Foreign influences on our elections -- then and now

Bush supporters turn Australia's John Howard into a hero for his attack on Democrats; what happened to their outrage over foreign influence on our elections?

Published February 13, 2007 11:10AM (EST)

(updated below)

One of the countless petty "controversies" which plagued the 2004 election was the uproar provoked by John Kerry's alleged claim that foreign leaders had told him they were hoping for him to win the election (the comment was actually mis-transcribed by the reporter who claimed to hear it, but nothing -- not even outright factual inaccuracy -- stops petty scandal waves once they are unleashed by the media). All sorts of right-wing Bush supporters and pundits shrieked that it was so very inappropriate for foreign leaders to attempt to insinuate themselves into U.S. presidential campaigns, and that the views of foreign leaders were irrelevant to American domestic politics.

As but one of countless examples, Dick Cheney incorporated into his campaign stump speech passages similar to this:

A few days ago in Pennsylvania, a voter asked Senator Kerry directly who these foreign leaders are. Senator Kerry said, "That's none of your business." (Laughter.) But it is our business when a candidate for President claims the political endorsement of foreign leaders. At the very least, we have a right to know what he is saying to foreign leaders that makes them so supportive of his candidacy. American voters are the ones charged with determining the outcome of this election - not unnamed foreign leaders. (Applause.)

In his Washington Post column, neoconservative Charles Krauthammer proclaimed it to be the greatest diplomatic breach for foreign leaders to opine on U.S. elections: "I know it is shooting French in a barrel. But when yet another insufferable penseur -- first Chirac, then de Villepin, now the editor of Le Monde -- starts lecturing Americans on how they ought to conduct themselves in the world, the rules of decorum are suspended."

Yet this week, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, the favorite foreign leader of neoconservatives and one of the very few remaining supporters of George Bush, pronounced in a local television interview in Australia that a victory by Barack Obama -- or the Democrats generally -- would be a victory for The Terrorists. Howard said:

I think [Obama]'s wrong. I think that will just encourage those who want to completely destabilise and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and a victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for an Obama victory . . . If I were running al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and be praying as many times as possible for a victory not only for Obama but also for the Democrats.

Howard's far more audacious self-insertion into our domestic politics has produced little outrage. Quite the contrary, the hardest-core Bush supporters have been jubilantly celebrating Howard's comments -- not a word in protest over the audacity of a foreign nation attacking American candidates and attempting to influence the outcome of our elections. In fact, Howard has become a hero among Bush supporters for his bashing of Democrats -- even from those who spewed such scorn over Kerry's citation of the opinion of foreign leaders. In fact, one right-wing blog included Howard in its straw poll for U.S. presidential candidates, and he is currently in second place (just behind Rudy Giluiani, and well ahead of John McCain and Mitt Romney).

But the most egregious behavior in this case is that of the Howard Government itself. Back in 2004, Howard's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, deliberately and aggressively inserted the Australian Government into the 2004 campaign when, at the height of the Kerry "controversy" over his endorsements from "foreign leaders," Downer went out of his way to fuel the anti-Kerry perspective, with comments reported by the pro-Bush The Washington Times:

And Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Australian radio this week that the remarks certainly didn't come from Australian leaders. He said it's not right either for leaders to make those comments or for a candidate to make them public.

"I think it's probably better to keep foreign leaders and the views of foreign leaders out of domestic elections, I mean, certainly we do that here in this country. I mean, people express different views to you, if you're a candidate, I tend not to pass on those kinds of views publicly," he said.

And in an interview with Australian television, Downer, trying to fuel the flames of the Kerry "controversy," vowed:

Look, in the end this isn't a matter for Australia. We don't have a vote in the American presidential election, we just have to deal with whoever wins the election. And whatever John Howard or I, or anybody else may think privately, we'd never say anything publicly about the elections of a foreign country.

Downer's motives in criticizing Kerry's reliance on foreign leaders was clear -- he was one of the True Believers of the invasion of Iraq and is a steadfast supporter of Bush. Downer was one of those insisting even in May of 2003 that WMDs had been found in Iraq and even taunted war opponents over this "fact": "Mr Speaker, already we have seen evidence of what appear to be mobile biological laboratories at two sites in Iraq, capable of producing biological materials for use in weapons of mass destruction. I know that it is disappointing to the opposition to hear this, but I am afraid this is true."

Even in 2004, after David Kay made clear that there were no WMDs, Downer continued to echo the line of the hardest-core reality-deniers among war supporters: "What we do know from the report that Dr Kay produced a few months ago is that Saddam Hussein certainly continued with chemical and biological weapons programs." And this year, Downer even offered full-throated support for the Bush administration's lawless and indefinite detention of accused terrorists at Guantanamo, including Australian citizens.

In sum, Downer and Prime Minister Howard have long offered themselves up as loyal political appendages of the Bush administration and clearly want to drum up political support for Republicans within the U.S. Downer was a full-fledged supporter of the Bush administration who -- ironically enough -- inserted himself into the 2004 elections by criticizing John Kerry for relying upon the opinions of foreign leaders as to U.S. domestic politics.

And now Downer's boss, John Howard, has echoed the most extremist and reprehensible talking points of the Bush smear machine -- that the Terrorists are cheering on the Democrats. Can someone ask the Australian Government why they emphatically claimed in 2004 (in the middle of the Kerry "controversy") that it was so improper for foreign leaders to offer opinions on U.S. domestic politics, only for John Howard to now announce that a victory by Obama or any Democrats would strengthen Al Qaeda?

Also, Dick Cheney was so incensed at the idea that foreign leaders would voice an opinion about the outcome of U.S. elections. Can someone ask the White House to apply those pious standards to condemn John Howard for attacking one of our country's major presidential candidates and expressing his strong preference for the Republican Party? What happened to all that outrage?

UPDATE: As is frequently the case, the bulging intellectual dishonesty of Bush supporters becomes even more apparent when one compares them to the few honest ones still left. Ed Morrissey applies the pro-Bush rhetoric during the 2004 election concerning "foreign influences" to John Howard's comments and argues (h/t Sysprog):

Am I the only conservative with misgivings regarding John Howard's proclamation about Barack Obama? . . . Had he limited his criticisms to just the policies, Howard would have made a great argument for tenacity and will. However, he stepped over a line when he claimed that al-Qaeda should pray for an Obama victory.

We have a long tradition of demanding outside governments stay out of our elections, even rhetorically, and that they should allow the American electorate to make our own decisions about leadership. . . . This kind of rhetoric, though, would be beyond the pale for mainstream domestic politics, let alone from the leader of another nation.

Also to his credit, Ed acknowledges that "we have not always been good neighbors about doing that ourselves," and cites instances of CIA interference in other countries' elections. That is what an intellectually honest Bush supporter, by defintion, would say in response to John Howard's smearing of Democrats as Terrorist-lovers -- which is exactly why, as Ed notes, he appears to be such a lone voice saying it.

By Glenn Greenwald

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