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02/12/2007 07:04 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama Calls Out Chickenhawk Howard, Whose "Fuzzy Troop Math" Doesn't Add Up

Robert Naiman, Just Foreign Policy, February 12, 2007

Australian Prime Minister John Howard criticized Barack Obama for saying US troops should withdraw from Iraq by March 2008, BBC reports. Howard said al-Qaeda should be "praying as many times as possible" for an Obama victory in the 2008 elections. [It seems Howard was making a mocking allusion to the fact that Muslims are supposed to pray five times a day.]

Howard said Obama's stance on Iraq "will just encourage those who want to... destroy Iraq, and create chaos and a victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for an Obama victory".

Obama graciously invited PM Howard to increase the number of Australian troops in Iraq.

"I would also note that we have close to 140,000 troops on the ground now, and my understanding is Mr. Howard has deployed 1,400, so if he is (ready) to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them to Iraq."

Howard then responded that this wasn't fair, because Australia is only "one-fifteenth" of the U.S., so asking Australia to deploy 20,000 troops would be like asking the U.S. to deploy 300,000 troops.

This suggests that Mr. Howard should have an arithmetic adviser.

According to Howard's logic, Obama should have invited Howard to send a total of 1/15*140,000=9,333 troops, or 9,333-1,400 = 7,933 additional troops, a more than 6-fold increase in the current commitment to catch up to the U.S. The "fair" figure, according to Howard's logic, in terms of orders of magnitude, would be closer to Obama's suggestion than to the current Australian commitment. (The "fair" figure is half of Obama's proposal but six times Howard's commitment.) To match Bush's troop surge of 21,500, Howard should send another 21,500/15 = 1433 troops, for a grand total of 10,767 troops, or 9,367 additional troops. But the Congressional Budget Office has noted that the "surge" could be as high as 48,000 if the 21,500 are combat troops because combat troops need support troops. In this case, Howard would have to send a grand total of 12,533 troops to keep up with the U.S., or 11,133 additional troops.

The BBC notes that the opposition Labour party "fiercely condemned" Howard's remarks, saying he has transformed the country's long-standing alliance with America into a "political marriage with the Bush administration."

It should also be noted that Howard has been criticized as a "chickenhawk," for supporting Australia's military involvement in Vietnam and Iraq while personally passing on the opportunity to serve in Vietnam. So I guess this makes him a "double chickenhawk."

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