Monday, 23 April 2012

CARR AND CARLYLE (Spectator leader March 23)

“I don’t pretend to understand the universe,” wrote Thomas Carlyle, the 19th century Scottish satirist, “it’s a great deal bigger than I am… people ought to be modester.” It’s advice that, perhaps, our new Foreign Minister might care to think about.

Only two weeks into the job, Bob has already boasted of his desire to heal the rift between Islam and the West (1500 years in the making), tidy up the oceans (a million or so years in the making), solve the problem of self-immolating Tibetan monks (1200 years in the making), sort out Labor’s nuclear energy dilemma (40 years in the making) and stop dead in its tracks the rise of Tony Abbott (two years in the making.)

Not to mention coughing up to help a Sydney couple with their hefty million dollar hospital bill following the birth of their premature baby in Canada that Bob hopes to take care of. With our money, presumably.

All of which would be extremely laudable except for one tiny caveat. The only foray Bob has actually made into what is, after all, the most important function of his new role – ensuring smooth relationships with our closest neighbours - ended in embarrassment and humiliation all round.

“As I said to Foreign Minister Pala… my recent comments have been misunderstood and used out of context,” the good senator claimed, falling back on spin (surprise, surprise) to cover up what was an arrogant and foolish error – in his first week, no less - that no experienced diplomat would ever allow to occur.
Bob Carr’s ambitions have always outstripped his abilities. It’s no good being a “policy wonk” if nothing substantial emerges from your ponderings and pontifications. Ten years as Premier of our most important state is a long time in which you would expect a man of Carr’s promise to actually notch up a few historic runs on the board. Particularly given his unfettered power (there were never any Rudd or Turnbull –style rivals to trouble him) and a Treasury awash with real estate boom dividends. Yet apart from Nikki Webster dangling over the crowds in Homebush and 120,000 hectares of bush-fire prone National Parks, the student of NSW political history struggles to find any earth-shatteringly impressive achievements from his time in office. Certainly nothing on a par with his recently-stated lofty goals.

It’s all very well to go overboard on the Samuel P. Huntington and despair of “the dystopic nightmare of a clash of civilisations” or to try and out-do Tim Flannery by whipping up fear about the “tipping point” and “emergence of huge dead areas'' of the oceans. But, like his predecessor Kevin Rudd, the impression left is that Carr is running his own agenda, hurriedly preparing his CV in the hope of following mentor Gareth Evans into a cushy career in Brussels or Geneva if Labor loses the next election.

As Thomas Carlyle also observed: "A man lives by believing something; not by debating and arguing about many things."

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