Plus Royaliste Que Le Roi

As part of my work, I regularly read US periodicals such as The Public Interest and Foreign Affairs. The former is home to leading neo-cons, while the latter is more the house journal of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment. Both are enormously influential in setting the tone of policy initiatives and public debate, and I don’t think there’s any Australian equivalent. What’s particularly interesting is the degree of dissent and rethinking that goes on in these (necessarily) conservative organs – within the bounds of the paradigms of US policy, but fascinating nevertheless. The January/February 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs for instance, features a major rethink of policy directions in light of George W. Bush’s re-election. Two contributors call on the US to disengage from Iraq, the Dean of the Yale School of Management criticises the administration for being asleep at the wheel on international economic policy, and Francis Fukuyama calls for a different approach to Asian geopolitics. Edward N. Luttwak’s argument that the US should engage with Iran in order to stabilise Iraq and the region is supported by clear reasoning and historical parallels. Imagine if this was published as an op/ed in Australia, suggested in Parliament or posted on an Austalian political blog. Tim Blair would lead the charge, and the poor author would find themselves monstered very quickly by swarming myrmidons of Bushism. What is it about international relations debates in Australia that we can’t escape violent partisanship and name-calling? Surely this is one area where the US lives up to its ideals of rational debate and free speech. We could well learn that lesson, but I suspect we’ll go on being plus royaliste que le Roi.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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Rafe
2022 years ago

Nice starter Mark. Why can’t we escape violent partisanship and name-calling? I think you will have an answer to your question when you work out why it is so hard to get people on the left to admit that Quadrant and its supporters were on the side of the angels when they set up shop in the mid 1950s to provide a non-left alternative among the little magazines.
If you don’t want to go back that far in history, try explaining the over-the top rubbishing of economic rationalism and its supporters. Talk about being monstered by swarming myrmidons!
On the specific issue mentioned, what do we know about Tim Blair’s position on engagement with Iran? What sort of engagement is envisaged and why would Tim Blair be opposed to it? Are we talking trade, aid, exchange of students, sporting teams, military hardware? There is a moderate faction in Iran and it is imperative for the west to provide all possible assistance to moderate Islam while swatting militant Islam as best we can.
Still, the only long-term hope for the future is to gain general acceptance of the benefits of free trade under the rule of law. When this is accepted equally by the neo-conservatives and the left we will really be cooking with gas!

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
2022 years ago

Mark – I think there is an equivalent here, in Owen Harries who has consistently opposed foreign policy adventurism with nothing worse than respectful disagreement.

I have consistently opposed aspects of Liberal higher ed policy without negative consequences; the Minister and his office are still talking to me and I still get invited to plenty of Liberal events.

It is a matter of tone, of trying to make constructive suggestions rather than indulging political passions. Both The Public Interest and Foreign Affairs are measured and sensible, basic prerequisites for a debate.

Peter Kemp
Peter Kemp
2022 years ago

Great post Mark! Along with Foreign Policy in Focus, another such site, such publications seem to present conservative views as (opposed to neo-con) which are breathtakingly liberal by comparison.

The ideology of conservatism with its focus on stability has been, some might say, devious in its ability to encompass even the dreaded ”welfarism” in the quest for stability, at least while Keynesian policies were in vogue in immediate post WW2 times. Perhaps we are seeing some Keynesian thought in a foreign policy context now.

Both Iran and the US have a vested interest in stabilising Iraq but the neo-con subset of the US, while perhaps belatedly recognising military limitations in occupations, sees a zero sum game that a stable Shia run Iraq leads to the threat of Iraq/Iranian Shia regional hegemony and domination of oil resources which is perceived to be a grave threat to US interests.

It is therefore in US neo-con interests to promote ongoing Sunni/Shia conflict to provide an excuse for a continued US presence, despite the domestic pain of casualties and world condemnation of a continuing occupation.

There appears to be (www.antiwar.com) some unofficial negotiations going on between some enlightened US military leaders and a moderate non inclusive and non Zakawi insurgency leadership that seeks an Irish style Shin Fein political role for the Sunnis, provided that a timetable for withdrawal and possible replacement by UN troops is made. We can only wait and see, but if this is true, military and political conservatives could together help to bury the neo-cons for all time.

Neo-con strategy will therefore be to play up, if not stir up, Iraqi Sunni/Shia fault lines and propose, yet again war, ie bombing Iran, knowing that they can continue to bullshit the American public and delight themselves in another unilateral two fingered salute to the EU in particular.

The question is we don’t know yet which way the smirking chimp will jump, but the key will be, in my opinion, how the EU Franco/German/ UK mediation over the Iranian nuclear issue plays out between the neo-nasties and the conservatives.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Thanks Peter, and you make some good points in turn.

Rafe, I fail to regard one’s desire to debate the contribution of Quadrant as a lodestone of civil debate. As to Mr Blair, read any of his posts on Iraq and the “Left”. Given that Luttwak argues the US (in the interests of both the US and Iraq) should withdraw from Iraq totally, and that it ought to enlist Iran as a stabilising force, is there really any doubt if I posted something like this I’d be accused by RWDBs of being “anti-American”, blah blah blah. And what if Beazley said it? You can imagine what the Government would do with such a proposal.

Andrew, yes, I agree regarding Owen Harries and Hugh White might be another case in point. Much of the work done by ASPI is valuable – though I might be biassed because I went to uni with both Aldo Borgu and Ellie Wainwright and have a lot of time for both of them. But there’s no similar institutional expression of contested views as there is in US journals, and debate in the media and the blogosphere is characterised by partisanship, accusations, and ludicrous interrogations – “Why didn’t you condemn Saddam?”, etc of which Rafe’s Inquisition in Quadrant appears to be a milder echo. None of this sort of thing is at all helpful for anyone of any political stripe who’s got a grasp of the realities of world politics and economics and Australia’s position to do any serious work in foreign policy, IMO.

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

I like the way you start off the post by condemning partisanship, and end it with a partisan attack on Tim Blair based on a hypothetical situation.

A neat encapsulation of the double standards of the Left.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Glad you like the post, EP. I’m working on having it translated into Swedish as we write.

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

Sweden is unique in the variety of its comestibles.

http://www.aftonbladet.se/vss/nyheter/story/0,2789,602869,00.html

(gee, it would be nice to have HTML in comments)

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Hmmm, the reason why we don’t have html in comments is very closely related to the marketing of certain drugs that purport to effect the performance of an organ otherwise found in a Swedish ketchup bottle, EP.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I agree with Rafe, especially this bit:

“Why it is so hard to get people on the left to admit that Quadrant and its supporters were on the side of the angels when they set up shop in the mid 1950s”.

The left is just going to have to accept, at some stage (we’re not there yet), that it made all the wrong calls in the 50s and 60s. And even in the decades prior.

You just can’t argue anymore that it was wrong to be anti-communist in the 50s. There was no excuse for not knowing what Stalinism was like, and even if there was, the suppression of the Hungarian revolt in 1956 destroyed all the excuses.

And then there was the Prague Spring in the 70s and the attack on Poland’s Solidarity movement a few years later.

We got it wrong, guys. Simple, umproblematic fact (with vast, unimaginable consequences. Never have so many been so wrong about so much…..).

When are we going to face up to it?

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

So it’s due to the depravity of Swedish condiment manufacturers that you don’t have linkable comments. Truly it is an evil state.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

“You just can’t argue anymore that it was wrong to be anti-communist in the 50s.”

I never did.

“The left is just going to have to accept, at some stage (we’re not there yet), that it made all the wrong calls in the 50s and 60s. And even in the decades prior.”

By the logic of the right, I’m not bound to accept any responsibility for anything that took place before my birth. Vidilecit John Howard.

Seriously, Rob, this might be a debate worth having but in a serious fashion, and not centred around Quadrant, the influence of which, as Chris argued on the other thread, where this question was done to death, is unproven.

This whole “the Left must admit” thing is tiresome and pointless. I could counter it with “the Right must admit” but why bother. We don’t get anywhere. That’s my point.

I see George W. Bush said in Brussels that we shouldn’t dwell on the disagreements of the past, but move on.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

At one point, I’d planned to write something about Mark Lilla’s book on intellectuals and Stalinism, which in my view doesn’t get to grips adequately with the questions it poses, but they’re questions worth posing. My sympathies lie with Merleau-Ponty’s attempts to carve out a third way between the Soviet Union and America in the 40s and 50s.

Incidentally, Derrida made some scathing critiques of Soviet Marxism. As did Herbert Marcuse.

I don’t have time to do justice to this topic at the moment, and I’m therefore not going to respond to Rafe’s attempts to carry on his interminable inquisition and any associated assists. Make a serious point which is not just couched in slogans, and we can talk.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

In the meantime, Rob, you’re proving my point by reducing any discussion of international relations to ideological partisanship. And how boring it quickly becomes. This thread started off well with some serious points made by Andrew Norton (on the right) and Peter Kemp (on the left), proving we can talk to each other. I’m thoroughly sick of this endless point scoring where people who identify as being on the Left suddenly have to assume responsibility for historical movements with which they have no identification and little sympathy. I’m very tempted to close the thread. Discussions of Stalinism or anti-communist intellectuals in the 50s or whatever are quite outside the scope of the thread. At least EP’s funny.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Ok, I’ll lay out some groundrules. Troppo is supposed to be a place for a civil and rational discussion. Please try to engage with the issues. The blog is not meant to be a space for general disputation between right and left. I really would ask people not to divert things into discussions of Quadrant or 1950s & 1960s anti-communism, unless there’s a relevant link (which will rarely be the case I suspect).

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I don’t know why you get so mad at me, Mark. Anyway, I’ll push off to Tim Blair’s place. If I come back I’ll be somebody else.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Rob, there’s no need for that. I just get frustrated because I don’t want to discuss these general left/right grudges, but specific topics I post on. Apologies if I sound harsh – I’m really just trying to keep things on topic.

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

that’s very postmodern Rob. how will we know the intention of the author if the author has another identity?

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

we’d have to search for textual clues and contextual signs…

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I’m outa here.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Civility, folks! No one needs to leave. The ‘stay on topic’ rule applies to you too, yellow!

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

apologies, sincerely, Mark and Rob. I’ve not been commenting much since I’m far from well at the moment. but I will observe that the postmodernism theme has duly done its po/mo work and disseminated its way into every thread. ironic, ain’t it? I think Derrida had a theory to explain this. it’s all proving – as if anyone could have ever thought that this form of communication reproduced transparently an author’s intention – how little these dialogues or any such dialogues resemble the communicative fantasies of the lit crit crowd. where do you draw all these lines? you can enunciate them, but when it comes to applying them, well that’s another matter, n’est-ce pas? nevertheless, I recognise there are rules, and if I’ve transgressed, I’m truly sorry.

in that spirit, I encourage post-ers after me to debate the question of why we can’t have a debate without ideological name-calling. seems to me that performatively, that’s been proved already. but I’d be interested in reading more stuff that addresses the substantive issues of the post.

ok, back to my sickbed, with only my pile of Quadrant back issues for comfort :(

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Fair enough, yellow, and sorry to hear you’re not well. I hope Rob comes back – as himself. After all, robust debate is what we’re about in the blogosphere, and he’s been an enjoyable interlocutor.

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

As to foreign policy, Sir Humphrey put it best, (in the YPM episode A victory for democracy):

“You cant have foreign policy made by yobbos like … cabinet ministers. We take the right decisions and let them sort out the politics later.”

I suspect that this is still the state of play in the DFAT, and in the Treasury, for that matter. And going by results, I think there’s a lot to be said for it.

Of course, it is not that simple. These departments do not exist in a political vacuum. However, given the quality of Australian public discourse, are you sure that you WANT to have the DFAT taking notice of foreign policy debate?

Rafe
2022 years ago

Can I come back as Arthur Koestler?:)
My point is that name calling and attacking the man rather than the ball is much more prevalent on the left than the non-left. As demonstrated by the reception of Quadrant, which is not a question of influence but a question of who was right on the big issues. I take the point about keeping the thread on track so I don’t want to pursue that any further just now.
I don’t think the classical (non-socialist) liberals who have always promoted free trade under the rule of law have anything to take back or apologise for. Bearing in mind that we are not conservatives of the Malcolm Fraser kind that Hayek criticised in his classical statement “Why I am not a conservative” (which is on line).
People of good will need to find common ground to pursue agendas where we agree, even while we spend some time exploring areas of difference. Peace-promoting and positive engagement with every other country would appear to be one of these common grounds, however we are dealing most of the time with states where free trade under the rule of law is scarcely a distant rumour, much less a feasible option in the short term. Of course from where I sit the US is in pretty bad shape on that score as well.

ctd
ctd
2022 years ago

I wonder if the political system flows through to the commentary. My understanding is that it is not uncommon (although perhaps not usual) for Democrats and Republicans to vote against bills issued by their own party. And to do so is not regarded as a hanging offence. There are reasonably vigourous debates. Outside the immediate political sphere, you have academics and commentators working for privately funded (and thus somewhat immune from political issues/public funding) – and, I think an important point, academics are not all left wing so cannot be ignored as just the usual chattering class.

However, in Australia politicians are absolutely for or absolutely against something depending on which party they are in – at least in public. So there is limited public debate about the bill being partially good but requiring amendment on this point, or whatever. Its all or nothing.

Partially I think this is because of the poor effort by the Labor party – rather than being involved in policy arguments, they just take ‘positions’. Quietly let things go through that are too much trouble (gay marriage ban) or bluster about things they dont agree with, without offering substantive alternatives.

Academics are stifled because they are paid by the government. They have limited outlets for their commentary (a few newspapers, the Bulletin).

Having said that, I think comparing discussion in the journals mentioned with Tim Blair jumping up and down is not fair. The journals are operating at a different level to Tim, or even our newspapers. I am sure Fox News would have a go at the writers mentioned.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

ctd, that’s right. Party unity is not as prized in the States – although the Republican Party in the House in particular puts much more emphasis on it than in the past. It is a different political culture.

Perhaps I’ve been unfair to Tim Blair, but I do want to make the point that this aspect of debate or its absence is reflected in the blogosphere.

Bruce
2022 years ago

David Hume said town and gown need one another. Town needs gown to keep it from triviality; gown needs town because of its ignorance of the practical world and its bad manners. The meeting ground for the two? The essay.

Three things then.

Academics (who are far from ‘stifled’ – it’s a choice) need to learn to write for a general audience.
Citizens (especially journalists) need to overcome the simple egghead bashing that establishes status in the saloon bar.
We need angels.

None of this will happen (as others have said here) if we behave like kids in the playground. We may have to wait until the Ocker generation moves on to their Bay 13 in the sky.

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

Academics also need to overcome the simple citizen-bashing that establishes status in the intellectual elite.

Janice
Janice
2022 years ago

There’s a joke about 16 year olds and how they should move out of home now, while they still know everything. It’s funny because there’s a great deal of truth to it.

At 35 (for some reason I can’t recall) I remembered myself at 16. I realised then that almost everything I had been so sure of at 16 was either just plain wrong or so much more complicated than I’d thought that “just plain wrong” would be a fair description of the opinions I’d held. That realisation made me feel ashamed of my youthful arrogance and more sorry than I can tell for the trouble I’d put my parents through acting on my wrongness – which is why I remember remembering.

The older I’ve got, the more I’ve learned, the more I’ve come to appreciate the depths of my own ignorance. And I’ve come to understand that many people, of all ages, don’t know enough to know how little they know. They’re stuck in their juvenile, egomaniacal arrogance, superiority and self-importance. They lack sufficient humility to consider that they may be wrong, or even to consider that they may not be entirely right. And that’s part of the reason why there is so much “partisanship and name-calling” from all sides of both political and religious divides.

Rafe
2022 years ago

Janice will appreciate Mark Twain’s comment that he was amazed how much his father learned between Mark’s eighteenth and twentieth birthdays.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

Picking up on Janice’s thread a couple of things struck me here in the last week. The Advertiser (financial section last Frid as I recall) had a background story on Adelaide boy Graeme Samuel who now heads the ACCC. Gave his background with an impressive list of Co directorships, AFL, CEOs,etc and recounted how State Labor Treasurer Kevin Foley had objected strongly to Samuels ACCC appointment by the Howard Govt. Kevin’s objection at the time was that the appointee was too close to the ‘big end of town’, to be an effective watchdog. Now the writer was privy to a long chat between the two at a function, whereafter Foley came away from their meeting and stated that he would not want to be engaged in price fixing with Samuel around. When he was reminded of his own previous objections to Samuel’s appointment, he frankly replied ‘Well I was wrong’.

Now the other fascinating insight was the Lateline interview with Kaye, which was largely examining the ‘interrogate’ vs ‘interview’ debate, but confirmed something much more important for me personally. After Sept11 and well before the invasion of Iraq, I read a very detailed and intimate interview with Tony Blair, which I wish fervently I had kept for future reference. His words left me in nodoubt that Blair considered the ME to be the greatest threat to world peace after the fall of communism, the Palestinian problem was the lock, but the magic key lay in a beacon of light theory for Iraq, which he deduced was the most favourable place to forge it. In the light of Bush’s public statements at the time, I found in the Blair article a certainty that war in Irag was now guaranteed(failing a coup to depose Saddam) I also formed the opinion, backed up over many months that Bush and Blair, believed in the BOL raison d’etre for invading Iraq, almost to the exclusion of any other consideration. Nevertheless, as we all know they sold it mainly on the WMD reasoning, which turned out to be flawed.

Now, my take was that these men forged another special Atlantic relationship, as one, with honorable BOL intentions, but perhaps in facing the obvious reluctance of their electorates to go to war for such esoteric ends and faced with a limited window of public outrage after Sept11, they chose to press home that urgency with WMD. They chose unwisely as we know, but I have always held the view that they did believe in the reason they chose to accentuate. However as the debate raged on before and after the invasion, you couldn’t ignore the increasingly loud call that they were liars and charlatans, or at the very least heard intelligence they wanted to hear about WMD. Wherein lay the truth?

The truth for me at least lay in Kaye’s ruthlessly frank and unguarded comments on Lateline. It was clear Kaye was not a man to mince words for political expediency, nor have them put in his mouth. He described how Bush had sent him to seek out the truth on WMD in Iraq and that he had come to his eventual reported conclusion within a couple of months. He denied emphatically that anyone would or could influence his findings and simply on the basis of his findings, this could not be argued. He came out with the gem that in hindsight, a number of intelligence agencies(including France by the way) had ‘drunk their own bathwater’ and to this day British intelligence still believe that eventually WMD will be found, contrary to US and AUST intelligence nowadays. If I needed any proof that WMD was a legitimately believed, albeit overstressed perhaps, reason for war, then here was the clincher from Kaye. The only question for me now is- Will Bush, Blair, Howard,etc BOL in Iraq really work? Well they have met all self-imposed targets to date, despite a nasty surprise at the state of Iraqi infrastructure and the best efforts of flys to the flypaper of Iraq. These flies are not bothering anyone else so far. Great statesmen, hopeless idealists or naive fools? We’ll see how history judges them, after some interesting times.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

err….and simply on the basis of his findings, this could not be argued against.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

‘They lack sufficient humility to consider that they may be wrong, or even to consider that they may not be entirely right.’

(Janice, Yellow started it and now you. Sorry Mark but you have the delete power … here I go off topic and tangental.)

I think the partisans do it for fun. It’s a word game. At worst it is a self-indulgence in a hackneyed point of view that comes complete with sympathetic peer group. The partisan fanatics around here are pretty bright, I would have thought they’d be able to muster up the humility to make room for alternative views. I think they don’t give ground in the interests of self-indulgence and a good old verbal ding dong.
It is pretty safe forum here in the blogosphere: no fists to run into and no jobs to lose.

trackback
2022 years ago

Midnight Rambling On The Blogosphere

Mark Barnisch argued last night that conservative foreign policy critiques published in the United States would be met with hostility in the Ozblogosphere if given a generous press here.