May 31, 2007


Don't expect inconvenient loyalty from our great friend (Owen Harries, 6/01/07, Quarterly Essay)

THE three great struggles of the 20th century were conflicts concerning the central balance of the international system. In each case dissatisfied revisionist powers were concerned to challenge the existing balance, and in the case of World War II and the Cold War those revisionist powers had totalitarian values and goals that were inimical to those held by Australians.

In each of the three cases, but especially in the last two, victory for the revisionists would have had profound adverse significance for Australia, whether we were immediately and directly attacked or not. We would have been left a weak liberal-democratic country in an overwhelmingly hostile and menacing international environment. In those circumstances, it made perfectly good sense for Australia to support Britain and the US, the main upholders of the existing central balance, in these conflicts.

Does this then mean that the Howard Government has also been right in its support for the US in Iraq? No, it does not. This for two reasons. First, the Islamist terrorists do not threaten the central balance in the way that Nazi Germany or the Stalinist Soviet Union did, and attempts to pretend that they do are ludicrous. Second, under George W. Bush a hegemonic US went out of its way to emphasise that its overriding concern was no longer to uphold a status quo but to alter the international system profoundly, and by force if necessary. It does not seem to me that this would serve the interest of Australia, a quintessentially satisfied, status quo country.

While Mr. Harries is certainly correct that Islamicism is not an existential threat to Australia, his formulation requires one of two ludicrosities of its own: either the values and goals of the Islamicistsa are consistent with those of Australia or else Nazism and Communism had to have been existential threats to Australia. The fact of the matter is that Nazism and Communism threatened Europeans peoples, with whom Australians, like Mr. Harries, felt some residual kinship. On the other hand, Islamicism only threatens Muslims, predominantly in Asia and Africa. You can see why a self-satisfied Australian wouldn't care about such others, but it would be a betrayal of Australia's historic values to be isolationist just because the nation isn't at stake.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 31, 2007 12:39 PM

Australians, like European's and Americans, live in open societies. Open doors are always susceptible to letting in the vermin. Screwballs of all types: communists, Islamists, whatever. Islamic countries simply throw the out, put 'em in gaol or hang 'em. Hard to compete with that.

Posted by: hugh at May 31, 2007 4:06 PM

its overriding concern was no longer to uphold a status quo

status quo: a few Islamists killed a couple of thousands of Americans - just a morning's work

status quo: a few Islamists killed a couple of hundreds of Aussies in Bali - just a couple of hours' work

status quo: Saddam paid $20,000 to each homicidal maniac's family to kill some Jews in Israel

status quo: only have to wait a couple of years for Hitler to settle down in Paris, and may be in London. Whatever situation comes your way, once you get used to it, it becomes the status quo.

status quo: Like clock work, the US bombs a couple of Islamist's states every couple of years. Just get used to it, it'll be the next status quo.

Posted by: ic at May 31, 2007 5:05 PM

None of it affected the status quo in the two countries one bit though. The Islamicists are a nuisance to us, not athreat. We're at war for the sake of others.

Posted by: oj at May 31, 2007 6:59 PM

On the other hand, Islamicism only threatens Muslims, predominantly in Asia and Africa.

Well, that's obviously wrong, as the large numbers of Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. killed by Islamicists in recent years proves.

Posted by: PapayaSF at May 31, 2007 8:22 PM

The few killings aren't the danger.

Posted by: oj at May 31, 2007 8:48 PM

Precisely and that's not a danger to the Anglosphere, though it is to Europe.

Posted by: oj at June 1, 2007 9:49 AM

When the killings get into five figures, I don't think of that as "a few." You sure can sound like one of those Rationalists/Realists when it suits you, though.

Posted by: PapayaSF at June 1, 2007 9:29 PM

five figures is one battle in a real war. It's trivial across the globe over decades.

Posted by: oj at June 2, 2007 12:21 AM