Monday, Apr. 18, 2005

John Howard

Charisma is not part of John Howard's political equipment. Now beginning his fourth term as Australia's Prime Minister, Howard, 65, the lawyer son of a Sydney garage owner, is cheerful and energetic, reminding some of Harry Truman. His power-walking start to each day, often in comically baggy shorts, encourages the comparison. Howard lacks Truman's cactus-spike idiosyncrasies, and Australian voters occasionally flirt with the temptation to try someone more exciting. But for a decade they have stayed faithful to a man who is clearly one of them and, almost paradoxically, a decisive leader with a record of right choices.

Using harsh tactics of internment and transshipment, Howard put an end to widespread people smuggling, largely of Muslims, along Australia's west coast. Although his methods enraged civil libertarians, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. convinced most Australians they were justified. Howard's alignment with the U.S. in the global war on terrorism was ferociously opposed. But passion was confined to a minority. Voters accepted the 2002 bombings of two nightclubs in Bali, which killed 88 Australians, as evidence the nation could not fight terrorism on its own. Two years later they emphatically re-elected Howard. With little fuss, he dispatched troops to Iraq this year in support of a Japanese construction team.

Howard has developed unexpected rapport with George W. Bush. The connection has given Howard clout with Australia's Asian neighbors. He enjoyed a diplomatic triumph in 2003, playing host to Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao the same week. Having achieved a free-trade agreement with the U.S., Howard is negotiating another with China. He has even hinted at a future Australian role as an intermediary between Beijing and Washington.

Devine retired in 2002 as the editor of The Australian

From the Archive
Inside the Bali Plot: A TIME inquiry unearths the roots of the bombings and shows how the masterminds remain at large