From Michael Duffy in the Sydney Morning Herald:
An American acquaintance - let's call him Hank - has been complaining for a while that the Australian forces in Iraq have suffered no fatalities, while America has lost more than 1500 killed in action. When I suggest this observation is in poor taste, Hank says, "What's in poor taste is the contrast between the tiny number of troops you guys gave and the credit your Government takes for being part of the coalition of the willing. There's a big gap there."
"Maybe," I wonder out loud, "we've just been lucky?" Hank snorts and tells me to go look at the numbers.
At the peak of their commitments to Iraq, Britain had 45,000 people there and the US about 150,000. Relative to population sizes, to match this Australia should have had between 10,000 and 15,000 people in the Middle East at some point. In fact we peaked at just 2000. There are now fewer than 600 Australians serving there, to be joined next month by another 450.
Some of these figures are approximate, as countries use different definitions to reach them. But I doubt this would affect the conclusion that Australia has relatively contributed about one-fifth of the effort that was put into freeing Iraq by Britain and America. Says Aldo Borgu, military analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, "There's no doubt our action on the ground doesn't match the Government's rhetoric."
It's an imbalance I've never seen referred to, but it ought to concern both the Government's supporters and its opponents. One would expect conservatives to be worried about the questions of honour and integrity raised by fighting war on the cheap. And those opposed to the war might ask themselves whether John Howard would have gone in if he'd had to pay the full price, not just in numbers but in putting Australian forces into situations of danger, which (as Hank gently points out) we have generally avoided so far.
You've got to admire Australian Prime Minister John Howard's political skills. He gave his most important ally the Big Talk that Bush craved, while protecting his own people's lives.