no stains on shorty

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    Mark Steyn: The short man stands tall


    "MICHAEL" e-mailed the other day to pre-empt any gloating on the election results: "Iraq was barely mentioned as a campaign issue," he informed me.
    "Fear of rising interest rates was the clincher for the conservatives. Please don't claim that this means Australians buy into this 'made in Hollywood' oil war."

    Whatever gets you through the night, baby. No Blood For Interest Rates. Makes sense to me, though it's not quite the impression one would have gained from reading excitable Alan Ramsey in The Sydney Morning Herald Ð ". . . manipulated this country into war... George Bush's toady . . . Thank you and goodnight, John Howard."

    Thank you and goodnight, Alan Ramsey Ð and one mo' time, John Howard! If the Coalition had lost, I don't think "Michael" would be so eager to suggest the election had been all about interest rates. As it was, the US and British press could barely disguise their befuddlement at the way the first of the Anglosphere's three musketeers to face the electorate had survived being run through by Ramsey and a thousand others and was dancing round the parapet crying, "All for one and one for all!"

    Well, not exactly dancing, but raising his arms for that endearingly stiff victory gesture Howard does, as if he's put his back out joining in the "conga line of suckholes" (in Mark Latham's contribution to thoughtful political debate). There were no conga lines in the world's newsrooms. Front-page splashes ("Angry Oz Turns On Bush Toady") were hastily shuffled to page 37 section D ("Minor Regional Figure Of No Consequence Ekes Out Victory In Election On Obscure Domestic Issues Like Interest Rates With No Wider Significance, Honest, Take Our Word For It").

    Oh, well. For whatever reason, I'm glad the great man triumphed. By the standards of most non-Australian columnists, I'm an in-depth expert on Australian affairs.

    That's to say in September 2001 I was vaguely aware that Wossname, the fellow who patted the Queen's bum in mid-walkabout and got plastered all over the Fleet Street tabs as the "Lizard of Oz", was no longer Prime Minister, and that Thingummy, the new bloke, had taken over.

    But it wasn't until 9/11 that I Ð and many others around the world Ð came to appreciate just how good the new bloke was. Rhetorically speaking, Howard is my favourite of the Anglosphere warriors. Tony Blair oscillates between being excessively messianic and vocally anguished in a rather camp way. George W. Bush staggers around like a groggy prizefighter stumbling through the same lines over and over ("Saddam Hussein is a dictator. He gassed his own people. He's a dangerous man. He gassed his own people. He's a dictator", repeat for 15 months, then invade).

    But Howard, for a man routinely described as having no charisma, manages to hit just the right tone. The French got all the attention in the days after September 11 with that Le Monde headline Ð "Nous sommes tous Americains" Ð but even at the time I preferred Howard's take: "There's no point in a situation like this being an 80 per cent ally."

    You can take that one to the bank. The "we are all Americans" stuff turned out to be not quite as straightforward as at first glance, and masked a ton of nuance, evasion, sly Yank-bashing and traditional Gallic duplicitousness as ripe as an old camembert wrapped in Dominique de Villepin's poetry. Even when they were touting that headline, the French were never more than 34 per cent allies.

    By comparison, that ABC radio interview three years ago where Howard did the 80 per cent riff is brimming with great material. I especially liked this bit: "I'm sure the Americans will behave in a targeted yet lethal fashion."

    Lovely line. If this war really were made in Hollywood, that would be the poster tag: Targeted yet lethal. And it works better in Howard's blunt, commonsensical voice than it would in Blair's strangulated reading-the-lesson-at-Princess-Di's-memorial vowels or Bush's Euro-infuriating Texan drawl.

    Charisma is a very over-valued commodity, at least in the political sphere. By comparison with his dull, bald squaresville adversary, Latham was said to be "young" and "charismatic", neither of these adjectives meaning in politics quite what, say, your average Hollywood agent would understand by the terms. And, because everything else about Latham's party was old and stale, his alleged youth and charisma availed him nought. In serious times, personality ungrounded in policy is useless. Whereas rock-solid policy detached from shallow personality is oddly reassuring.

    That's the meaning of "no point in being an 80 per cent ally". Howard isn't claiming that Australia has to do everything America does, but he is saying that real alliances are primal and instinctive. After 9/11, Howard invoked the relevant clause in the ANZUS Treaty as the Continentals did in the NATO Treaty Ð that an attack on one member was an attack on all Ð but the difference was that the Prime Minister meant it and the French and Belgians didn't.

    Not that anyone would argue that Howard's support of Bush is anything to do with ANZUS. America is a member of all kinds of organisations and attends any number of formal summits where everyone professes to be the best of pals, and isn't.

    The Canadian Prime Minister (whose name escapes me) was in Washington a while back and said that, as the UN wasn't working too well at the moment, we needed to have regular meetings of the G20 where the leaders of the world's 20 top nations could thrash out the planet's problems.

    Terrible idea. First thing you know, there'd be a secretariat and a bureaucracy and draft proposals and summit agendas and compromise language and watered-down negotiations and it would be as useless as all the other international gabfests where 23 per cent allies are trying to agree a fake statement pretending they're 100 per cent guys.

    With John Howard, you don't need that: just get him on the phone.

    In the run-up to the Iraq war, he didn't bother flying in to Camp David for the Bush-Blair photo-op or to the Azores for the Anglo-American-Spanish-Portuguese one. He could have gone, but he didn't feel he had to. After all, he's got a real alliance, not like the Franco-American "alliance", which exists only at summits and ends as soon as Bush and Chirac have got on their respective planes.

    The result is that, even though he's hardly ever in the souvenir photo line-up, Howard's a more consequential figure in world affairs these days than Chirac. Indeed, he's a transformative figure. I know this, because my nation has been on the other end of the transformation. I'm Canadian and, for those who remember when the Royal Canadian Navy was once the third largest surface fleet in the world, it's sobering to hear Australia spoken of as the third pillar of the Anglosphere.

    Under Howard, Australia is a player while Canada is a global irrelevance. Given geography and the Islamists' ambitions in Indonesia and South Asia, that might be true whoever was in power. But, if this is simply a reflection of regional realities, Howard expresses them better than anyone else.

    That's inherent charisma: the short man who stands tall on the world stage, the bloke with failing eyesight who sees the most important question of the age very clearly, the baldie who has Ramsey tearing his hair out. As Margaret Thatcher said after the first engagement of the Falklands War, rejoice, rejoice! As Bush said . . . well, actually he had been too cautious and considerate to say anything about Howard in the month leading up to the election. But the good news is that since the election result, it's been safe for Bush to mention him again.

    © The Australian
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