Australian PM Slams Obama

In perhaps the best example yet of how international the politics of the upcoming U.S. Presidential race are destined to be, Australian Prime Minister John Howard pulled no punches in his reaction to Democratic Senator Barak Obama’s announcement this weekend that he will seek the presidency in 2008.

“If I was running al-Qaida in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats,” Howard, a staunch conservative and ally to the Bush administration told Australia’s Nine Network television on Sunday.

Obama responded Monday by calling Howard’s statement “empty rhetoric,” according to the Australian Associated Press (AAP). But the Sydney Morning Herald reports that Howard is standing by his remarks.

And what he said has tossed the world news blogosphere into such a state of spasm over the past 24 hours that we feel it worthy to show the context in which the Australian prime minister came to utter the words “Obama,” “prayer,” and “al-Qaida” in the same sentence.

Here’s how the interview actually went according to the Nine Network transcript:

LAURIE OAKES [Nine Network]: On that subject, Senator Barack Obama’s announced overnight he’s running for the Democrat Presidential nomination, and he says if he gets it he has a plan to bring troops home by March, 2008 and his direct quote is “Letting the Iraqis know we’ll not be there forever is our last, best hope to pressure the Sunies and Shiah to come to the table and find peace”. So, basically he’s agreeing with the Labor Party.

JOHN HOWARD: Yes, I think he’s wrong, I mean, he’s a long way from being President of the United States. I think he’s wrong. I think that would just encourage those who wanted completely to destabilise and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for Obama victory. If I was running Al-Qaida in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats.

LAURIE OAKES: If he wins, and you’re still there, bad news for the alliance.

JOHN HOWARD: Well I tell you what would be even worse news for the fight against terrorism, if America is defeated in Iraq. I mean, we have to understand what we are dealing with. We’re dealing here with a situation where if America pulls out of Iraq in March 2008. It can only be in circumstances of defeat. There’s no way by March 2008, which is a little over a year from now, everything will have been stabilised so that America can get out in March 2008. And, if America is defeated in Iraq, the hope of ever getting a Palestinian settlement will be gone. There’ll be enormous conflict between the Shi’a and the Sunnis throughout the whole of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and Jordan will both be (destabilised), Al-Qaida will trumpet it as the greatest victory they’ve ever had and that will have implications in our region because of the link, the ideological link at the very least, between the Al-Qaida and JI. Proposition Three.

In response, Obama, who seeks to become the first African American president of the United States, told a packed press conference in Iowa on Monday that he found it “flattering that one of George Bush’s allies on the other side of the world started attacking me the day after I announced,” according to the AAP.

“I take that as a compliment.”

Obama then went a step further, saying: “I would also note that we have close to 140,000 troops on the ground now and my understanding is that Mr. Howard has deployed 1,400.”

“So, if he’s ginned up to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them up to Iraq,” Obama said. “Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of empty rhetoric.”