SYDNEY, Australia - Vice President Dick Cheney, delivering tough talk on the war on terror, arrived in Sydney with a show of strong support for Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch U.S. ally facing a serious political challenge.
The United States and Australia "simply cannot indulge" in talk about withdrawing forces from Iraq or Afghanistan, Cheney said today to an audience of government and business leaders in a luxury hotel in downtown Sydney. He also warned leaders about China's "rapid" military buildup.
"We are determined to prevail in Iraq because we understand the consequences of failure," Cheney said. "Success for our countries, and for our principles, depends on our willingness to act where action is required."
The question here, however, is the potential effect of both Cheney's and President Bush's support for Howard in elections later this year. The prime minister's challenger, Labor leader Kevin Rudd, is calling for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq and is running ahead of Howard in polls.
One newspaper cartoon today pictured a maniacal-looking Cheney toting a double-barreled shotgun, with the caption: "With Friends Like These ..."
"Cheney is generally regarded in Washington, D.C., as the most powerful vice president in memory," columnist Peter Hartcher wrote on the Sydney Morning Herald's op-ed page. "It is a pity of historical proportions that he used that power to advance dismally unsuccessful and destructive policy."
While the Bush administration boosts the U.S. military force in Iraq with the addition of 21,500 troops, Australia, which has deployed about 1,400 troops to Iraq, also is adding about 70 more of its own.
But with Howard seeking a fifth term and expected to call elections later this year, opposition leader Rudd has based an argument for a phased withdrawal of troops on the report of the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan U.S. panel that recommended a withdrawal of combat forces by early 2008.
Howard has tried to play the war debate in the United States to his own advantage, with vocal criticism for a plan for combat troop withdrawal by the spring of 2008 that Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has advanced in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Such a plan, Howard said, comes as comfort to al-Qaida.
Cheney has played this theme in his own speeches across the Pacific this week, warning in Tokyo and Guam that terrorist attacks "are not caused by the use of strength. ... They are invited by the perception of weakness."
In his remarks today, the vice president appealed for solidarity.
"Having stood together in every major conflict of the last hundred years, the United States and Australia now stand together in the decisive struggle against terrorism," Cheney said. "They (terrorists) represent a movement that is global in scope ... and that is determined to sow chaos and destruction within civilized countries."
Cheney also spoke of gains for security in the region, citing the six-party talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear program and crediting China for its role in that agreement, while cautioning that "we go into this deal with our eyes open.