Monday, 29 December 2008

Hotelling's law and the tragedy of Afghanistan

Keeping yourself closer to the consensus view of the voters than your opponent is a good starting point for someone wanting to win an election. During the Australian election campaign last year, when it came to matters of foreign policy and defence, Labor did it with great skill. 
On the question of committing troops to the war in Iraq, Labor's Kevin Rudd put himself closer to public opinion, which had grown against the invasion, than the Liberal-National Coalition. His was a "we will withdraw as soon as it can decently be done without upsetting the Americans too much" kind of policy. John Howard remained dedicated to the interventionist cause. On a scale of 0 (get out immediately) to 100 (stay as long as it takes to win) the public view was, say, at 35, Labor around 50 and the Coalition 70.
On Afghanistan, where public opinion broadly favoured letting Australia's involvement stay as it was, both Labor and the Coalition were slightly more gung-ho with both sides favouring a slightly greater Australian commitment to a decreased one.
That sound election winning strategy will now present Prime Minister Rudd with some difficulties. The withdrawl from Iraq is scheduled for mid year but when that happens there is likely to be increased questioning of what the Afghan war is really all about. It will not take many deaths of Australian soldiers to see public support start deteriorating. Labor will need to be careful to ensure that the Coalition in Opposition does not start moving closer to that point of view.
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