The Drum (ABC online)

By John Barron

What an interesting pair Australia's newly-appointed Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and his US counterpart, secretary of state Hillary Clinton made when they put in a joint appearance at the state department in Washington this week.

While their chumminess seemed a little forced, in the way these staged appearances so often are (and even turned awkwardly flirty when Kevin offered to show Hillary a "really good time" in Australia) you can well imagine the empathy that could exist between them.

Three short years ago, senator Hillary Clinton was the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee for the presidency of the United States, and then-opposition leader Kevin Rudd was about to sweep the Australian Labor Party back into power after 11 years.

It surely must seem like longer than 36 months for both, and in a way, both can blame one man for not being in their nation's top job today - Barack Obama.

In Hillary's case it's obvious; in 2008 she lost the closest and most acrimonious primary battle in recent memory to a less-experienced candidate who offered an even tastier slice of history than she as the first viable female presidential candidate could. If Barack Obama had decided not to run in early 2007, it's as sure as anything in politics (which admittedly isn't much) that Hillary Clinton would be president of the United States today.

In Rudd's case it is perhaps a longer bow, but a tantalising "what-if" nonetheless.

Back in March this year, president Obama postponed his planned visit to Australia in order to steer healthcare reform through a less than wildly enthusiastic US Senate. That trip was pushed back to June until once again it was postponed at the last minute because a seal blew on that BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to one of the worst environmental disasters ever in the United States.

But what if that BP well hadn't blown?

What if Obama had travelled to Australia with Michelle and the kids in June, as planned, and been photographed with koalas, addressed Federal Parliament, made a characteristically uplifting speech and emitted the radiant beam of the commander in chief? Would the state dinner, the joint press conference, and the made-for-camera handshakes have been enough to catch Rudd's plummeting popularity and save his leadership? It would certainly have made a leadership spill in early July less likely.

But then what if Kevin Rudd had lead Labor to the election? Would it be prime minister Tony Abbott getting ready to welcome secretary of state Hillary Clinton to Australia in November?

Of course the BP well did blow, Obama stayed home to look like an empathetic leader rather than the tourist-in-chief on Bondi Beach, and Rudd was deposed. And while we are pondering such matters of political fate, one Washington meeting we didn't get to see on camera was between Foreign Minister Rudd and the man he deposed for the Labor leadership in 2006 - Australia's affable US Ambassador Kim Beazley. I suspect the erstwhile Bomber, still hobbling on a cane following his spectacular slip on an icy footpath in DC more than six months ago, might just have enjoyed the moment rather more than Mr Rudd did.

Although I suspect too, like Citizen Kane, Ambassador Beazley may himself be haunted by the fickleness of fortune, as in his dying breath some distant day he murmurs, not "rosebud" but "Tampa".

John Barron is a journalist and broadcaster with ABC NewsRadio. John is also a Research Associate at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, and author of the book Vote for Me! about the 2008 US presidential campaign.