1 December 2003

No Way to Make Friends

There is a lack of empathy emanating from Washington. After the Bali bombings, which were Australia's 9/11, the administration did not bother to send a high-level envoy to a steadfast ally for condolences. Australians had to make do with a videotape of George Bush. Even last week, Bush could surely have arranged to meet in Baghdad with a few troops from allied countries who are also fighting and dying in Iraq.

What is most dismaying about this state of affairs is that for the last 50 years the United States has skillfully merged its own agenda with the agendas of others, creating a sense of shared interests and values. When Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy waged the cold war, they also presented the world with a constructive agenda dealing with trade, poverty and health. They fought communism with one hand and offered hope with the other. We have fallen far from that model if the head of the Chinese Communist Party is seen as presenting the world with a more progressive agenda than the president of the world's leading democracy.

Bush distinguished himself in other ways. His address to parliament is the first in which a foreign chief of state ever effectively gave a political endorsement to an Australian political leader. It is certainly the first in which he greeted the governor-general although that dignitary was not present or in which he got the president of the Senate's title wrong.

Bungled protocol and partisanship is not going to end Australia's friendship with the US, but it certainly speaks of a lack of empathy driven by a blatant attitude of 'because I can'.

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