The Magazine

Awesome Aussies

An extra-special relationship.

Sep 29, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 03 • By ROSS TERRILL
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Downer answered the left-wing intellectuals: "They're obsessed with anti-Americanism," he told me. "It doesn't worry me, to tell you the truth. If that makes them feel good, so be it. But if you're a policymaker, you have to think about consequences. What sort of world would we live in if the United States took the advice of the gratuitous left and said it would wash its hands and go back to an earlier tradition of isolation? What would happen to nuclear proliferation? Everyone agrees we have to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. But who is actually going to do these things? People say through the U.N.: I have no problem with that as long as it is done! What do we do when the U.N. can't agree? Should we then leave the issue unaddressed? Would it have been right to allow Saddam Hussein to continue to defy international law? The anti-American mob are emotionally driven, not intellectually driven."

The Australian not-so-very-intelligentsia is in the grip of an illusion. The Labor party opposed the Iraq war because it said one more U.N. resolution was needed to give a green light. The head of the Centre for International and Public Law at a leading university with a straight face equates domestic law (of a democracy) with international law (presumably enforced by the U.N.). Such people would have Australia march down the impeccably multilateral path of the "no more war" Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, whose futility led directly to the failure to deter Japan and Germany and hence to World War II.

The elite anti-Americanism is abstract, a wild anger at the state of the world, indeed at life itself. The left gatekeepers cannot reverse Howard's three electoral victories (1996, 1998, 2001), so they rail against the vast hovering cloud of American power and influence and denigrate Howard for being caught up in it. The environment is going to hell, the multinationals are everywhere, Africa writhes, war clouds terrify the kids, love and harmony are in short supply--Bush must be to blame! Call it foreign policy as psychology.

A disrespect for the views of ordinary Australian people is more serious. The alienated left has nearly given up on the democratic process. They "know" Howard is illegitimate just as they "know"--emails from American academic friends!--that Bush's victory over Gore was illegitimate. When the journalist for the Financial Review doubts that Australia any longer has a "fully functional liberal democracy," what he means is that the Labor party has lost three elections in a row.

For us in the United States, one lesson of Howard's eight-year ascendancy is that, vacuous as Blair's New Labour may be, Australia's Old Labor, trade union-based and mesmerized by an out-of-date academic left, is much worse. Another is that nothing Bush could ever do would sway Australian academics and the ABC (and others like them in Europe), so why not forge ahead with what he believes is right.

Finally, the democratic process faces real danger, in more than one country, from a stratum of left gatekeepers who simply don't believe in the legitimacy of a period of conservative rule. If any threat of a "repressive state" is on the horizon in Western democracies, it comes from the self-righteous left rather than from Bush, Blair, and Howard, who have reinvented themselves by responding to the common-sense instincts of their people.

Meanwhile the New York Times, which gave front-page coverage to anti-Howard protests over Iraq in Melbourne and Sydney, has never published an in-depth profile of Howard (compare its attention to Chirac, Schröder, de Villepin, and Joschka Fischer) or an examination of his three electoral triumphs.

Ross Terrill's new book is "The New Chinese Empire" (Basic Books). His "The Australians: The Way We Live Now" was published in Sydney in 2000 (Random House).