Former prime minister John Howard has dumped on “multi-cultural” continental Europe, “irrelevant” UN veto nations and the Islamic world while lauding the moral superiority of the English speakers in a speech in Washington.

Howard has travelled state-side to catch up with former ‘coalition of the willing’ partners President George W Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney ahead of launching his autobiography next month. The four-term prime minister has kept to friendly audiences since leaving office, and his delivery of the Margaret Thatcher Freedom Lecture at the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation on Tuesday was no departure.

“There is nothing in my view which is more important than to reassert our cultural self-belief,” Howard said in a passionate defence of the Anglosphere. “There is a tendency to see a response to terrorism in terms of placating alternative philosophies in the hope they will accommodate you and abandon aggressive designs on your society… There is nothing [Islamic extremists] despise more than weakness and lack of self-belief in the ideologies they attack.”

He hoped the English-speaking world saw this as a time “not to apologise for our particular identity, but to firmly and robustly assert it”: “One of the errors some sections of the English-speaking world has been to confuse multi-racialism and multi-culturalism.”

Howard dismissed the UN as useful in “increasingly limited circumstances”: “I experienced, as did President Bush and Tony Blair, the frustration of the behaviour of the French and the Russians on the invasion of Iraq… It’s a long debate and it gets heavy treatment in my autobiography that’s coming out at the end of next month.”

Blair’s autobiography has topped sales in the lucrative US market with a heavy defence of waging war in the name of freedom. Howard’s early trip and photo opportunities with US conservative headliners may signal he wants to share the same.

The intelligence sharing arrangement between the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand could only come about because of the shared Anglo-beliefs, he said, and intrinsic trust we have in those that share those beliefs.

Praising the election of Australia’s first Islamic member of parliament, Ed Husic, Howard said greater focus was required on Islamic embrace of democracy, like in Indonesia, which he said was the greatest success story ignored by Europe and the United States.

The stoic former PM broke composure to share a laugh with the conservative audience when adding he was both literally and metaphorically deaf when it came to questions about his anti-terrorism laws, perceived by some groups in Australia as anti-Islamic.

A Dorothy Dixer from the Heritage Foundation went diplomatically awry, however, when according to the think tank’s Index of Economic Freedom and Prosperity, Australia is third on the list behind Hong Kong and Singapore. “More or less saying Australia is now the leader of the free world,” said one audience member, echoing a current Republican talking point that America is going backwards.

Howard turned it into a criticism of Europe: “I think you Americans are too hard on yourself … the fundamentals of the US economy are still more open and freer than they are in many parts of Europe and when the recovery comes it will be stronger than in many parts of Europe.”

He also earned laughs when describing his first experience with non-compulsory voting, door-knocking conservatives in a block of flats in East London: “There weren’t too many in this block of flats in East London. By half past 9 I was still knocking doors, polls close at 10, and people were saying ‘she’ll be right guv’. The conservatives lost the seat.”

He also resisted commenting on the Tea Party movement’s impact on Republican chances. “I want the Republicans to do well and I wouldn’t want to say anything adverse about their chosen candidates would I,” he said to laughter.

Howard and his wife Janette will dine with President Bush and Laura Bush later today in Dallas.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey