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A blog on terrorism, democracy and international politics
Sunday, August 07, 2005
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."
- Finalised the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, an important environmental agreement which will include China, India, USA, South Korea, Japan and Australia. Unlike the almost moribund Kyoto Protocol, this partnership is realistic, stands some chance of being adhered to by its signatories and includes the world's largest countries - in terms of population, economy and energy usage.
This important partnership will hold its first ministerial conference in Adelaide in November this year.
- Howard was lunching with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, "the most significant statesman of his time" (Sheridan points out), when the second attempted London terrorist attack in a fortnight took place. In the ensuing Howard-Blair press conference, which was viewed by an audience of millions, "As the older man, longer in office, Howard played the senior role ... answering the critical question on terrorism first and in such a way that Blair commented: 'I agree 100 per cent with that.'"
- Never a shrinking violet, Howard continued to Baghdad, where he met with the Iraqi Prime Minister, who thanked him for Australia's support. Although Howard would have presented an extremely attractive target for terrorists, he then flew south by helicopter to visit Australian troops in Al-Muthanna.
- The East Asia Summit. As Sheridan observes, "If Labor in office had achieved entry to an East Asia Summit it would have been building monuments, renaming universities and writing countless histories of the moment." It is worth remembering that in 1996, the Keating Labor Government repeatedly warned that electing the Howard Coalition would lead to Australian isolation as Asian leaders would refuse to communicate with us. Apparently, Keating thought Asian leaders only respected a Western country if it grovelled to them (while occasionally insulting one of their leaders) and snubbed the US (which happened to be a close ally of many of those Asian countries.)
- ASEAN: On stage with the Foreign Ministers (and equivalents) of the USA, South Korea, Japan, China and India, it was Foreign Minister Alexander Downer who announced the Asia-Pacific Climate Control Partnership.
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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