Iraq 2007: Kangaroos, not Mozartkugeln….

4 11 2007

Photo: Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard (left) and President George W. Bush (right) at the APEC Meeting in Sydney, September 2007.

It was Sep. 7, 2007, Sydney, Australia: Everything is prepared for the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit, and on the eve before the meeting of the head of states, the APEC Business Summit took place in Sydney Opera House. Special guest for that event, chaired by the incumbent Australian Prime Minister John Howard (in office since 1996), was George W. Bush. What should have been a backing for John Howard and rallying support against an impending defeat in the general elections of Nov. 24, 2007, turned out to be an absolute Public Relations disaster, with the U.S. President’s notorious slip of the tongues, causing laughter and amazement among not only the listeners, but also the international press. The war in Iraq, and the Australian involvement proved more unpopular than ever in the country, thanks to George W. Bush. Neat less to say, Howard lost the general elections, and since then the Labour opposition, led by Kevin Rudd, has taken office since.

But there was yet another ‘winner’ of that situation, not only Australia’s Labour opposition, but the country Austria, which made international headlines thanks to Bush. However, as the country prepared for the first visit of Pope Benedikt XVI that day, Austrian (not Australian,….) media was slow to react.

In a commentary for The Vienna Review for the October Issue (Vol. 5, No. 7, p. 26), I analyzed the event under the heading ‘Mis-underestimated’, referencing one of the most famous Bush’s slip of the tongue of his early political career: “As one of the U.S. closest allies, Australia has about 1,500 troops stationed in Iraq. Needless to say, neutral Austria has no military personnel there.” But nevertheless, Bush mentioned the “Austrian Troops” stationed in Iraq, an error carefully corrected in the written transcripts, but as you watch the video clip below (see link), the words are unmistakable.

More severe, however, was Bush’s error of thanking John Howard for “being such a fine host for the OPEC summit,” a comment – in the video clip evident – met with laughter by the distinguished audience, and when the U.S. President looked up in a surprise glance, finally noticing his error, he attempted to rescue the situation by joking that he had been invited by the Australian Prime Minister to the OPEC summit next year.

OPEC, as commonly known, is the abbreviation for Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, founded in 1960 and with its head office located in Vienna. However, neither Australia nor the United States are a member. APEC, on the other hand was founded in 1989 on similar economic principles as the European Union. Mixing up such contrary intergovernmental organizations is evidently a blowing research error by the President’s staff, not just a slip of tongue.

As an Austrian, I got used to being mistaken for Australian when I was traveling through the United States decades ago. By now, I was hoping that the election of the current Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger – Austrian by birth and moderate Republican – at least the U.S. President would know the difference, particularly when visiting one of his closest allies – that’s what I thought, at least!

My commentary concluded with a joking remark that “At souvenir shops all over Vienna, T-shirts are for sale with the text, ‘There are no kangaroos in Austria’ against the background of a yellow traffic sign. Maybe it’s time for another T-shirt: ‘There are no Austrian Troops in Iraq.'”

Full Reuters Story and Video Link: A rough cut of George W. Bush’s speech at the Business Summit, Sep. 2007: The Reuters Rough Cut Video

This is an excerpt, the full article was published in October 2007 in The Vienna Review.

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