The Howard Paradox: Australian diplomacy in Asia 1996–2006
ABC Books, $27.95 pb, 264 pp
Canberra’s week of the two presidents – October 2003 – brought the unprecedented spectacle of George W. Bush and China’s President Hu Jintau speaking just a day apart to joint sittings of the Australian parliament. The coincidence elegantly dramatised the central questions for Australian foreign policy: how we manage our relationships with our superpower ally, how we live with our neighbours in Asia, and how we get the balance right between them. This has been the essential challenge for every Australian government since World War II. In his important new book, The Howard Paradox, Michael Wesley focuses on one side of that balance – relations with Asia – and on the Howard government.
One of the consequences of the length and stability of John Howard’s eleven-year tenure as prime minister is that we have remarkably few insider accounts of Cabinet-level decision making. Add to this Howard’s general reluctance to articulate his policies in broad, formal terms, and the result is a literature on recent Australian foreign policy that has been thin and often polemical. It takes some effort to find out what has been happening; to peer through the smokescreen of rhetoric that billows around the interested onlooker from all sides. Wesley’s background as both an academic and a practitioner gives him valuable insight into the process and helps tether his scholarly insights to the messy contingencies of real-life policy making.