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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

America targets ALP « Previous | |Next »
February 12, 2003

First it was Europe that was targeted.

Now its the Australian Labor Party, and by implication, the majority of Australian citizens who are critical of the Bush administration's desire to bomb the daylights out of Iraq with a bit of 'shock and awe'.

The charge? We are anti-American. So says Tom Schieffer, the US Ambassador to Australia. He charges the ALP under Simon Crean as making a rank appeal to popular anti-Americanism in Australia and engaging in bashing President Bush during the debate on Iraq in federal Parliament. Maxine McKew's Bulletin interview with Tom Schieffer can be found here.

For the interview it is clear that the Bush Administration and embassy officials have been told over a long period of time that ALP support for any war in Iraq is conditional on a United Nations mandate; and until this happens it won't support the deployment of Australian troops. This is not seen as a reasonable position for Washington. Washington interprets this as going soft on Iraq".

Doesn't the US Ambassador understand? That was the ALP trying to undermine John Howard's creditibility with Australian citizens. Howard's way is beginning to look a bit tattered, and the ALP grabbed a much needed opportunity to get a political toehold and some political air.

Doesn't the US Ambassador understand that the Howard Government had started the debate over war with Iraq from a position of disarming Iraq by force without a UN mandate, called the ALP an appeaser and a Saddam Hussein sympathiser, and talked about pre-emptive strikes on terrorists in Indonesia. Due to the pressure of Australian public opinion and disquiet within the Liberal Party the Howard Government has shifted to arguing for the need for a second UN resolution. Yet he continues to repeat the Bush administration's script on the war with Iraq, especially when he is in Washington.

But it is that earlier hawkish position which resonates with public opinion and
Howard is seen as politically cynical in his re-invention as the defender of the UN. What remains is a public indifference to the regional fallout from the war and an intolerance of political dissent and different political opinions.

I reckon the US Ambassador does not understand Australian culture all that well. He interprets its critical public current as a mixture of trash talk, betrayal, alienation and active opposition. So he is willing to intervene in domestic political debate, thereby breaking a lot of Australian political conventions.

Why? well, Stephen Den Beste at USS Clueless (Stardate 20030211.0959) gives expression to this public American feeling when he says that from the perspective of American culture:

"...friends don't talk like that. If someone says horrible things about you, in public, then they're no longer a friend, especially if they do so in a crisis. In a period in which we fully expected our friends to rally to us and support us, what we are seeing instead is what looks like active opposition. Europeans may think this is nearly meaningless banter. Americans see it as deep betrayal."

Den Beste is referring to the dissenting Europeans (France and Germany) but his account applies to the Australian public opinion and the ALP as well. The Americans have been deeply wounded by 9/11 and they fully expect us Australians to "rally to their side and support them in their hour of need. From an American point of view, that is how friends behave. Nothing else is acceptable", says den Beste.

Australia hasn't delivered in full. Only the Howard Government delivered on the unquestioned fealty required by Washington. Den Beste says, the "Americans don't really expect the Europeans [and Australians] to become American toadies' but they dam well did expect us to join with them in their attempt to blast Saddam Hussein from power.

The problem is the Howard Government's position of unquestioned fealty does not speak for majority public opinion of Australian citizens. Consequently, the Americans see the ongoing criticism of Howard (and Bush) as deeply offensive----it is virulent anti-Americanism. So they move to defang it, thereby deepening the cultural divide.

The Ambassador seems to have forgotten that Australia is a democracy where citizens can express their views about matters of deep concern to them. That should not be too difficult for a US Ambassador to understand surely? Is not the US fighting the war with Iraq for liberal freedom and democracy?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:01 PM | | Comments (5)


Mr Schieffer is anti-Australian. He hates our freedoms.


Based on his Bush comment we are to presume Latham prefers Reagan and Nixon as presidents.

I think,like cricketers, public figures can get a bit carried away with themselves. Interestingly enough Mr Latham would be the first to say Mr Lehmann deserved all he got for being 'politically incorrect' in the heat of the moment. Governments in waiting who would be the first to object to such 'vilification' themselves also need to be mature and understand who and what they represent, in the heat of argument. Otherwise the electorate may suspend them a bit longer for their immaturity.


There is little point in defending a Latham or an Abbott. They play the role of attack dogs in the bear pit and they do so by choice and their performance is done with the backing and support of their political party. Its all heavy-handed, machismo thuggery just like the culture of the in-your-face masculine journalism at Channel Nine.

Thats not a reason to support the American interference in domestic politics of Australia surely? Are you arguing that? Surely not?


I fully concur that the protocol of not interfering publicly in domestic politics of another country is an important one, and is only crossed at the crossers peril.

It may however be fair, that friends/allies should be able to quietly chide us when we either show a gross lack of sportsmanship or that quaint nostalgic thing in public life we used to know as 'manners' in public life.


yes Ambassadors are there to quietly chide and advise, and so they should.

I am in no way condoning the words of a Mark Latham in the bear pit.

I do not think that 'manners' of publci life is a bit of nostalgia. Public life in civil society can only function with specific virtues (hows that for an old one)such as trust, recognition, reason etc Without these there would be no public life. It woudl be reduced to a bear pit.