Sunday, October 17, 2004

More on Howard's victory in Australia

Mark Steyn has a piece in the Austrialian about Howard.

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 - "Nous sommes tous Americains" – 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 - that an attack on one

member was an attack on all - but the difference was that the Prime Minister

meant it and the French and Belgians didn't. "

You know, I think this Howard guy is alright!