Diary of a Foreign Minister
Too often, Bob Carr’s diary sounds like an episode of Grumpy Old Ministers.
An 18-month stint as foreign minister in the doomed Rudd-Gillard-Rudd federal Labor government, the globe-trotting Carr gripes about the dead prose of his departmental talking points, the lifeless food and draining jetlag of plane travel, the awfulness of hotels, Canberra (“the City of the Dead”) and contracting viruses from shaking hands all day on the campaign trail “without a hand sanitiser in the car ― damn!”
His Diary of a Foreign Minister often doesn’t reach these paltry heights, however, for we see a failure. Not of intelligence, for Carr is smart and cultured ― literature, opera, Shakespeare ― once you get the gym bore off-topic but rather it is a failure of politics ― the politics of an ALP Right leader and comfortable member of the capitalist foreign policy club.
The powerful are his milieu, the “glittering careerists” (“nothing wrong with that”) who head the “international architecture” of the UN, G20, IMF, EU, NATO. He is on first name terms with Henry Kissinger (“my favourite world-historical figure”) and Hillary Clinton (“any time with Hillary is pure champagne”).
He is in his element “speed-dating” UN diplomats to garner votes for Australia’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.
This vote-charming motive is also at play in wooing the Arab bloc when he advocates not isolating Australia in the UN on Arab-Israeli issues.
“We would blow our support from all those Arab states, and that would cost us the Security Council election”, he argues forcefully with Gillard, who is receptive to the “Israel lobby” ― the Labor-funding, Zionist, Melbourne business interests. He despairs that the Labor government is “subcontracting our foreign policy to party donors”.
Although there is an element of genuine conviction in his opposition to an “apartheid” Israeli state expanding its settlements on Palestinian land, such a display of principle is rare. Far more common is Carr defending Australia’s “national interests”.
If this means selling Tibet down the river (so as not to antagonise our region’s strongest power and biggest economy), or Sri Lanka’s Tamils or Indonesia’s West Papuans (we need their help on refugees), so be it.
“I’m running a foreign policy for Australia, not for Human Rights Watch or the Tamil National Alliance”, he declares petulantly.
The nations’ peoples, more generally, don’t get much of a look in, except as victims needing aid, certainly not as political actors.
Nor do dissidents like Julian Assange, for whom Carr has an enmity that is both personal and political. No doubt this is because the information rebel has violated the precious secrecy of the diplomatic cables to which Carr is addicted.
On domestic politics, Carr is uninspiring. If he were prime minister, he would “neutralise” the business sector ― no mining taxes or “class war” rhetoric. He would have proudly been a “Liberal in Labor clothing”.
Although he shares the belated insight with Rudd that Murdoch, the heads of Rio-Tinto, BHP and the banks “run the country”, the ALP, moribund from top to bottom, that Carr documents will not be the one to do something about it.