It is no surprise that Australia's new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd would kick off his round-the-world tour with a visit to the United States and announce that he would fulfill his election pledge to pull out 550 Australian troops from Iraq. He is proving he is different from his predecessor John Howard, who had gone whole hog in supporting US President George W. Bush and his war in Iraq.
Rudd did commit to humanitarian aid and farming assistance in Iraq, but kept future possibilities of military involvement with US troops there remote. In Afghanistan, however, Rudd said Australia is in for the long haul.
Australian public opinion, like that elsewhere in the world, supported a US attack on Afghanistan after the attacks of September 11, 2001 on the United States. But the senseless invasion of Iraq, coupled by the US failure to restore order there, is the reason for a groundswell of anti-Americanism in Australia, as across the world.
So bad is post-Howard public opinion in Australia that Rudd's customary designation of his host George W. Bush as an honorary Queenslander - Rudd's home state - drew angry reactions in the Sunshine State.
Does Australia feel threatened by its alliance with the United States? Perhaps it fears a US pre-emptive military strike during Bush's last year or under John McCain, if he comes to power, with Iran or North Korea as future targets?
Or, is Australia now free from the near and far threats that drove it towards the United States for security reasons in the past?
Nestling close to Asia, Australia, with a swelling immigrant population from the region, cannot remain immune to the continent's concerns and fears. The Bali bombings of 2002 and the rise in fundamentalism in the name of Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia, along with a composite mix of immigrant Muslims from some of the region's troubled areas, are bound to impact Australian foreign policy and military involvement with the United States.
Bush may be a lame duck president for the rest of his term, but the future White House occupant may find it difficult to roll back tracks charted by his predecessor - especially if he is Republican John McCain, even though he opposed the Iraq war. McCain, apart from his multilateral stance, does not exude much confidence with his limited knowledge of foreign affairs.
One cannot rule out more military involvement if US interests are threatened or attacked as a result of residual backlash against Bush's policies. Even Hillary Clinton or the visionary Barrack Obama will have to go the full course or face flak at home.
If such a scenario unfolds, however, Australia may not be directly threatened if it does not commit troops to the US cause.
When Rudd mused about John Curtin - Australia's prime minister in the late 1940's, who signed a message at Blair House as US President Franklin D. Roosevelt's guest - citing the traditionally close relationship with the United States forged by 14 prime ministers and 12 presidents, he was well aware of the Cold War compulsions that drove Australia under the protective arm of the United States.
The Korean War and later the war in Vietnam saw US troops stationed in Australia, while Australian troops were also sent to the war zones. These arenas were close and both Australia and New Zealand were like sitting ducks to any Soviet or Chinese threat, which sent them scurrying for US security cover.
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