That flapping, squawking noise coming out of Washington is the sound of an enormous albatross tying himself around the neck of the Liberal Party.

When John Howard chose to break his post-election silence, he did so, bizarrely enough, at the American Enterprise Institute, the Taj Mahal of neo-con wingnuttery.

As Glenn Greenwald explained in 2006:

… the American Enterprise Institute sits in the innermost belly of the neoconservative beast, boasting a list of resident “Scholars and Fellows” that includes Richard Perle, David Frum, Michael Ledeen, John Yoo, and Laurie Mylorie (who “has theorized that al Qaeda is an agency of Iraqi intelligence, that Saddam Hussein was behind the first bombing of the World Trade Center, and that Iraqi intelligence was linked to Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols”). Paul Wolfowitz and Irving Kristol, among many other similar Middle East warmongering types, are former AEI “resident scholars,” and Lynne Cheney is still an active “Fellow” …

The AEI’s current wish list features, at the very top, a military attack on Iran, followed by such subsidiary enabling measures as prosecuting journalists, strengthening domestic surveillance programs still further, and a reflexive defense of Israel as the highest imperative.

Not surprisingly, the Institute has long been in the vanguard of climate change denialism.

In 2007, it attracted a certain notoriety after attempting to distribute some of the funds it receives from ExxonMobil among scientists and economists, offering them $10,000 a pop to write articles undermining the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

John Howard, though, gives his services for free.

“Global warming has become a new battleground,” he explained in Wednesday’s speech. “The same intellectual bullying and moralising, used in other debates, now dominates what passes for serious dialogue on this issue.”

In his final years in office, John Howard understood that mainstream attitudes had shifted on global warming, and grudgingly portrayed himself as a practical environmentalist. Now, amongst his wacko American admirers, he talks of a battle taking place between environmentalists and denialists – and associates himself openly with the latter.

Where does that leave poor Brendan Nelson, a man who explained in November that that Kyoto Protocol was “symbolically important” to Australians?

Very nervous, one imagines. No longer tethered to political power, John Howard seems to be flying off to the furthest reaches of the neo-con Right, espousing positions that are both unpopular and unelectable. Most voters still have no idea who Brendan (“seven percent”) Nelson is or what he represents. But they all identify John Howard with the Liberal Party.

Jeff Sparrow is editor of Overaland.

Peter Fray

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