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

a bit of a vacuum « Previous | |Next »
July 12, 2003

This old article is quite interesting. It says that Liberals are not really interested in the world outside the US, but conservatives are. Michael Totten says:

"It's easy to find writers on both the left and the right who lack historical knowledge. But I find this far more often on the left. This is not a partisan point I'm making. I've been on the left forever, and I have no reason whatever to shill for the right."

However, Totten says that in the US liberal intellectuals are less interested in the history of foreign countries than conservatives are. My interest is not the US but Australia.

Its all a bit different here. There is hardly any interest at all in foreign countries----not even in the Middle East where we went to war twice. We are happy to have events there refracted through the American media. There is little to no concern about the history of the different nations in the region.

In Australia Liberals are basically idealists. They believe in international law and the United Nations. Conservatives are generally realists and so foreign policy is to further the national interest.

So what is the national interest? Conservatives go vague, apart from muttering something about national security. Consider the Iraq war. It was held that we supported the US because it was in the national interest to do so. And the national interest was what? What were we defending considering Iraq did not pose enough of a significant threat to Australia for us to invade the country?

Silence. There things pretty much end. Polemics then generally start in terms of good and bad with the old appeasment/hairy chested script that is rolled out to cover up the emptiness of "the national interest."

So let us probe a bit. How about the Solomon Islands? For instance, why are we intervening in the Solomon Islands? Conservatives would answer that we did so because of national security reasons. It sounds good. Nice and strong.

So what is Australia's national interest then?
Well the Solomon Islands is a failed state. Criminal gangs are rampaging out of control on the Solomon Islands.
How does that affect Australia's national security?
Well, you know........its aaah unstable there. There have been years of ethnic violence leading to a state of lawlessness.
Why is that is bad for Australia?
You know, it's got to do with international terrorism. The intervention is related to the war on terrorism or the invasion of Iraq. Its all the one and the same.

How come?
Well, failed states are a haven for international terrorists are they not?
You mean Muslem fundamentalists, such as Jemaah Islamiah? Is there any evidence of these setting up a base in the Solomon Islands to justify a pre-emptive action?
It is bad for Australia because it upsets the balance of power.The Islamic fascists reject out of hand a secular liberal state in favour of a Islamic theocracy, just like Iran.

What's wrong with upsetting the balance of power?
Stability from balanced relations between the great powers is good. It cannot be achieved through the pursuit of dominance.
Is not Australia acting as the dominant power by acting as regional cop?
It is necessary because the Solomon Islands is a failed state.

It is an imaginary conversation that goes around in circles. The reality is that foreign policy in Australia only gets talked discussed when it is personalised. See the excellent post by Gummo Trotsky on this. Apart from the personalization foreign policy is seen in the simple terms of fighting the good fight in the war against international terrorism. That has become the prism through which everything is now viewd.

Is it possible to give a different account of the national interest? Is not Australia acting offensively to gain regional hegemony and to eliminate the possibility of regional imbalancing? Is it not taking action in the region to counter Chinese power in Oceania? China is becoming a major Asia-Pacific power. So is not Australia acting more as the deputy sheriff of the US in Oceania, and less as an independent power with an independent foreign policy?

Is that not what Howard's close embrace of the US as the hegemonic power really implies? If so then we can ask: whose national interests is the Howard Government serving?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:19 AM | | Comments (3)


And precisely what is wrong with taking action to counter Chinese power?

Foreign policy insofar as this country is concerned, revolves solely around that generated by the US. There are no national interests in this country other than what the US tell the Government of the day they wish it to be. Your quite correct, Gary. The conversation is fantasy, which feeds on itself.

Steve, There is nothing wrong with Australia taking action to counter Chinese power on realist grounds.

But do you hear conservatives putting it forward as a justification for Australia's intervention in the Solomon Islands?