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Tony Abbott's Battlelines

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COMMENTS

6 August 2009 11:40

I've been enjoying Opposition frontbencher Tony Abbott's new book, Battlelines, and not just because it makes favourable reference to an essay I wrote ten years ago (although that helps).

So far, the most attractive argument in the book is not in the short foreign policy passage, but the section on multiculturalism. Abbott admits that, in the 1980s, he overestimated the threat multiculturalism posed to Australia's national identity, and he has come to see that he 'underestimated the gravitational pull of the Australian way of life. I was too defensive about Western values that have turned out to have near-universal appeal.'

That's a refreshing note of optimism from the Right about Western civilization, and is in stark contrast to others on the Right who would have us believe that our way of life is at constant threat of extinction. As Abbott says elsewhere, Western culture is globally pervasive.

But that actually makes some of the foreign policies that the Howard Government supported and which Abbott defends in this book harder to understand.

Granted, the 9/11 attacks were a massive psychological shock, and a military response against al Qaeda was more than justified. But it is striking that, with communism defeated, capitalism ascendant and Western cultural norms so globally pervasive, the 'anglosphere' (Abbott's term) reacted to the terrorist threat as if it were under siege. Where did the self-confidence that Abbott felt about Western values go?

The over-estimation of the terrorist threat led to some massive own-goals, and it is striking to see the highly equivocal terms in which Abbott now defends the most obvious one, Iraq. Emphasis mine:

The creation of a more-or-less functioning pluralist democracy in the Middle East would be no inconsiderable achievement and could even justify the immense sacrifices made. If this eventuates, history will be far kinder to George W Bush than his contemporaries have been.

The Australian's Greg Sheridan, in his column on the book, praises Abbott's defence of the Iraq war and urges Liberals to 'not run away from this and other key foreign policy decisions they made that are likely to be vindicated by history.'

Perhaps Abbott isn't running away yet, but he is keeping the exits clear.