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A blog on terrorism, democracy and international politics

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Howard's overlooked influence 

During my recent trip to the US, I was very fortunate to meet Dr Michael Rubin, at the headquarters of the American Enterprise Institute. Dr Rubin was previously political adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq (2003-2004) and a staff assistant to the Secretary of Defense (2002-2004).

During our conversation, Rubin spoke about his impressions of Australian Prime Minister John Howard. He observed that John Howard's influence in world affairs, and on the decision makers in Washington in particular, is disproportionate to Australia's economic or military strength. He also observed that while US policy makers have a high regard for Howard's opinion, this fact seems to be little recognised in Australia.

I was certainly not surprised by the second observation; as Dr Rubin does not live in Australia, he may not realise just how true his words are. In Australia, John Howard is regularly presented as a poodle, lapdog or patsy for an indifferent US Administration. In a medium-sized country like Australia, one expects to hear politicians playing up their influence overseas, and we expect the media to give coverage to foreign visits that might go unnoticed in the actual country being visited. For this reason, it was interesting to hear that John Howard actually has a higher profile in the US than Australians perceive to be the case.

I have recalled Dr Rubin's observations often since March. The Howard Government has continued to extend Australian prestige overseas, and to exercise an influence that is consistently downplayed back home.

For example, in the past two weeks, John Howard has written himself, and Australia, into the history books in several important ways, which were highlighted in a recent article by Greg Sheridan.

Sheridan outlines the key achievements of "what must rank as one of the most successful prime-ministerial trips of all time."

As Sheridan observed, this remarkable series of foreign policy achievements by Howard and Downer represents a "vindication on three fronts: Australia's participation in the war on terror has increased our global influence; our close alliance with the US does not damage our regional interests but enhances them; and rejec­tion of Kyoto was not only sound policy but smart politics, hooking us up to new Asia where the economic and political dynamism resides and decoupling us from the statist, bureaucratic politics of old Europe at its worst."

Aside from Sheridan's article, the importance of this trip has been largely glossed over or ignored by the Australian media, and downplayed by the Opposition.

Note: Since my meeting with Michael Rubin, he has published an article in which he expands on the Australian-US relationship, which he sees as stronger than the US-UK relationship, for reasons that include cultural similarities between Australia and America.
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