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October 13th 2013 print

James Allan

A fool in the White House, consolation at home

After six years of incompetence and adolescent self-righteousness, Australia finally has a federal government led by an adult. If only the same could be said of the United States.


Fresh from the much needed removal of Australia’s two worst-ever governments we can at last stop asking ourselves that unanswerable question: Was Ms. Gillard’s government the most incompetent, unprincipled and God-awful in Australia’s history, or was it Mr. Rudd’s? It’s impossible not to flip back and forth on this, racked with Hamletesque indecision.


Yet the voters having so decisively spoken, we can put away such diverting queries and bask in the return of a government focused on results, not appearances. If you were seeking examples of when spin was everything, you might recall that preening, self-satisfied 2020 Summit or the imposition of a carbon tax, the world’s highest, that would achieve absolutely nothing in terms of lowering the world’s temperature.

Thankfully, in Prime Minister Abbott, we have a politician who will do what he says, and will focus on the doing, not revel in the mere saying. And make no mistake, this will be a right-of-centre government. It will expand the scope for free speech by repealing at least most of that awful Labor-imposed hate speech law. It will cut government spending and the deficit, and people will believe that it will. It will re-build the military.

It may even tackle the massive and undeniable left-wing bias in the taxpayer-funded ABC, an organization that to this day has never appointed a single right-of-centre host — not one! — to any of its flagship current affairs programs. So much for the 54% of tax-paying Coalition voters. Damn the statutory requirement that the national broadcaster be impartial!

Yet amidst such pleasant reflections on what an Abbott government will bring to Australia a rather worrying thought struck me when I considered the Anglo-American world more widely. It is this: In the just over half-century of my life this is the first time in regard to the things that really matter when the United States of America is to the left of all the other English-speaking, Anglo-developed countries. And I don’t just mean that while Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and now Australia have elected right-of-centre governments, Americans have now twice voted for the most left-wing President in their history.

No, my concern relates not to party politics (I thought Bill Clinton a very good President, whatever his personal peccadilloes), but to where the US seems to be heading with its burgeoning debt and unfunded liabilities, its effete foreign policy, and its forswearing of small government in favour of European-style big government. We have a US national debt that would be upwards of 100% of GDP if  unfunded liabilities such as Social Security were to be counted. (I pass over the budget busting Obamacare in polite silence.) President Obama seems wholly unconcerned about this, making only the odd token gesture in the direction of lowering the annual deficit.

None of our Anglo-Commonwealth Prime Ministers is anywhere near as insouciant. All are doing more to bring spending under control, even that hapless Mr. Cameron in the UK.

obama bowThen there is the fiasco of Mr. Obama’s foreign-policy genuflection to UN and his pretense that, foreign policy-wise, the world is not a dangerous place. Resembling some sort of primary school mock Parliament, his approach has been a disaster. I say that whatever your views on whether to intervene in Syria or not, mine being that we leave both awful parties in the fight well enough alone. Everyone knows the UN Security Council is a dysfunctional institution, one where it is impossible to get a resolution authorising a country to use force because illiberal regimes in Russia and China have their  powers of veto.

President Clinton didn’t get UN permission before bombing Serbia, nor did President Bush before Iraq. Herein lies a big problem for the former junior Senator from Illinois, who established his left-wing credentials and “progressive” bona fides by attacking President George W. Bush over Iraq: It’s mightily tough to understand how Syria differs from Iraq when it comes to sending in the US military.

Sure, today’s Syria is ruthlessly killing its own citizens. But so was Saddam Hussein. Indeed, he was considerably worse on this score. And yes, Syria may have nasty weapons of mass destruction, though no one knows with absolute certainty. But then again, the same strong grounds for suspicion, and the same lack of incontrovertible evidence, also applied to Iraq.

So when President Obama stupidly goes about drawing red lines here and there and makes what is virtually indistinguishable from Bush’s case for armed intervention overseas, well who can take him seriously? Who can expect the world’s tyrants not to chuckle behind his back or even to his face?

Put differently, the present US administration seems more committed to an internationalist, lawyer-led, European-style approach to foreign policy and foreign affairs than Canada’s Mr. Harper, Australia’s Mr. Abbott and even (incredibly) the UK’s Mr. Cameron.

Nothing like that has been true in my lifetime until now. So if the loose money, big spending unusualness of today’s US doesn’t worry you, then its wholly naïve and non-Hobbesian foreign policy should. Here again the US is today’s Anglo-American outlier. And alas, it lies out there not on the small government, go-it-alone-if-needs-be end of the spectrum, as was the former norm, but rather at the other end.

Thank God that Tony Abbott won on September 7. With all this bad news from the US, it is nice to have something to cheer us up.

 

James Allan is Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland. He is on sabbatical in Toronto until Christmas