack,” he told The Australian newspaper.
Lowy Institute defence analyst Alan Dupont said Latham was delivering a message to the terrorists that they could force Western governments to capitulate in the wake of the Madrid bombings of March 11.
Prime Minister John Howard and his ministers have lambasted Latham’s pledge as dangerous and irresponsible, a view backed this week by the US ambassador to Australia, Tom Schieffer.
The government says Latham did not even consult official experts nor his own senior colleagues before announcing in a radio interview on Tuesday that a Labor government would unconditionally pull the troops out by Christmas.
Howard, in an editorial page commentary published Friday by the Asian Wall Street Journal, said the need for unity in the face of the terrorist threat was as important now as it was immediately after September 11.
“Now is not the time for us to be diverted from this global mission,” Howard wrote. “Words are weapons in the information age and there is a need for vigilance to ensure we are not signalling weakness in the face of this ongoing threat.”
Most of Australia’s major newspapers called on Latham to reconsider.
“Latham is doing what the terrorists want,” The Australian said in an editorial. “It has become clear that their strategy is to fracture coalition unity and intimidate voters in democratic nations.
“Coming only 10 days after a terror-numbed Spanish electorate delivered unexpected victory to the Socialist Party, Labor’s abandonment of birpartisanship on troops in Iraq looks even more like a cave-in to terror.”
Even opposition foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd appeared to back away from his leader’s stance, saying a Labor government would consider leaving some soldiers to protect Australia’s mission and diplomats in Iraq.
“As a government, we will be seeking advice from the diplomatic security service about how best the mission in Baghdad can be secured,” Rudd said. “We will be taking that advice … by Christmas, the situation in Baghdad could be worse or it might be better.”