The assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh

Without doubt, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith was acting in Australia’s national interest when he decided to expel an Israeli representative from the Mossad from Australia. He was, of course, acting on the outcomes of Australian intelligence service investigations into the use of Australian passports in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. The expulsion is hardly, in itself, an earth-shattering action. Australia can not be seen to simply allow foreign administrations to openly corrupt the integrity of the Australian passport as an internationally reliable identity document. Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor has already played down the action, which can only reasonably be regarded as level-headed and just.

Whilst Israel itself is playing down the action, of course, local representatives from the Israel lobby are mercilessly playing it up. It is as if Stephen Smith announced he was putting a price on the head of Benjamin Netanyahu. Federal Labor’s member for Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby, announced today that he personally condemned his government’s action. Greg Sheridan pronounced the action “very poor” and “very feeble”, labelling it a “bad mistake” and “an overreaction”. John-Michael Howson, a Melbourne entertainment identity who extreme and unbalanced attitude towards Islam has already been highlighted by Media Watch, was quick to announce his disgust with the action. Shadow Foreign Minister Julie Bishop put her foot in it this afternoon by employing the diplomatically ingenious argument that everyone forges passports anyway, including the Australian Government. Bishop was forced to embarrassedly walk away from her comments this evening.

Fundamentally, this is really very, very simple. What is at stake is the integrity of the document that is used to represent Australian citizens to the world. Australia can not be seen to tolerate the manipulation of the document and its use for dubious ends.

If the folks mentioned above checked their biases at the door when considering this issue, I am certain they would reach the same conclusion. How would Danby, Howson, Sheridan and Bishop react if, say, it was reasonably believed by ASIO that the Iranian Government had used and manipulated Australian passports in a hit on a Zionist leader? Would they have a different opinion?

Or do they not care about what foreign governments do with our passports?

Mumbai ablaze

The terrible events that have unfolded in Mumbai over the past forty-eight hours serve as a reminder to us all that people dedicated to mindless acts of terror can strike potentially anywhere, at any time. My thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones, and those whose lives have been irrevocably interrupted by the fools responsible.

Despite its proximity to Pakistan and Afghanistan, India has been in recent years regarded as a generally safe place for foreigners to visit, somehow a world away from its chaos-strewn neighbours. Cricket tours have proceeded without incident. No doubt many Indian expatriates have travelled back and forth, and home has felt as safe and as familiar as it always has been in the past. How does it feel now – alien, perhaps? Scores of people from Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries have no doubt visited the nation’s proud financial capital in recent years. What do these people feel now, seeing the streets they walked and the landmarks they gaped at, mixed in with scenes of chaos and disorder? During my working holiday over the last year, I visited around 15 different countries, and lived the stereotypical tourist lifestyle. Seeing the images of red billowing smoke rising from the famous Taj Hotel, and hearing stories of innocent visitors struggling for their lives amidst the chaos, one could forgive the itinerant traveller for getting the feeling that it could easily have been them. It could easily have been anyone.

It confounds me to read folks like Greg Sheridan in The Australian getting on their political horses already, riding in the afterburn of these neolithic valkyries while the streets are still red with innocent blood. Sheridan namechecks Al’Qaida, that Coca-Cola of terrorist organisations, even though there is no direct link apparent at this stage between Osama’s old mates and the group that has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the Deccan Mujahideen. Sheridan also presumes himself the mouthpiece of the attackers in his column, asserting that the attacks were intended as a message from “Terror Central” to US President Barack Obama. I am not sure which of these misrepresentations or wanton acts of hyperbole is most objectionable, but quite frankly we could do without all of it. Clear heads and a rational response is required, both on the ground in India and Pakistan and from the likes of the United States Government.

Progressophobia and foreign policy

I have to confess I am a bit bewildered by Greg Sheridan’s column in The Australian today and his likening of Kevin Rudd’s foreign policy style to that of former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad. Paul Keating might have publicly expressed his disapproval in relation to Rudd’s Asian union proposal this week, but I hardly think that he would view Australia’s Prime Minister in the same light as he did Mahathir.

The following synopsis contains the gist of Sheridan’s argument:

Kevin Rudd is in danger of turning what should be his greatest strength into a serious weakness. I refer to his weird and increasingly ratty habit of announcing foreign policy initiatives of soaring ambition and utterly amorphous content on the run, half baked, with nodetail and no credible prospect of success.

If you announce twice a week that you’re going to save the world and you manifestly lack the means to give the slightest effect to your pronouncements, the world soon loses interest. The chief casualty is your credibility.

I don’t think anybody is seriously anticipating that Kevin Rudd is single-handedly going to “save the world” by throwing these proposals out there, or is even remotely attempting to. Being an international political superhero is clearly not the intention of the government in being expansive; realistically, the intention of the government is to make hay while the sun shines and try a few things that might actually serve to improve the global political scene and Australia’s corner of it. I have little doubt that some of these proposals will not actually result in meaningful improvements to the current situation that Australia finds itself in. I also have little doubt that some actually will.

In writing this column, methinks Greg Sheridan must be suffering from some form of foreign policy initiative starvation syndrome, no doubt a symptom of the hopelessly uncreative and unadventurous Howard/Downer years. Over its decade in office, the previous administration increasingly lost interest in trying bold new things and trying to “seize the day” in its policy pursuits. Comfy stagnation was rejoiced in by the government and in the mainstream media. A certain thematic routine with respect to foreign relations was established and adhered to, evolving gradually into a wholly uninspiring policy norm.

In trying to play catch-up for the last decade over the past few months, the Rudd Government can hardly be blamed for being expansive and throwing some ideas out there. With respect to foreign affairs, there are certainly a number of norms out there that the previous government established that deserve to be smashed. The progressophobia that Sheridan seems to be lamenting the loss of in his column today is one of them.

How to state the obvious

Greg Sheridan certainly has a breakthrough piece of commentary in The Australian today:

Key Liberal powerbrokers who backed Brendan Nelson as Opposition Leader have switched their allegiance to Malcolm Turnbull.

The shift, combined with a general sense of despair at Dr Nelson’s recent performance, means a leadership spill is likely within months.

Actually, I think that probably happened in the first day or two after Nelson won the leadership. In other breaking news, I’ve just heard on the grapevine that the Howard Government lost the federal election.