The coming Federal election will be a contest between a social and economic conservative (John Howard) and a marginally less social and economic conservative (Kevin Rudd).
Those so-called progressives, such as Robert Manne, hoping that a Rudd victory would usher in a period of more reflective foreign policy and the ability to say "no" to Washington, are kidding themselves. On this point alone, a recent Australian editorial is spot-on.
The Labor Party is not the utopia imagined by people like Manne, but rather a business that may tinker around the edges of domestic policy, but maintain an essentially US-focused outlook. The key question facing a newly elected Rudd Government (or a re-elected Howard one) is a possible US or Israeli-led strike on Iran.
Prominent Leftists like Manne remain silent on such matters, preferring to comfort themselves with a Labor Party that exists solely in their minds. Memo to Manne: today’s ALP is utterly removed from the Hawke/Keating years. This is something to be applauded.
Our commentariat, those critical of the Howard years, gushed at the first sight of Paul Keating during the campaign, but rose-coloured glasses are a convenient way to distort recent history. For the supreme crime of cosying up to Indonesian dictator General Suharto during the years of genocide against the East Timorese people, both Keating and Hawke are forever tarred.
Likewise, Hawke’s involvement in the 1991 Gulf War that saw the death of over 200,000 Iraqis is glossed over by those who see the end of Howard’s reign as an end in itself. Many Iraqis in today’s insurgency against the Americans remember well the brutal tactics deployed by the allies during the 1991 war, an unrelenting aerial bombardment that traumatised a generation. But why let facts get in the way of a comforting narrative that sees the likely defeat of Howard and his government?
The job of robust political criticism is the ability to not barrack for any side of politics, aware that they are all equally compromised. Most of our leading commentators are political hacks, either supporting the ALP or Liberal Party. It’s hardly insightful to highlight the delusions of the Murdoch press when it comes to matters of war and peace. We all know that for them, Iraq remains a noble liberation (and the death of over one million civilians, an inconvenient truth). It takes greater stamina to highlight the fallacy of a two-party system that allows near unanimity on the incestuous relationship between Canberra and Washington.
But if history can be airbrushed for the dirty art of winning an election, the coming war against Iran requires a more clear-headed response. The London Times recently reported that Australian SAS forces were already operating inside Iran. It can be fairly presumed that if Howard wins re-election on November 24, his government would join any military action against the Islamic Republic of Iran. But what of a Rudd government? On the available evidence, we should be highly concerned.
Rudd and his Foreign Affairs spokesman Robert McClelland have announced that they would endeavour to bring Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before the International Court of Justice for inciting genocide. It’s a hare-brained idea with zero chance of success and just another move to attract a Jewish vote that, over the past 11 years, has become increasingly fond of Howard’s unyielding support for Israel.
In early October, McClelland argued that his party’s desired move against Ahmadinejad was wise foreign policy. Then this:
"The alternative to not using these international legal mechanisms is considering wholesale invasion of countries, which itself involves, obviously expense, but more relevantly, of course, the potential for significant loss of life."
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