Fair Dinkum Leadership

Imagine a young, energetic leader taking over after a long and frustrating stretch of Paleozoic politics. The new leader immediately implements a new Iraq policy and signs the Kyoto protocol on global warming. The new leader promises a more nuanced relationship with China. And, in a startling departure from conventional wisdom on race relations, the new leader makes an official apology to the largest minority in the country for the way the government historically treated it.

You don’t have to wait until January 2009 to see this hopeful scenario unfold. Just look down under.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is Australia’s new, fair dinkum leader. Fair dinkum is Ozzie slang for the genuine article, the real McCoy. After 11 years of misrule by the Liberal Party’s John Howard, who enthusiastically backed the Iraq War and called Barack Obama the presidential choice of al-Qaeda, Australia is showing the United States the way out of the neo-conservative swamps.

Rudd speaks his mind. For instance, he gave a speech in 2006 entitled “John Howard, the Neo-Conservatives, and Policy Failure in Iraq” that blasted Howard’s hypocrisy for “justifying his decision to go to war in Iraq because of the failure of UN sanctions, while the world’s single-biggest sanction-busting operation against Iraq was perpetrated by an Australian company with the full backing of the Howard Government itself.”

Nor has Rudd run away from controversy as prime minister. He has signed Kyoto, announced the withdrawal of Australian troops from Iraq, and issued an official apology to the Aboriginal people for the government’s previous policies of forced assimilation. Speaking to students at Beijing University this month during the Tibet turmoil, Rudd chose his words judiciously. He aspired to be China’s zhengyou, a Chinese term that translates into the “true friend who dares to disagree.” As the only Western leader who can speak Mandarin fluently, Rudd simultaneously demonstrated his deep love of China and his intention to speak his mind frankly to the country’s leadership. Ditto to the dittoheads in Washington: on his recent trip to the United States, Rudd dared to disagree, in a largely friendly way, with the Bush doctrine.

Of course, Rudd is no Sandinista. He’s not about to dismantle Australia’s alliance with the United States. Before he left for Washington, as FPIF contributor Gavan McCormack points out in Asia’s New Axis, “Rudd said that he would honor the regional security commitments entered into by his predecessor, John Howard. These included a Joint Security Agreement with Japan, signed in March 2007. This was post-war Japan’s first security pact with a country other than the United States, and it constitutes a first step toward forming a U.S.-Japan-Australia trilateral security agreement.”

More likely, Rudd will steer a middle course, between the Middle Kingdom and Middle America. “With his knowledge of Mandarin and China, Kevin Rudd is perhaps best positioned to take a middle path, balancing relations with a surging China and traditional ties with the United States and United Kingdom,” writes FPIF contributor Susenjit Guha in Rudd: Up from Down Under. “Such an approach has the potential of rendering Australia indispensable to the very powers that she has looked up to all along.”

He may not be perfect, but Kevin Rudd is a refreshing change from the last seven years of John Howard the Bush Kangaroo. Fair dinkum, mate, I say, and let’s hope that his example is not lost on American voters.

Meeting Time in Washington

Last week, people lined the streets of Washington, DC to watch the Pope’s motorcade pass. England’s Gordon Brown was also in town, sounding much like Kevin Rudd in his praise of alliance with the United States but expressing clear differences of opinion on issues of climate change and global poverty.

Poor Lee Myung Bak. The new South Korean president chose a busy news week for his first summit with President Bush. In their discussions, I hope they had a chance for a quiet tete-a-tete about the dangers of confronting North Korea. “In this chat, the U.S. president should tell the cautionary tale of how his administration did everything it could to repudiate the North Korea policy of its predecessor ― only to end up in the very same position,” I write in What Lee Can Learn from Bush in the Korea Times. “Lee is about to go down the same bumpy road. In his eagerness to distance himself from the nordpolitik of Roh Moo-hyun, the new South Korean president threatens to undo all the hard work of reconciliation and reconstruction of the last decade. Talk about deja-vu!”

Meanwhile, the two leaders pledged undying support for their love child, the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement (FTA). But as FPIF contributors Christine Ahn and GRAIN argues, there’s not a lot to love about the FTA when it comes to food safety standards. Even thought the FTA is not likely to pass this year, it has already, through preliminary agreements, threatened to flood the South Korean market with iffy U.S. products.

“Americans have a common perception that the problem stems from food coming from outside the country – from China, say, or Mexico. Instead, it’s our food that’s the problem,” they write in Food Safety on the Butcher’s Block. “Instead of cleaning up its own act, the American meat industry has shifted responsibility to the consumer – not just in the United States, but also in countries where U.S. meat is exported. The United States is using bilateral trade agreements to arm-twist weaker countries into accepting its food safety standards as a tool to expand the market control of U.S. corporations. South Korea is the latest victim.”

Trouble Comes in Threes

This week, the three musketeers of North America will meet in New Orleans to shout, in unison: all for one and one for all! America’s George W. Bush, Mexico’s Felipe Calderon, and Canada’s Stephen Harper will be talking about NAFTA’s next step, namely the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). The lunatic right is worried about Washington giving up all its sovereignty to form a North American Union. John Birchers need not worry: no such plan is in the making.

But the rest of us still need to be concerned. As FPIF contributors Manuel Perez Rocha and Sarah Anderson explain in Three Amigos Summit, the three leaders are planning to whittle down the remaining regulations that NAFTA hasn’t yet dissolved and facilitate U.S. corporate control over the energy resources to the north and south of us. Perhaps most troubling, they write, “the SPP talks are aimed at expanding the militarized U.S. security perimeter to all of North America, with disturbing implications for civil liberties. The three countries have vowed to join forces against not only external but also ‘internal’ threats, and Mexico and Canada have already agreed to share vast amounts of information with the U.S. government, including the fingerprints of refugees and asylum seekers.”

For a splendid overview of the flaws of these trade deals – and how they fit into the latest wave of globalization – check out FPIF contributor Mark Engler’s new book, How to Rule the World.

Meanwhile, for an analysis of how to get economics right, check out FPIF contributor Sam Pizzigati’s New Deal’s Unsung Japanese Victory for a description of how greater equality in Japan translated into a healthier citizenry.

From Basra to Belarus

Every day Iraq looks more and more like Vietnam. It’s not just the quagmire analogies, the “light at the end of the tunnel” parallels, the Iraqization of the conflict that looks so much like the Vietnamization of the 1970s. As FPIF columnist Conn Hallinan explains in Basra: Echoes of Vietnam, it boils down to the fact that “people don’t like losing control of their country. With the exceptions of the Kurds and Maliki and his allies, Iraqis are overwhelmingly opposed to the occupation. That disconnect between occupied and occupiers was summed up by Luu Doan Huynh, a Vietnamese veteran of the war against the Japanese, the French, and the Americans, and one of the key diplomats in the Vietnam peace talks. ‘The Americans thought that Vietnam was a war,’ he said. ‘We knew that Vietnam was our country.’”

With so many people fighting and dying on behalf of national independence, the case of Belarus seems a trifle odd. Here’s a country that has been considering a reversal of its independence and recreating a union with Russia. But as FPIF contributor Jan Grinberg explains, the Belarusians have largely traded democracy for a more comfortable life under authoritarian leader Aleksandr Lukashenka. “To renounce nationalism and sovereignty and unite with Russia would probably result in a worse life, they would reason,” he writes in The National Future of Belarus. “Moreover, it would be bad in the eyes of the West, the realistic part of the Putin regime, and for their president’s men. Which means that, besides being undesirable, the reunification of Russia and Belarus is unlikely.”