Quite a show

Hugh White on Rudd and foreign policy:

All this should make Rudd overwhelmingly the better choice as Prime Minister as far as foreign policy is concerned. But with Rudd nothing is ever that simple. Back in 2007 he came to office with lots of fresh ideas about how to position Australia in Asia, but after four years in office, as Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Rudd had done very little. Some modest achievements on marginal issues were overshadowed by major failures on things that really matter.

Rudd’s foreign policy went wrong for the same reasons that caused his government as a whole to fail. There were too many initiatives, too little preparation and too little follow-through, turbo-charged by a slightly deranged egocentricity that fed an illusion that he belonged at centre stage on every issue, no matter what he actually had to contribute.

Above all, the genuine policy thinker and hyperactive egoist also turned out to be a very timid politician.

White’s reservations may be a useful corrective in the face of Rudd’s exceptional display in the last two weeks. He’s taken control of the political agenda, apparently effortlessly. Certainly far more so than I had expected.

It’s early days and Rudd is sailing with a following wind so it’s much too early to draw any conclusions. All the hard stuff, and (perhaps) the nasty stuff is still to come. Still, even I must admit it’s been a pleasure of sorts watching him dance circles around everyone else.

As White suggests, the question is whether it’s anything more than a fine piece of performance art. Has Rudd brought something useful back from his period in the wilderness? Did he do the intense self-examination that alone might equip him to truly redeem himself?

I don’t know. His readiness to put himself ahead of pretty much everything in recent years isn’t encouraging but I suppose it’s possible the “hyperactive egoist” White describes may have taken on board some hard, pragmatic lessons from last time around.

In any case, early indications probably won’t be all that long in coming.

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