Exclusive: United Front

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," April 15, 2004, that was edited for clarity.

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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: First, hostages in Iraq. Now, the alleged Usama tape. All attempts to break down the coalition. My next guest says that his country’s resolve will remain strong. In an exclusive interview with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, I asked how the partners in the war on terror should move forward.


JOHN HOWARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: All of us, whatever our views might originally have been about Iraq, have to stand together, because if we react in a way that encourages more hostages to be taken, and those taken to be murdered, well, we can be certain that is exactly what will happen. If you feed this kind of behavior by weakness, the behavior will intensify; it won’t go away. You won’t buy immunity by giving in.

CAVUTO: But there is a sentiment expressed, at least in the hostages’ eyes, or at least the captors’ eyes, that you can force western nations to buckle. They cite the government change in Spain after the Madrid bombings. What do you think would happen if something horrendous were to happen in Australia with elections approaching in your country?

HOWARD: Well, I believe that the majority of the Australian people want our job in Iraq finished. They want us to see it through.

There was debate in my country about whether we should have been involved in the first place. As you know, the government was strongly committed to the military operation. I believe that was the right thing to do.

What public opinion would do in the wake of the sort of events you talk about would be a matter to see. But my strong feeling is that Australians are gutsy people who would want to see the thing through.

We hope and pray it doesn’t happen. We think of the safety of our own men and women in the Australian defense force. We think of our civilians who are in the process of rebuilding Iraq for the Iraqi people. And I believe that the Australian people, like the American people, and people around the world, know that weakness in the face of this kind of barbarism will only encourage more barbarism.

CAVUTO: Still, you’re prospective opponent, sir, Mark Latham, had been saying -- to the effect that your country is risking joining the United States in another Vietnam, he has advocated a timetable to get your troops out. What do you say?

HOWARD: Well, I don’t agree with that. And it is well on the public record in Australia. I note, incidentally, that although Senator Kerry in the United States has criticized the Bush administration over Iraq, he nonetheless agrees with the president that America should stay the distance. And to pull out prematurely would be to send the wrong message to the enemies and to send the wrong message to the world, and that is certainly my view.

CAVUTO: You have been wildly applauded, certainly in this country, and certainly among Republicans in this country, for being so loyal and steadfast. The concern is that in an election in your country, your own people don’t necessarily share your zeal for staying in Iraq and supporting your troops for as long as you are committed to supporting them in Iraq. Is there a disconnect there?

HOWARD: I think the majority of Australians -- and the recent polls indicate this -- believe that we should stay and finish the job. And that includes a lot of people who disagree with our original decision. But like anybody else in a democracy, I take my position, I state my case, and I’m in the hands of the people.

I’ll work very hard between now and our election to persuade the Australian people of the correctness of the course the government has taken. We think a lot is at stake. This is not the time in the history of the world for disunity amongst friends.

Whatever political views we might have, the values that the American people, the Australian people, the British people, the people of many other democracies around the world have in common are more important than the differences that we might have. The things that unite us in common values are greater than the things that might divide us. And at a time like this in the face of terrorism, it is very important that those shared values come to the floor.

CAVUTO: Let me ask you, Mr. Prime Minister, about what Senator Kerry has said in our country about our role in Iraq going forward. That the U.N. should have a greater role, and that we should be working more with the U.N. than we are. That the U.S., and I guess by extension, Australia, is in the position both countries are in precisely because we didn’t do enough or work enough with the U.N..

What do you make of that?

HOWARD: Well, going back in time, the people who stopped the U.N. being further involved were frankly countries such as France and Russia, who wouldn’t support a further Security Council resolution. And I remain as convinced as I was a year ago that if we had continued to wait for a further Security Council resolution, that resolution would never have come.

And just as the world had to go outside the U.N. process in Kosovo, and just as the world was rendered impotent because the U.N. was impotent in cases like Rwanda, so it would have been the case that if action had not been taken by the coalition, Saddam Hussein would still be in power in Baghdad. They would, in my view, have been infinitely greater numbers of people killed than has been the case over the past year. And the prospect of a free, democratic Iraq would not have emerged.

CAVUTO: Your, again, likely opponent has committed this timetable to getting Australian troops out. So let’s say the unthinkable happens, Prime Minister, and he does get elected. What is your biggest concern?

HOWARD: Well, I think an arbitrary withdrawal of Australian troops, particularly -- and others if the job has not being finished, that will send a very bad signal to those who are trying to destroy a peaceful future for Iraq. If it hasn’t already occurred, it will encourage others to do likewise.

It will, therefore, further encourage those people who are trying to disrupt Iraq’s future to redouble their efforts, because they know that their efforts are working. Every time we react in a way that the enemies of a free Iraq want us to react, they’ll double what they are doing because they know it will get the right reaction.

CAVUTO: When you hear and see these stories of -- particularly American troops who are getting picked off, is there something we’re doing wrong? I mean, if you had to advise the president of this country, what would you tell him?

HOWARD: Well, I feel for the American people. I feel for the families who have lost soldiers. I have read the story, very wide coverage in Australia the family with three daughters in Iraq. All of those stories are heart- rending, and I feel very deeply. And I, therefore, feel for those in positions of responsibility, such as the president.

I’m not going to give him public advice. It is easy for the critics of America to take potshots when America has the lead role. I mean, the United States has, what, 150,000 troops or somewhere in that order in the theatre, which is vastly more than anybody else has got.

And it is a very heavy burden it carries. And if I have any views that I want to express -- and I do express views from time to time with the president -- I’ll do it privately.

CAVUTO: Finally, sir I heard one journalist -- I’m sorry, I can’t remember his name, so if you will indulge me -- who had said that terrorists would love to see John Howard and George Bush go down to defeat this year. What do you think he meant by that?

HOWARD: Well, I don’t know, but I have an obligation to serve the interests of the Australian people, and denying terrorists victories and denying terrorism is something that the Australian people, whatever their politics are, overwhelmingly want.


CAVUTO: John Howard.

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