Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 16:32 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 16:32 | SYDNEY

Good stuff from Sheridan (mostly)


Sam Roggeveen


5 November 2008 11:38

Greg Sheridan's cover article on Prime Minister Rudd's Asia policy for the November issue of the Australian Literary Review is definitely worth your time. I'll say why in a moment, but first, I want to get one whinge out of the way: the massive chip Sheridan has on his shoulder regarding foreign policy 'commentators'. It's a consistent theme in his writing, implying that only Sheridan himself is brave and smart enough to stand up against a stultifying orthodoxy.

I counted four critical references to these commentators in the essay, one reference to the 'international relations orthodoxy', and then this extraordinary spray:

There is a wearying, bland sameness about most international relations writing, which is one reason it has so little impact on policy-makers. It is like a toy train running on a self-enclosed, circular track, each carriage carrying a load of cliches, neither influencing, nor much influenced by, the real world. Every so often something blows up the tracks and while repairs are carried out a new load of cliches is taken on board. A good example of the genre is Liberal senator Russell Trood's Lowy Institute paper, The Emerging Global Order, reviewed in these pages last month.

In a perfect expression of the international relations orthodoxy, Trood writes, in part: "Australia will need to make more critically informed judgments about the benefits and opportunities of being allied to a self-absorbed great power.''

I'm not trying to defend Trood here — truth is, I haven't read his paper. But I simply cannot see how the views expressed in that single quote represent any kind of orthodoxy. The small community of international relations scholars and commentators in Australia would probably agree on the broad proposition that Australia should be engaged in the world rather than be some kind of hermit kingdom. But beyond that, where is the orthodoxy, exactly? Sheridan implies that it relates to anti-Americanism, but if anything, I would judge that a solid majority of Australian foreign policy commentators favour the US alliance.

With that out of the way, I do want to commend Sheridan for a serious and thoughtful contribution to the debate. The evidence he mounts should cast significant doubt on the early picture of Rudd as a Panda hugger. Not that Sheridan paints Rudd as a China sceptic, mind you. It's just that the picture is far more complex than the panda hugger imagery allows. Sheridan also does a good job questioning the notion of US decline in the region, and argues persuasively that the US has in fact strengthened its strategic position in Asia in the last eight years.

One final note of disagreement: Sheridan says Rudd is 'running the most personal foreign policy since at least Gough Whitlam'. Graeme Dobell, who has recently surveyed Alexander Downer's foreign policy legacy (including his relationship with John Howard), might dispute that claim. Then again, perhaps Graeme is just captive to the orthodoxy.