April 12th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Red Star over Canberra

EDITORIAL: Behind the bid for UN Security Council seat

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Kevin Rudd's ideas summit looms

BIOFUELS: Ethanol doesn't have to compete with food

QUARANTINE: AQIS blamed for equine influenza outbreak

FINANCE: Right and wrong way to tackle financial crisis

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The American elections / Rudd's honesty / Conservative blues / NATO's fastidious peace-keeping

TAIWAN: KMT victory paves way for improved China ties

EUROPE: The Dutch disease - how low can you go?

BIOETHICS: Man - a vanishing species?

OPINION: Twilight of the British Raj

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Beijing's one-child policy a demographic powder-keg / A nation of dunces? / Fragility of the affluent society

High cost of foregoing trade deal (letter)

Finlandisation? (letter)

News Weekly's stand on global-warming (letter)

Earth Hour a silly idea (letter)

BOOKS: THE LITERACY WARS: teaching children to read and write in Australia by Ilana Snyder

BOOKS: ORIGINS: An Atlas of Human Migration edited by Russell King

Books promotion page

The American elections / Rudd's honesty / Conservative blues / NATO's fastidious peace-keeping

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, April 12, 2008
The American elections

It doesn't do to visit the primal scene of the US elections too frequently, for only too often one can finish with nausea. It really is a shameful charade, light years away from what the Founding Fathers envisaged and even the hard-boiled Alexis de Tocqueville would ever have predicted.

On the other hand, the level of debate, the importance of variety, the issues being contested and the character of the candidates are a good deal higher than in that dreadful Kerry/Bush encounter of four years ago. But America's two parties deserve a low electoral turnout, although it probably won't happen, because the citizens are living under the shadow of an economic decline, the full extent of which no one can yet predict.

But Hillary surely takes the Silver Pinocchio Prize for Super Porkies. The Clintons have never been careful with the truth, but her military exploits came out of the world of Danny Kaye and Walter Mitty. And yet they talk about the mendacities of a Richard Nixon or a Henry Kissinger!

The ABC and SBS have been scratching around and trying to cover for Hillary, that ridiculous person. The reason, I suppose, is that she is just part of the Australian radical memory bank, starting with the Kennedys.

If Hillary were to nose-out Obama after all this, it would have to be because of an anti-black backlash. I'm afraid Obama would have brought some of this upon himself, because it really would be an anti-Black Power backlash. Too many of Obama's older black supporters are really all about this.

We still have six months of this electioneering before Americans make up their minds; so the volume of dirt, money and dirty money that will be sloshing around America would pay for the health budgets of a couple of small countries.

But while all this tokenism and hoo-ha goes on, George Bush is able to govern almost uncriticised and unopposed, though some of the most stressful and politically disadvantageous episodes in his eight-year administration have been passing through.

It was predicted that, as a lame-duck president - on his last two years, and without the numbers - he would be at the mercy of Congress, and the Democrats would be calling the shots.

It simply didn't happen. The Democrats have totally failed - too busy fighting over who is going to finish up with the fruits of office.

Like Victoria's state Liberals: the thing is to win first. But what kind of federal administration would the Democrats make after all this?

Rudd's honesty

Kevin's copycat caravan is winding its semi-anonymous way through America as I write, and Rudd will learn, if he doesn't already know, that if he or Australia aren't of some use to America, or just about any other country for that matter, we are of no interest whatsoever - that is, unless we possessed some substantial military, financial or economic clout of our own.

We don't, for under Rudd we will rejoin the bridesmaids. As to our new great economic presence in the world, we are still just the farm and the quarry which former Victorian Liberal Premier, Henry Bolte, described to German industrialists in the 1950s (although a bigger quarry than we had imagined.)

Some of us are quite happy with this relationship, but many Australians have been brought up with terms like: what will the world's opinion be? What will the world community think if we say "x" or do "y", or - shock-horror - think "z"?!

Rudd's decision, based on pressure from the Left of his party, to pull out of Iraq at this vital moment is, in its own quiet way, a mini-disaster. Once more we won't be trusted. It's back to the days of Evatt and Whitlam and, to a lesser extent, Hawke, despite all the fine talk.

And the Chinese relationship is not going to be the easy one that Rudd and his advisers imagined. No one has an easy relationship with Communist China. Nor, as Russia picks up steam, will the world with Putin's Russia.

Theirs is a Hobbesian world, domestically and internationally, and their leaders draw much of their power from the follies and the weaknesses of their neighbours and competitors.

Thus, Western Europe, which has already shown how defenceless it is in the face of illegal immigration, borderless crime, prostitution and terrorist blusterings, is already rolling over to appease terrorism, and will do the same for Moscow and Beijing. The only exception is Britain, although Sarkozy would like to inspire the French to follow the British lead.

Rudd has sold himself to the world as a better and more pliant friend of China than Howard and the Libs were, just as Keating boasted of his superior connections with Asia and Indonesia - superior to Howard's.

Captain Wacky's rantings were soon repudiated by events, but Rudd was right. He has got a special relationship with China, but I suggest it is a poisoned chalice. Australians are already becoming more and more suspicious of China's rise and the way they do business.

Incidentally, there is a real danger of now treating Japan with contumely and ingratitude, and the anti-whaling agitation is being used by elements here - and, I suspect, in Japan - to damage that most important linkage, so presumably as to fracture the US-Japan-Australia agreements, and make the Chinese connection seem more palatable.

Yes, it is true, the Japanese are killing whales - quite reprehensible. But the Chinese kill people... and aren't going to stop.

Conservative blues

My spies report that the federal Liberals are in a bad way, with some of their senior men having taken defeat quite badly, and seeming quite daunted by the next stage of "moving on".

John Howard regrets losing his seat, but feels he's done a good job, and is certainly not fussed. But Downer is particularly downcast at the sudden withdrawal of power, and the oxygen of public applause.

Phillip Ruddock, I think, will be happy to go away, whereas Costello may be playing a more complex game. If he thinks Labor are going to foul up the economy, even the first budget - and outside economic forces are indicating big problems for Australia - he may decide to sit tight. As Oliver Goldsmith said, "He who fights and runs away, may live to fight another day." If I were Costello, I'd hang around for a little longer, for friend Turnbull is a man of straw, unless I've been mistaken.

Meanwhile, Brendan Nelson is doing better than most expected, so well in the last session that our media had to censor most of it out. But, ultimately, because the state Liberal parties remain as inept and as thoroughly second-rate as they are, no Liberal in Canberra can sleep easy.

NATO's fastidious peace-keeping

NATO's peace-keeping forces have three main tasks at the moment, and it is salutary to observe how differently they are approaching each one of these.

In Darfur, a NATO force has been called on for many months - in vain. Some African states have put in troops, and promised to put in more; but the refugees are more frightened of some of them than they are of the Sudanese raiders.

But European nations which have been called upon to participate and get their hands dirty - possibly bloody - are stalling in a manner of ways so as to avoid colliding with the friends of Sudan - and that is what it is about. China and Russia are Sudan's backers - oil and minerals - so the refugees of Darfur continue to be left swinging in the breeze.

In Afghanistan, a similar unreadiness to contribute forces where they are needed, and where the fighting is occurring, is characterising the European NATO effort. The British and the Canadians - two members of NATO - are carrying more than their share, and Australia has been at least putting its hand out.

But Germany in particular, which has a large contingent, but in the wrong place, is simply unprepared to suffer casualties because of the likely domestic political uproar. Militarily speaking, Germany is useless here, as it is in Africa, and, should she ever involve herself there, in the Middle East. There would in fact appear to be a sense of implausibility at the very heart of NATO itself. But all is not lost.

The newly elected government of Kosovo, province of old Yugoslavia, immediately declared its independence from Serbia following on its parliamentary elections of late last year.

Up to date, the EU has always insisted that the two territories were one, and that they should be connected in the future but with some kind of autonomy for Kosovo. Kosovo has just ignored this and gone for full independence. A number of states have already recognised her as a new country.

Serbia, linked to Russia, is objecting, and Belgrade has been saying that we could see a possible return to armed conflict, and a return of the earlier violence in Kosovo. NATO immediately responded with admirable speed. Sixteen divisions were immediately made available to protect the Kosovars from any Serb intrusion. No comment.

Russia is backing Serbia (as is China), and the most likely result will be Serbia slipping into the Russian bloc. What Stalin and his successors failed to achieve, Putin will have had handed to him on a plate.

To think of the bitter struggle put up by the dissident Serbs to install democracy in the place of Communist repressions - be it that of Tito, or, should it ever happen, the Russians - these people must feel betrayed.

- Max Teichmann.

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