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Editorial comment.


The Republican debacle that was the mid-term U.S. elections has widespread implications for American foreign policy, not in and by itself, but in the context of the unwinnable but definitely losable Iraq war, a war that has now lasted longer for America than their engagement in World War II, and which has turned out to be good for Iranian influence in the region. It was all foreseeable, so who were the blind who led the blind?

The Iraq disaster was the product of a group of self-styled neo-conservative advisers to President Bush. These "neo-cons" were also prominent in the print media where their ideas were widely influential on the right. In fact they were not really conservative at all. They included a number of former Trotskyists (such as Irving Kristol and Christopher Hitchens) whose real loyalty in some cases was, and remained, to a strange form of utopianism that transformed their old Trotskyist notion of the "permanent revolution" into an ongoing "spreading of democracy and freedom" as the solution of the world's woes. The neo-cons, who are mostly materialists with no respect for traditional cultural values and certainly not for religion, used the term "freedom" more or less in the Lockean sense, assuming that such "freedom" was graftable upon any human stock including the entire Muslim world, where of course politics and religion are not easily separable.

Iraq was to have been their great test case. Success there would have a domino effect, promoting regime change in those states actively opposed to Israel, namely Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Hezbollah and Hamas would be left without backers and Israel would be the big regional winner. This is what the Iraq war was supposed to accomplish, not the securing of Iraqi oil, which could always have been bought from Saddam Hussein who was only too keen to sell as much of it as he could and at a buyers'-market price. The idea that the war was about oil was always unconvincing precisely for that reason, a diverting red-herring that the neo-cons were probably happy to see get so much air-play.

They have failed to the most embarrassing and dangerous extent imaginable and their entire project lies discredited. At this stage the long-term damage they have done to U.S. foreign and strategic policy can only be guessed at, but it will be considerable.

For a start, the U.S. is no longer seen by its enemies as a superpower to be feared, because it has proven unable to win "asymmetric" wars as in Iraq, Somalia and--as the future will probably, and unfortunately, show--Afghanistan (though NATO will have to take the flak for that). President George W. Bush is a well-meaning man who, when he came to power, knew little about the world outside America. He was a fast learner but was badly let down by a group of neo-conservative advisers he was persuaded to appoint. Being like them a naturally (though less ideologically) idealistic man, but unlike most of them a committed Christian, he relished the idea of achieving what they told him he had the power to accomplish, showing (apparently) no skepticism when informed that he could transform the world in the process of combating terrorism.

One of the most malign of these advisers appears to have been Paul Wolfowitz, who was fortunately shoved aside after the first Bush term and into more innocuous occupations, but one can see now that they were all false teachers. Donald Rumsfeld was never really a neo-conservative (he is too hard-headed) but he bought their ideas on Iraq lock, stock and barrel. To some extent Bush (and this would be very human) may have been out to "show his father", who had wisely decided not to prosecute the earlier Gulf War beyond Basra. Colin Powell, who with General Norman Schwartzkopf had advised Bush senior against pushing on to Baghdad (and how right that decision now seems), was properly sceptical of the son's scheme of invading and remaking Iraq and for that reason was soon pushed aside. Condoleeza Rice is not a neo-conservative and she thinks for herself, but her close friendship with and loyalty to the President has prevented her from exercising a more independent role. Donald Rumsfeld is now gone. The Democrats hold both houses of Congress. What happens next?

The alternative to the neo-cons, on the conservative side of American politics, is what are called the "realists". They include Senator Chuck Hagel who is close to John McCain, likely the next Republican candidate for President, but there are a number of them who now have access to Bush. We can expect them to exercise, through Condoleeza Rice but also directly on Bush, an increasing influence over the next two years and certainly on the next Republican presidency. They are not isolationists. They favour continued American engagement with the world, but engagement in America's interests, engagement that has a realistic chance of working. They are not dreamy idealists.

Australia has nothing to fear from this change and in fact should welcome it. The disastrous consequences of neo-con advice on the U.S. Presidency are a weakened U.S. global influence, and that is not in Australia's interests, which are served by policies in Washington that enhance America's global prestige rather than undermine it.


Attempts from within to undermine Mr Kim Beazley's leadership of the Labor Party are unwise, as there is no rival with the degree of presence he has. Mr Kevin Rudd, for instance, has no such presence.

Moreover, Beazley's reported gaffes are not serious. Some are actually a credit to him. Why should he know the name of an Australian girl accused of smuggling drugs into Indonesia? --who cares if she is called Michelle Leslie or Michelle Lee (as Beazley incorrectly called her)? She's a nobody, for heaven's sake. It's good that the Opposition leader has bigger things on his mind.

It's the same in regard to Rove McManus--a lightweight TV entertainer. It's a credit to Mr Beazley that he gets that man's name wrong. We surely don't need our political leaders to be wasting their time watching lightweight TV programmes or reading the gossip columns of our newspapers.

Then there was his inability, when put on the spot by an interviewer, to name every one of the senators from South Australia. Well, he got all but one, and that one momentarily slipped his memory. This can happen to anyone. It's not that he didn't know the name. We all have similar experiences from time to time.

Mr Beazley has the qualities to make a good prime minister, but his main problem is that he leads a political party low in talent when compared to the Government. That the press can tout Julia Gillard as a potential leader is testimony to just how low. It would be John Howard's dream-come-true if she somehow became Opposition leader before the next election. In that role she would have everything against her, not least the orange rinse and that voice. There's certainly no presence there, or rather there is--and it's weirdly nauseating for some not quite definable reason.

Beazley's presence is partly his physical stature, but it's more than that. He's honest and straightforward, and he believes in pragmatic policies, a strong Australian defence force, a strong American alliance, and in himself, which is vital. He despises the "chattering classes" --in an interview with Phillip Adams he used the term and Adams took him to task for it, because of course Adams epitomises the chattering classes.

Labor would be foolish in the extreme to replace Beazley with Kevin Rudd (backed by Julia Gillard!). Rudd is a competent foreign affairs spokesman but is widely perceived as a carper, and no one likes people who carp all the time. Rudd has Christian values, intelligence and ability, but comes across as one-dimensional, takes everything so very seriously, can't laugh at himself, and generally lacks the bonhomie Beazley so warmly radiates.

Labor should stick with Beazley, who has a better-than-even chance of becoming Australia's next prime minister, providing he matches Howard's rhetoric on border protection. He would also be well advised to outdo Howard on national security, for instance by stressing the need for immigration policies to be tailored to promote national cohesion.
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Title Annotation:United States Congress, Democrate majority
Publication:National Observer - Australia and World Affairs
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2006
Previous Article:The West's Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations?
Next Article:In this issue.

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