On issues as diverse as Australia's continued military commitment in Iraq and Afghanistan, the detention of terror suspect David Hicks and global warming, Mr Howard has given the appearance of being inflexible and unyielding.
Mr Howard's protest that it was not a withdrawal, merely a reduction in troop numbers, was at best hollow.
The Labor states are refusing to endorse Mr Howard's $10 billion River Murray plan – the centrepiece of his Government's environment policy – Hicks remains in his cell and, to add to the Government's discomfort, Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens hinted that interest rates could rise again this year.
To magnify Mr Howard's Iraq dilemma, U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney is in Australia.
Normally the opportunity to host the U.S. vice-president would be an advantage for the incumbent government. Yet, for Mr Howard Mr Cheney's visit could not have come at a worse time.
It's far too premature to be predicting a Coalition election defeat. Mr Howard is a superb political campaigner and strategist.
But to be assured of a fifth term in office, Mr Howard's political luck and political judgment will have to change.It's good to see at least some parts of the News Corp media (another is Tim Dunlop's Blogocracyat News.com.au) not automatically endorsing the government's position.
Speaking of News.com.au, I see that on its website it quotes Mr Howard as saying, contrary to The Advertiser's view, that Vice-President Cheney's visit here "isn't a political liability".
"It's never a political liability, ever, for the Prime Minister of Australia to have a good relationship with the president and the vice-president of the US," Mr Howard said on Seven News today.
"That is an absurd proposition, and I reject it completely."
Mr Howard said he respected Vice-President Dick Cheney even though they didn't always agree.
"People should look beyond their personal prejudices and understand how fundamental the American alliance is to the security of Australia in our own region," he said.
Mr Howard did not meet Mr Cheney at the airport last night, nor attend his major speech to the Australian American Leadership Dialogue in Sydney today. The pair will meet tomorrow.Mr Howard's increasingly inflexible opinions have in the last two weeks made him (and, by implication Australia) look foolish. The swift and effective riposte of Senator Barack Obama, in response to a some ill judged comments by the PM (including some Beasleyesque befuddlement over dates) and his being caught napping by Mr Blair's announcement of troop reductions (and what ever you might want to call them, they are reductions) of British forces in Iraq have made Mr Howard look out of his depth.
He should also be aware that a considerable body of opinion in the USA is turning against the policies of the Bush - Cheney administration. See for example a piece by Jeffrey H Smith in The Washington Post.
Smith is a former CIA employee who now represents some Kuwaitis who are detained in Guantanamo. He says:
In November, Americans voiced their frustration with the war in Iraq and gave control of Congress to the Democrats. The voters rejected the president's swaggering, go-it-alone approach and the administration's contemptuous attitude toward the Geneva Conventions, which led to the abuses at Abu Ghraib, actions that so damaged our credibility that other nations are much less willing to cooperate in the war on terrorism. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and her able legal adviser, John Bellinger, have pushed for reforms that have begun to reverse this trend -- but much more must be done....there are three things Congress should do.
First, Congress should reconsider the detainee legislation passed last fall. Last-minute changes rammed through by the White House watered down many of the bill's key provisions. On the treatment of detainees and interrogation techniques it created two standards -- one for the military and another for the CIA. The standards for the military are in an Army Field Manual, but the CIA standards are to be enumerated in a presidential executive order. Rumors suggest that the White House is struggling to develop those rules. Congress should relieve the president of that task before he makes a bad situation worse.
If Vice President Cheney has his way, a good dunking may be among the approved CIA techniques, even though "waterboarding" is prohibited by the Army Field Manual. Cheney's October remarks that dunking a detainee was " a no-brainer" were irresponsible and added to the confusion in the field (and around the world) about the rules for treatment of detainees.
It is not clear why the military and the CIA should have different standards for the treatment and interrogation of detainees. All U.S. agencies should use the techniques best able to elicit information that is vital to our security. And why should the CIA once again be asked to take risks not knowing whether, when the political winds change in Washington, its officers will be left facing charges that they violated the law?
Hearings should be held to determine which interrogation techniques have produced useful intelligence. Lawmakers should review the recent report of the government's Intelligence Science Board, which concluded that there was no scientific evidence that coercive techniques produced good intelligence. Congress should also consider the requirements of international law and develop a single standard that will apply equally to all agencies.
Second, Congress should repeal the provisions that stripped detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere of the right of habeas corpus and that instead gave them an extremely limited right to challenge their detentions. A federal appeals court, interpreting lawmakers' last effort, ruled Tuesday that detainees do not have the right to use a habeas petition to challenge the basis of their detention. The case will surely be appealed to the Supreme Court because detainees must have the right to argue to a federal judge -- not a military officer, as in the current law -- that the factual basis on which they are being held indefinitely and without criminal charges is not accurate. Detainees' right to habeas corpus could be limited, as was suggested by Sens. Arlen Specter and Patrick Leahy, to prevent frivolous lawsuits over conditions at Guantanamo. But detaining men with no hope of a fair hearing ensures that, if they weren't terrorists when they were detained, they probably will be when they are finally released.
Third, Congress should also examine the practice of "rendition," or sending detainees to countries for trial or detention where, it is alleged, they can be mistreated or tortured. Before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, rendition was a valuable but selectively used tool of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Since Sept. 11 it has been used extensively, and its continued viability has been questioned. Congress should establish a solid legal footing for renditions, including measures to ensure that anyone sent to another country is not mistreated.
The administration should listen, really listen, to the American people and to those in Congress and the military who understand that adhering to international law and our core values will help us win the war on terrorism. It will take years to get out of the hole we're in, but if Congress leads and the president understands, we can begin climbing out.
If you think that Smith is a lone voice look at this New York Times editorial "American Liberty at the Precipice".
In another low moment for American justice, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that detainees held at the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, do not have the right to be heard in court. The ruling relied on a shameful law that President Bush stampeded through Congress last fall that gives dangerously short shrift to the Constitution.
The right of prisoners to challenge their confinement — habeas corpus — is enshrined in the Constitution and is central to American liberty. Congress and the Supreme Court should act quickly and forcefully to undo the grievous damage that last fall’s law — and this week’s ruling — have done to this basic freedom.
The Supreme Court ruled last year on the jerry-built system of military tribunals that the Bush Administration established to try the Guantánamo detainees, finding it illegal. Mr. Bush responded by driving through Congress the Military Commissions Act, which presumed to deny the right of habeas corpus to any noncitizen designated as an “enemy combatant.” This frightening law raises insurmountable obstacles for prisoners to challenge their detentions. And it gives the government the power to take away habeas rights from any noncitizen living in the United States who is unfortunate enough to be labeled an enemy combatant.
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which rejected the detainees’ claims by a vote of 2 to 1, should have permitted the detainees to be heard in court — and it should have ruled that the law is unconstitutional.
As Judge Judith Rogers argued in a strong dissent, the Supreme Court has already rejected the argument that detainees do not have habeas rights because Guantánamo is located outside the United States. Judge Rogers also rightly noted that the Constitution limits the circumstances under which Congress can suspend habeas to “cases of Rebellion or invasion,” which is hardly the situation today. Moreover, she said, the act’s alternative provisions for review of cases are constitutionally inadequate. The Supreme Court should add this case to its docket right away and reverse it before this term ends.
Congress should not wait for the Supreme Court to act. With the Democrats now in charge, it is in a good position to pass a new law that fixes the dangerous mess it has made. Senators Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, have introduced a bill that would repeal the provision in the Military Commissions Act that purports to obliterate the habeas corpus rights of detainees.
The Bush administration’s assault on civil liberties does not end with habeas corpus. Congress should also move quickly to pass another crucial bill, introduced by Senator Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, that, among other steps, would once and for all outlaw the use of evidence obtained through torture.
When the Founding Fathers put habeas corpus in Article I of the Constitution, they were underscoring the vital importance to a democracy of allowing prisoners to challenge their confinement in a court of law. Much has changed since Sept. 11, but the bedrock principles of American freedom must remain.
Are our core values and the "bedrock principles of Australian freedom " that different from those of the USA ?