21 July 2012

thinking about reshaping public debate in strategic policy

Already the reader is bored by the subject line, blah blah...

But it seems to me and some others that Australia, not least with its excessive entanglement in alliance with the United States, about which I have written previously, faces a difficult future.

We have to change direction.

So I sent these thoughts today to another in discussion about how to bring about such change:


Some reflections….evolving Saturday thoughts. 

The article linked here and from it this comment in particular:

At the end of the day, our populations just don’t really care enough about something that might cause problems in the far future, so they want the politicians to pretend to be doing something as long as it doesnt interfere with business as usual. 

… the puzzling tendency of states and their leaders to act contrary to national interests: why did the Trojans open the door, why did the Aztec' give in to a bunch of Spaniards, why did the Popes spend up and lose half the church, why did the British so rigidly stay with a silly point and lose most of North America, etc.

And then reminded of Robert MacNamara's 1987 book Blundering into Disaster ... MacNamara sternly opposed to 'blundering'.

My view is that 'blundering' is essential to progress: that the event that broke the long-stuck opposing postures of the US and USSR was when Reagan and Gorbachev put out their officials from their talks in Reykjavik in 1986. 

The record may show the talks as failure, but I think this event ended a long stuckness. Such statesmanly blundering to be contrasted with the orderliness of MacNamarian persistence in going down roads without blunder, on the way to disasters. 

So if there is to be a breakthrough in thinking, it seems to to me to have to occur in some breakthrough, albeit prepared for, blundered-into-and-seized-upon manner. As maybe, maybe, sanity in managing life on increasingly wilder Sydney streets could come from reactions to one mad death. Maybe. 

After a day of thought I am not optimistic about brick by brick construction of new vision, the questions are what will be the 'days' and how to seize them. And answers 'can't tell' but have to have contingent thoughts. 
Here are links to my past thoughts on relevant issues:

On Iraq:

… from which the most important point to which I stick is the erosion of ability to think in terms of conflict resolution, conflict avoidance, win-win outcomes. The national politics and the 24 hour conflict-focused media madness are no help. 

We remain, in my view, strategically in early moments of something like a glacial unfolding of WW1, without a clue of how to do other than follow the paths we did then:

Our present situation [I said in 2004] is not just like following or obeying or egging on the United States in Vietnam. This is much more terrible than that. This is indeed a new world war, one which is no better comprehended than was what happened in 1914 then. 
In 1914 and again in 2001, there was a rush to alliances, a taking of sides that polarised and made more enemies and closed avenues for peace making and conflict resolution. 
In 1914 and again in 2001, there was expectation of swift victory — the French in 1914 shut down arms factories to hurry men to the front. Today United States military forces are being unsustainably chewed up at reserve as well as regular level by longer-than-planned war. 
In 1914 and again in 2001, there were flushes of nationalistic fervour and there was castigation of opinion opposed to war policy. Let us remember that Keith Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s dad, his inspiration, achieved greatness by his journalistic campaign that reversed policy and produced withdrawal from Gallipoli. We did not stay the course there. We call on the media to take a stand against closing down the vocabulary of public debate. We reject the idea that you can have a free press if it just follows the drumbeat of the War on Terrorism. 
In 1914 and again in 2001, there was only a war policy, only a bunch of advisors with maps and war plans and notions of taking the war to the enemy. If you only plan for war, war is all you can get. We reject the idea that war is the only option. 
In 1914 and again in 2001, there was no real thought that there were issues to be resolved between the rich and the poor, to resolve disadvantage, to redress the balance between those who consumed most of the world’s resources and dictate terms in world affairs and those who had no such share of resources and who resent being dictated to. We reject the idea that the United States or Australia has a divine right to shape the world. We affirm our readiness to listen to people with different voices from different cultures and to learn from their wisdom. 
In 1914 and over the years that followed, as in 2001 and years that follow it, we see political leaders create a situation where they must remain consistent with already failed strategy. They must chew up more lives, because to do otherwise risks not just their own positions but the whole posture and shape of state power they have built up to reinforce their strategies. So much so, that rivals, like Bob Carr - and even the rock singer - have to speak the same language, have to say yes they will fight the War on Terror, otherwise they themselves fear being political losers because the whole political vocabulary has been distorted by fear and misinformation. We say to ALL political leaders this: we reject the macho thick-skull notion that you can’t change your mind. We will support you in any pursuit of sane new policy directions to other than war.

That bears on the alliance but is wider than the alliance. I expressed this view to [then Australian Foreign Minister Alexander] Downer in 2003

I have become increasingly of the view since that it is in the nature of modern war that it tends, more than anything else - certainly it does not tend to ‘victory’ - to import into the righteous invading countries the problems you seek to eliminate by invading.
You will of course be able to say: “See, I told you terrorism was rising and we had to act.” But at some point you will have to acknowledge some responsibility for that: validating the use of violence to pursue personally defined righteous objectives, then steering the focus of foreign policy to a singularity of security mind-set such as we had in the 1950s.

It seemed such an irony in 2003 that we, armed with self-righteous indignation, went into Iraq to whack them around; shortly thereafter the government launched a ?$20 million advertising campaign against the righteous indignant use of force in domestic violence. 

I can't find statistical trends over past decade in domestic violence. My impression is that all sorts of outrageous behaviour has become more commonplace. It has had official endorsement, the example of state policy.

It is part of the fabric of the times - part of why I think that one has to go deeper to overturn a keenness to lock-step with the US militarily. The vocabulary of strategic debate, put into uniform from 2001 onwards has gone viral; the absorption with security gone ubiquitous. As my Fairfax regional paper editor friend puts it: "We have people here who would write letters to me if they saw a gathering of white youths with bibles in Junction Street, let alone with skateboards, let alone Aborigines." One cannot imagine that in bringing the word 'sustainable' into the vocabulary in the 1987 Our common Future Ms Brundtland would have expected so soon to have it applied to accountancy, gambling and beyond. Same language process. So... what language to put into the populist pot now?

I don't find the word America in Ken Henry's most recent speech on the White Paper
but the American questions must be dealt with in the Asian Century white paper. How do you get traction in response to the White Paper? I assume it will be out before your September speech.

This amazing statement in the 2009 Defence White Paper has to be pulled down:
"The United States will remain the most powerful and influential strategic actor over the period to 2030 - politically, economically and militarily. Its strategic primacy will assist in the maintenance of a stable global strategic environment."
[para 4.14 accessed 14 Mar 2012]

Thoughts of Saturday…. Enough.