What a wonderful sensation it must be to don the regal clothing of the British Empire and play act as Victorian imperialists before the mirror of history.
Despite the opportunities to learn or re-learn lessons about the political limits of military power from the disastrous War in Iraq many of Washington’s neo-conservatives remain captives of a distinctly Churchillian imperial fantasy of great power obligations to wage war against the savages who dare oppose the advance of Western Civilisation.
As yet the neo-conservatives haven’t taken to wearing pith helmets, establishing hill stations or hunting tigers from atop elephants, but there will always be time for that later. For the time being they have an empire to run and it is proving more daunting than they imagined.
The sorts of people in Washington who imagine themselves spiritual heirs of a re-born British Empire know enough history to understand that the real item depended not just on the Royal Navy but also on colonial levies, both native and settler. So how could they fail to worry about Australia’s contributions to the enterprise?
The possibility of turnover in party government in Australia in 2007 is the subject of Max Boot’s latest column in The Weekly Standard, the leading neoconservative organ in the US (June 4, 2007. Vol. 12, Issue 36). Arch-imperialist Boot thinks Kevin Rudd’s Labor Party will emerge victorious in 2007 against John Howard’s Liberal and National Coalition, but offers a soothing assessment of the Rudd as replacement.
This neo-conservative’s political predictions should be listened to with care. After all, four years ago in an article in The Weekly Standard he insisted that the United States would not need a force of 200,000 troops to occupy Iraq and that a permanent force of 60,000 to 75,000 would be sufficient (May 5, 2003. Vol. 8, Issue 33). In that same article he also recommended against turning Iraq over to the United Nations lest the Iraqis wonder, “what they had truly gained from their liberation”. Indeed.
Still, current public opinion polls do appear positive for the Labor Party and this particular prediction seems reasonable ("Support for ALP Still High in Australia”, Angus Reid, May 28, 2007).
So how does Boot explain Rudd? Apparently, Rudd and his party are going to win because Australian voters don’t know what is good for them. So successful has been John Howard that, “his success is his downfall”. They don’t realise how good they have had it under Howard. If Australian voters are ready for change, why then, Rudd is an acceptable change from the neo-conservative perspective.
“He is seen as a safe pair of hands to continue steering Australia ahead,” comments Boot, “a Tony Blair to Howard’s Margaret Thatcher”. What luck! Australian voters should be delighted to learn that their probable choice in the 2007 election has been pre-approved by the ideological powers that be in Washington.
Of course the important datum for Boot is not that Australian voters might prefer the policies and management of Rudd and the Labor Party, but that assurances have been given that Australian military units will continue to be deployed in some capacity as part of the occupation of Iraq.
Although the coalition of the willing was never much of a coalition, the US occupation of Iraq cannot afford to lose a single unit from other countries. Complete Australian military withdrawal from Iraq would look bad for the second Bush administration.
So exactly what is America’s hold over Australia? “[M]ost folks Down Under, Labor or Liberal, know that, in the final analysis, their survival and safety rest with their American mates,” explains Boot. “Just as America came to the rescue in 1942, with Douglas MacArthur taking charge when Japanese invasion seemed imminent, so Australians count on America to bail them out of any future crisis.”
Reading that passage I have to wonder which of the amazing powers Boot possesses that is the most impressive? Is it that Boot is capable of reading the minds of 21 million Australians? Or is it that Boot can rewrite history so that this time around the US wages World War II in the Pacific to save Australia rather than to serve its own national interests? Or is it that Boot can mimic an Australian accent in print by simply employing the word “mate”? The choice is difficult but I am tempted to go with that third option.
What Boot fails to mention is that roughly one year after Australians go to polls so too will Americans. Although a great deal may change between now and November 7, 2008, a reasonable expectation is that the next US president will be a Democrat rather than a Republican.
In that event the influence of the neo-conservatives over US foreign policy can be confidently predicted to fade. Then we all can get on with the job of cleaning up the astonishing mess left from indulging in imperialist fantasies.