Andrew West is an ABC Radio National presenter, a former Sydney Morning Herald journalist, and author of Bob Carr: A Self-Made Man.
In part 1 of this essay, I said that Bob Carr always had a reflexive commitment to Australia's alliance with the US, but that if he saw himself as anything, it was as an internationalist social democrat.
For most of his time leading NSW Labor – seven years in Opposition, 10 years as premier – Bob Carr kept a photograph of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on his desk. Throughout the 1970s, his political role models were the West German social democrats Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt, who both sought some form of detente with the East. Carr admired France's Socialist president Francois Mitterand; he was sceptical of Mitterand's early nationalisation program but enamoured of the way he had led the Socialists to displace the Communists as the party of the Left.
In 1992, Carr attended the Democratic national convention, this time not as a star-struck twenty-something but as his party's leader. He was an enthusiast for Bill Clinton, not so much because Clinton was a pro-Wall St Democrat but because he was a progressive who could win back middle America from the Republicans. (Clinton's Wall St sympathies ultimately helped discredit his presidency. In 1999, he supported the disastrous banking deregulation.)
Despite his friendship with Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, Carr remains a tribal Labor/Democrat man. In recent years, he could scarcely contain his loathing of George W Bush. On his Thoughtlines blog in September 2010, he said of Bush: 'Next to Woodrow Wilson, he was the worst president in American history'. For good measure, he added: 'By any test, his is a very closed mind.'
Carr called Britain's Conservative leader David Cameron the least impressive prime minister since Henry Campbell-Bannerman – a comparison deeply unfair to Campbell-Bannerman, who led reforms in workers' rights, support for the sick, and children's welfare.
Since becoming foreign minister last year, Carr has quieted his partisan sentiments. He declined to state, at least publicly, his desire for Barack Obama's re-election last year. (Carr's critics ought to remember that in 2004, John Howard thought nothing of breaking the convention that prime ministers should stay out of the domestic politics of other nations, advocating publicly the re-election of George W Bush.)
Given that he has been in the job for barely 18 months, it's hard to make a fair assessment. But two policy areas, both involving the Middle East, warrant comment.
The first concerns Israel. The Australian Jewish News, several Jewish communal leaders, and the Murdoch press have been frothing – to put it mildly – about Carr's position on a Palestinian state. In late 2012, he was one of those ministers who persuaded Julia Gillard to abstain on a motion at the UN that afforded very limited recognition of Palestinian statehood. Gillard wanted to vote against the motion.
It's instructive to remember that Carr was a founding member of Labor Friends of Israel. He remains a strong supporter of the two-state solution, with Israel existing within secure borders. His position is pretty much that of the Israeli Labour Party under Yitzhak Rabin.
He believes that building more Jewish settlements on the Palestinian side of the Green Line – and increasing the population of existing settlements – will make a future Palestinian state unviable. And that is arguably the greatest threat to Israel's security. Meanwhile, Israeli minister Avigdor Lieberman wants to redraw the country's borders to reduce its Arab population and create a more 'homogenous' state. His colleague, Naftali Bennett, urges the formal annexation of most of the West Bank and insists there will never be a Palestinian state between Jordan and the Mediterranean. It is not Carr who has changed but the politics of Israel.
The second policy area is the looming western intervention in Syria. Carr helped take Australia into the Friends of Syria, a coalition that demands, among other things, the end of the Assad regime. In the past few days, he has demanded Assad 'pay a price' for what looks increasingly like his decision to use chemical weapons against his people.
But Carr also opposed the Iraq War, recognising the instability it would wreak on the region. Just as the war empowered Shia politicians and clerics who are clients of Iran, a Western intervention in Syria has the potential to empower Sunni extremists funded by the Gulf states.
Of course, with opinion polls indicating defeat for the Rudd Government, Carr will not have the chance to see through any action on Syria. Carr is running for re-election to the Senate and last year insisted he would become like 'one of those ancient US senators who just stay on there into their nineties'.
Personally, I think that's a fine idea – a genuine elder statesman, continuing a lifetime's engagement with the world of ideas in the public sphere...and providing some adult supervision to the parliamentary Labor Party.
Photo by Flickr user CSIS: Center for Strategic and International Studies.