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

Tim Blair's Howard paradox. « Previous | |Next »
February 6, 2003

I glanced through The Bullettin today and came across noted Aussie weblogger Tim Blair. Tim now has a column (link by subscription only) on the absurdities of life plus his weekly take on local and international issues. The column is called The Continuing Crisis ... with a phot of Tim scratching his head with a bemused smile on his face. This weeks column is entitled, 'The roar of Babylon' and it has a good go at Carmen Lawrence for her anti-war stance.

My eye was caught by this paragraph called, The Howard Paradox. It is a mixture of Tim's weekly take on national issues and the absurdity of life. According to Tim, The Howard Paradox is:

"...an Australian political phenomenon in which the prime minister [John Howard]is vilified by commentators when he follows popular opinion (in the case of the asylum-seekers) and condemned when he opposes public opinion (in the case of a war against Saddam Hussein). The Howard Paradox is out of play only when the majority of commentators agree with him (in the case of gun laws)."

Clever and witty. Shoves it up the pompous left liberals good and proper. It makes them look such mugs. The journalist as gadfly firing arrows at the left liberal hatred for John Howard. And all done in a paragraph.

Too clever by half Tim. You need to slow down, take time out and give some energy to pondering the national issues you pick up. Its not a paradox. John Howard is not being criticized for opposing public opinion in the case of the war with Iraq.

The Prime Minister is being criticized for the way he is handling the Iraqi war issue across the broad spectrum of public opinion, including from within his own party. The judgement is that he is not managing it well because he is seen to have overstepped the mark. He is seen have both signed up to Bush's war long ago, and for Australia to go to war with Iraq without a UN mandate. But he is pretending otherwise. So he is seen to be untrustworthy on this issue. It is a question of trust

There is a whole story on this by Laurie Oaks called 'Wedge of Reality', and unfortunately for Tim, it is on the opposite page to Tim Blair's column. Oaks tacitly undermines Tims' Howard Paradox.

What Oaks argues is that Howard has a credibility problem. This is it in a nutshell:

"Part of Howard's credibility problem hinges on his insistence that, although he has sent Australain forces to join the Americans in the Gulf, no final decision has been made to join an attack on Iraq. The Americans know it is a fiction, and hardly bother to pay lip service to it. Australian voters are not fools: they know it is nonsense too. The idea that Howard would say, "Sorry George!' and bring the troops home again is simply risible."

So much for Tim Blair's paradox.

What we have is a contradiction in the Prime Ministers position. Howard needs the UN to give a mandate to war with Iraq to regain his credibility. But Howard and his Ministers have spent most of the year attacking the authority of the UN--bashing the UN. They have done so in the name of Australia's sovereignty and Australia making its own decisions on national security issues.

As I noted earlier Tim Blair is being too clever by half. The voices speaking about war with Iraq are anything but the roar of Babylon.


| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:43 PM | | Comments (9) | TrackBacks (1)
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Gary, a fine skittling of Mr Tim Blair (who funnily enough begged to be excused from tonight's debate with Philip Adams & Judy Davis). You wrote, however, that "Howard needs the UN to give a mandate to war with Iraq to regain his credibility." It is now clear from Sen. Pork Chop Hill's comments in the Senate tonight that the UN figleaf of "authorisation" under International Law (a la Kosovo) can be summoned into existence by the Howard government's (and any other aggrieved gov't for that matter) self-fiat.If they don't get UN imprimateur directly, they will create their own new system of laws to suit the realpolitik of their Washington masters.

Does This This Blair Actually Believe His Own Words?...

There is a nice joke: what is the difference between Phillip Adams and Tim Blair? The right answer is as follows: Phillip Adams can go away without saying Good Bye, but an Tim Blair may say Good Bye, which at the same doesn’t mean that he will leave indeed. I cancelled already my Bulletin subscription!

Howard doesn't need a UN mandate to retain his credibility.
His position is crystal clear-his troops stand alongside the Anglo-alliance and he calls upon the rest of the world to join them.
Crean on the other hand, requires a UN mandate to make up his mind whether he is for the war or not. That's a credibility problem!(at least for the time being)
All Howard is saying is, I'll let you know if and when we go into Iraq and watch this space(basically the royal prerogative which always infuriates oppositions)
Now, whether or not Howard is vindicated, will ultimately depend on the outcome of war in Iraq.(I personally think only a coup and the overthrow of Saddam will prevent a war).It will not depend on UN mandates. After all, even if Howard gains UN support and the war aims are a dismal failure, wont that affect his credibility?
You may disagree with Howard's stance but you can't fault his 'letting it all hang out' stance.

Funny defintion of crystal clear - we'll wait and see what happens.

Observa,
Howard's handling of the politics of the war with Iraq is a also a problem. It is very poor management.

Howard's position is this: AUstralia's national interst is affected by the twin evils of weapons of mass destruction(WMD) in the hands of rogue states joining the modern evil of international terrorism. This is not a world Australians want to live within, Howard says.

The problem I have here is that 'affect' and 'joining' are left unclear. What Howard does is rely on the evidence produced by others--Blair's dossier, the Blix report to the UN and Powell's speech to the UN.

By so doing he fails to sspell how the specifics of how the failure of the Iraqi regime's to disarm affects Australia's national interest. So he identifies Australia's national interest with those of the US and the UK.

The identification is crystal clear. But if we are to take the neo-con stuff about the national security state and the absolute priority of the national interest seriously, then the implications of the failure of the Iraqi regime to disarm its WND has to be connected to a big threat to Australia's national interest.

How is Australia's national interest affected to justify going to fight a war in e Middle East. Thats not crystal clear---all we get is, 'its not world Australians want to live in'.

Howard has not made a case for Australia's intervention and that's the problem. He just repeats the lines used by George Bush --'rogue states' &'modern evil'. Its not even an Australian script that he is reading from.

Now we're getting somewhere. I agree essentially with your analysis.
I think we all know John Howard has made the leap of faith to pro-war based on his assessment of the evidence to date(which perhaps includes some evidence we mere mortals are not privy to). The rest of us may or may not have made the leap, depending on our own read of the situation.
What the non-leapers say basically is this-if you believe in rolling 'rogue states & modern evil' on behalf of the common good of mankind, how about consulting mankind first? Well I've personally made the leap of faith, Gary, but the democrat in me is hard pressed to ignore your argument.
I am now convinced that Bush,Blair and Howard should ask for ratification of the use of force from the UN immediately on the complete understanding that they will withdraw totally(sanctions and all) if the UN doesn't agree with their current stance. No bullshit resolutions with vetoes. Majority rules-OK! This vote to be taken on the basis of pro-rata votes based on population only. ie China brings a billion proxy votes to the table whilst Howard brings 20million etc. The short-comings of representative democracy aside, I'd like to see that debate under the circumstances I outline. Nothing like real decision-making to distil the ether and concentrate the mind. Question is Gary, how would you vote then?

Stuffed that up a bit. Lets's see if I can link it up.

Everyone (except psychopaths and fools) comes to the Iraq problem from an anti-war stance initially. You may then choose force for many reasons.

It may be that Howard has come to a pro-war stance grudgingly along the lines Jack Strocchi has. Whatever,once the leap of faith I mention occurs, Howard has to put the best spin on his position, not getting too bogged down with difficult or subtle roundabout arguments with the media. This is the same for Crean who has become the anti-war focal point.

Note also that neither PM or PM-in-Waiting can afford to be politically incorrect, or they'll be publicly vilified. Howard can't express his extreme's- "we'll teach those bastards a lesson", anymore than Crean can express the opposite extreme's- "it's all about oil for Yankee SUVs"(wheras a Wilson Tuckey or a Mark Latham can) Also, I as pro-war have to live with some hard-liners, just as you have to live with the usual rent-a-crowd, with a lot of tar brushing going on from both sides(irrespective of our motives).

Now I can understand you don't agree with Howard whose position is clear(bearing in mind the problem of Q: Mr PM, I understand you've taken the decision along with Bush and Blair to attack Iraq?- you just know what Mr Oaks next Q will be if he says yes)This simply means you believe he has a bad policy and one hell of a sales problem.

What about the Crean view? That's who I think has a real credibility problem. You know,the line that 'I'm all for using force if the UN agrees'. Whilst I can live with a genuine articulated no-war stance,the Crean stance has a huge credibility problem for me, UNLESS it's the lack of democracy argument I outlined before.Then I'll have a real vote not your sly veto UN rubbish.

However I should warn you that I put the democracy argument to a more gung-ho war man than me and his answer was. OK if we lose the vote, bring the troops home,disband the military, mine Ashmore Reef lets get the nukes and no more visas to anyone who's put a foot inside a mosque. It might have been the beer talking,but that was one view of isolationism.

Observa,
I'd rather hang out with the UN, for all its flaws and corrruption than the 'little Australia' isolationism in national security mode that spurns the rest of the world.

Isolationism ignores that Australia does have treaties and obligations with other nation-states; these form the basis of international law; and provide forums for the settling of disputes.

That is one line in the sand.

Howard embraced the military solution long ago, accepted a global posse approach, bypassed key international institutions (UN & International Criminal Court), and turns a blind eye to the US fighting a dirty and walking in the shadows with bad men.

What has been downplayed is a political solution and a thick multilateralism.

That is another line in the sand. I prefer political to military solutions.

The Europeans have been rather slow coming up with something along these lines. Their recent proposal to strengthen the inspectorate, put UN troops into Iraq etc is, I fear, too little too late.

This kind of European attempt by "old Europe" has been displaced in the US by a dubious reading of history --Munich & appeasement; a major war on Iraq is justified because of 9/11; and that advanced military technology (airpower) solves the political problem of the Middle East.

When I hear all this I hear echoes of Vietnam and I get the historical shudders. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi's are going to die because of a crude realpolitik.
I also get the historical shudders bewcause blasting the Iraqi's is not going to solve the political problem of the Middle East, the roots of international terrorism, the Islamic rejection of the US unsistance that liberal democracy and capitalism is the only viable for social organization; prevent Iran from going nuclear.

Howard and Alexander 'Case Against Saddam Iron clad' Downer seem to be disembedded from history. Thats what gives me the historical shudders.

The historical shudders means that my response is lets put the brakes on the war machine for as long as we can.

And lastly, I do not trust patriotic Australian politicians sending other peoples sons to fight wars overseas without good public evidence that the national interest is substantially affected.

Parlaiment has a credibility problem here as well, not just Howard and Crean.

Points taken Gary. You have to admit that a resolute Anglo-alliance might be beginning to get the rest of the world off its back-side. What is it about that little nation of shop-keepers(and its off-shoots)and their defiance of dictators and tyranny.

Oh yeah! and you can't criticise my boy John for playing his cards close(sorry Mr Oaks) He's still left open the option of bringing the lads home if the UN come up with a satisfactory solution and don't require our input.You might disagree with his politics,but you can't fault the political acumen.