29 February 2008

Greg Sheridan: bad for Australia

Greg Sheridan's analysis of the world in which we live is poor. Readers of The Australian are poorly served in understanding the United States, and Australia's relationship with it, because of this poor analysis.

He presents his opinions as "respectable" because he interviews someone with an impressive-sounding title, prints what they say as fact or otherwise laudable, then when Greg parrots their own opinions back to them, that's "respectable".

This piece on the possibility that Barack Obama might become US President plumbed new depths in silliness and showed that - far from being a shrewd observer of the world beyond our shores - Sheridan is some sort of gimp who's trussed up in the abandoned building of neoconservatism.
The case for Obama rests on the fact that greater US power and prestige directly benefits Australia.

The "greater US prestige and power" Sheridan refers to is the notion that after Bush, the only way is up. They're trapped in a silly mindset which has led to a range of silly foreign policy positions, from the sheer absence of any adequate response to post-Castro Cuba (an inevitability for 49 years), the absence of any rethinking of Iraq now that so much has changed. Obama promises a new and fresh way of looking at these and other issues, and these inspire hope.

That, and the fact that "the case for Obama" will be made by millions of Americans who do not give Australia a second thought.
Obama’s soaring rhetoric seems to serve no purpose beyond itself.

This doesn't explain why he is the frontrunner to become the next President. This criticism was valid when made against other candidates, like Mitt Romney or Joe Biden, who have since fallen by the wayside.

The same criticism may be made of JFK, or George W Bush in 2000 (except for the "soaring" bit).

That explanation is Sheridan's job. His failure is not some inadvertent slip, it is endemic.
This is bad for Australia in four ways. It has led Obama into protectionism, he campaigns against Clinton because her husband passed the North American Free Trade Agreement. Second, the Left of the Democratic Party has no interest in Asia and can barely find it on a map.

Most important, Obama steadily increases the stridency of his opposition to US troops in Iraq.

First, Greg can't even count to four. Second, his assertions about Obama and Asia are directly refuted by this, a striking piece of intelligent thinking that might not come off - but wouldn't it be great if ...

The fact that a rival publication gazumped Greg is no excuse for him ignoring it. In fact, it's a dereliction of duty on Sheridan's part.
Members of the Bush administration are worried that the Democratic primary has gone on so long.

So what? They would, wouldn't they. This sentence shows that Greg Sheridan is not smart enough to do his own stories but has to have some fathead Yank with too little to do in a government job spoon-feed Greg his stories.
This has resulted in both Obama and Clinton appealing only to the Democratic base on the Left, and not yet tracking back to the centre.

This is what happens in American politics: Democrats track to the left and Republicans to the right until their respective conventions, whereupon they track to the centre as far as they credibly can until polling day. If I was a foreign policy expert, I'd point this out to my readers rather than leave it hanging there, giving clowns from the Bush Administration credit they don't deserve.
Iraq has faded as an issue because the US strategy there is now working. There is a real chance the US could prevail in Iraq ... But Obama, playing not least for the Hollywood Bush haters, has left little room to manoeuvre as president on Iraq.

The "Hollywood Bush haters" aren't much of a constituency, as Al Gore and John Kerry found to their cost. What Obama has done is transcend the frame of the Iraq debate; that takes skill and courage, and Sheridan should at least describe these qualities for readers, however little he shares them.
Obama is all over the place on foreign policy. He has threatened to bomb Pakistan to kill terrorists (imagine if Bush or McCain had said such a thing) ...

Yes, imagine. It would be an admission that Bush's policy of treating Musharraf with kid gloves has failed, which it has. Fuck them, a few nasty little madrassahs go up in smoke, and no harm done.
... but also to journey to Tehran to fix a grand bargain with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Not ruling out meeting the guy doesn't constitute "a grand bargain", any more than Nixon meeting Mao constituted a defection.
Finally, the Left of the Democratic Party cares least for the military and for alliances.

What about all those "Democrat wars" in American history, and their pleadings about the UN and Bush's running roughshod over traditional alliances? I have trouble forgiving Sheridan's ignorance of the field he claims to cover, but I won't forgive dishonesty on that scale.
But the chief way Washington conceives of Australia is as an ally, and the chief US thinkers about us are the military.

That free trade deal was a waste of time then!
In my view the best candidate from Australia’s point of view is McCain ... Because he has been such a fierce critic of the way the Bush administration initially mismanaged Iraq, and the war on terror more generally, he can plausibly represent significant brand change from Bush, while still being from the same party. Though he cannot compete with Obama in the celebrity stakes, he has a sincerity which many people internationally might well respond to.

McCain has moderated his opposition to Bush to the point where their policies are identical. Even those who despise Bush agree that he's sincere. Sincerely perpetuating the mistakes of Bush-Cheney would be appalling for America and those who admire it still.
One reason McCain would be good for Australia is that he would stay strong in Iraq. He would not let the Middle East spin out of control.

The chief criticism of US policy in Iraq is that the more you continue current policies (or, as Sheridan puts it in his insecure way, "stays strong"), the more it spins out of control. This has been a long-standing criticism, backed p with much evidence over many years. Greg Sheridan betrays himself, his employers and his readers by whistling past that graveyard.
So why do I think an Obama ascendancy could cause war in the Middle East? It’s a simple calculation ... Many Israeli leaders say that a nuclear armed Iran represents an existential threat to Israel. If they really believe this, they have no alternative but to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. If they believe McCain will win, they will have faith that the Americans, one way or another, will try to handle the Iranians. If they believe Obama will win, they not only believe he definitely won’t handle Iran effectively, but he might even stop them from doing so.

It's not a "calculation" when you're spooked by unnamed Israelis.
If Bush believes Iran will go nuclear, he might have faith that McCain could handle it. He will have absolutely no faith that Obama would handle it.

This is the guy who sat back and did bugger-all when North Korea and Pakistan went nuclear. Who cares what he thinks?
The odds are against a US strike on Iran under any circumstances, and I would say the odds are even against an Israeli strike. But either or both are much more likely if it looks like Obama will win.

Sounds like they're inevitable no matter what happens. And aren't those National Intelligence Estimates a load of rubbish! Wish you'd told us that six years ago, Greg.

At a time of political change at home, and far-reaching change abroad, this is no time to have Greg Sheridan at The Australian.


  1. Let's explode Sheridan's argument.

    As someone said on some other blog a couple of days ago: "What will be the middle east's opinion of the USA when they turn on the TV to watch the new president and find a black man who attended a majority muslim primary school in Indonesia staring back at them?"

    I think it answers itself really, and we can see Sheridan's opinion for the tripe it is.

  2. Yes, let's. Well done! He's becoming the Dennis Shanahan of international politics.