Apr 10, 2014

Bob Carr the ‘authorised leaker’ and hypocrite

Bob Carr thinks it's in the national interest to reveal the inner workings of diplomacy. Too bad he did nothing to help others seeking to do the same, like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

An insider decides to break confidence and reveal the inner workings of a country's foreign policy, including the malign influence of special interests, combined with tittle-tattle from the diplomatic cocktail circuit on the foibles of statesmen and women around the globe -- all to the fury of a later government. Step forward Chelsea Manning? Not at all, it's former foreign minister Bob Carr. The evidence Carr presents in his memoirs this week about the influence of the Israel lobby, and in particular the most extreme sections of it, over the Gillard government is indeed in the national interest -- as Carr says. This is a movement that prefers to operate out of sight: several different Israel lobby groups are constantly busy behind the scenes in Canberra, bombarding ministers and backbenchers with requests for meetings and urging MPs to take a sponsored study trip to Israel. And the wild overreaction from arch-Zionist Labor MP Michael Danby, who labelled Carr a "bigot", has done more to demonstrate the way the lobby works than anything else in recent memory. But better yet the memoir illustrates what a hypocrite Carr is, and the hypocrisy of the entire political establishment toward transparency. As foreign minister, Carr was dismissive of WikiLeaks and its Australian editor-in-chief Julian Assange, and did nothing to raise concerns about the US government's pursuit of Assange via the grand jury investigation that, for a long time, Carr refused to even admit existed. He habitually got basic facts wrong about Assange's case, like how it would be easier for the US to extradite him from the UK than from Sweden. He displayed a bizarre, near-total lack of curiosity about what the US Department of Justice was doing regarding Assange. He rejected comparisons between WikiLeaks and Chelsea Manning and Daniel Ellsberg's release of the Pentagon Papers, despite Ellsberg himself outlining how they were extraordinarily similar. He tied himself in knots as he tried desperately to avoid saying anything about the case, telling estimates hearings the government had "no interest" in the US pursuit of Assange and then saying seconds later "we have an interest in the case". As both an obsessive Americaphile and as a former US intelligence source in the 1970s, Carr stuck doggedly to the US line on WikiLeaks and Assange. And he's still at it, explicitly contrasting his own memoirs with WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden. "The Australian people are entitled to know these things," he said by way of justification for publishing material such as texts between himself and then-PM Julia Gillard -- without her approval. "And by the way: isn't it better to have a discussion led through the diary or memoir of a foreign minister of Australia, and not through revelations from WikiLeaks or from Edward Snowden?" This is the core of the hypocrisy of the political establishment. Governments, it must be endlessly repeated, aren't in the business of secrecy when it comes to national security, but in the business of information management. For governments, there are two kinds of national security leaks (just as there are two kinds of leaks of any kind). Those that are authorised by governments themselves for what they construe as the national interest -- which is usually their own political interest -- and those that occur without authorisation. The former are rarely, if ever, investigated, even if they cause damage; usually they are handed to favoured, state-aligned journalists as background, or sourced anonymously. The latter are relentlessly pursued at whatever cost, with the AFP using its telecommunications interception powers to find out who journalists and even non-government politicians have been calling, and ASIO poised to launch a raid on the whistleblower on -- of course -- national security grounds. Plainly Carr sees himself as an authorised leaker, breaching confidences because of their value to the national interest -- not at all like Manning and Snowden. His successor, Julie Bishop, disagrees, castigating Carr for shedding light on what happens in foreign policy, using the same argument the US government used about Manning's revelations; that they would inflict damage on future relationships because diplomatic interlocutors would be less candid.
"... foreign policy is ordinary, banal bureaucratic life, but with canapes and bigger egos."
The problem is that Carr's assessment of the national interest is his own, and it's self-aggrandising. He's happy to portray himself as the hero trying to hurl back the forces of Zionism. But what other vested interests, with which Carr has more sympathy, does he analyse in such forensic detail? Carr's assessment of what is in the national interest is unlikely to be shared by the rest of us. Oh, and by the way, Bob -- if you want to boast of revelations about the national interest, then you'll have to do better. Chelsea Manning revealed war crimes and murder by the US military, the remarkable and malign influence of corporate interests over the practice of US foreign policy, and how Australian politicians routinely provided greater candour in their comments on public policy issues to US diplomats than to Australian voters. Edward Snowden revealed an industrial-scale surveillance state that breached the US constitution and which extended globally, including spying on close allies of the US, and economic espionage. Bob only revealed what we already knew, that pro-Israel lobbyists wield disproportionate power over western governments. There's also been considerable focus on the minutiae of life on the wing for Carr, his lamentations about the lack of airline pyjamas; poor business-class service, no subtitles on in-flight operas. Carr perhaps is engaging in some mild self-mockery in his long litany of complaints. It's not overly important, except for this: one of the most important revelations of the diplomatic cables released by Chelsea Manning is how banal foreign policy actually is. Foreign policy is purported by its practitioners and the priesthood that attends it -- at institutions like the Lowy Institute -- to be a kind of super statecraft that ordinary mortals cannot be allowed to witness. What Manning showed is that foreign policy is like bureaucracy anywhere else domestically -- a clutch of special interests trying to get their way via government (and the bureaucrats that are employed by that government). Carr's gnashing of teeth and rending of his tailored suit about business-class travel or, conversely, his boyish delight at an invitation from war criminal Henry Kissinger, simply demonstrate how correct this impression is: foreign policy is ordinary, banal bureaucratic life, but with canapes and bigger egos. Carr is right to seek to shed some light on the conduct of foreign policy and the inner workings of government. But while he was in government, he had a chance to support those who were seeking to do the same, not out of a sense of self-aggrandisement or to sell books, but because there is too little transparency about foreign policy and national security. Not merely did Carr fail to provide them with support, he attacked them and left them at the mercy of the world's most powerful government. Carr's certainly no bigot. But he's a colossal hypocrite.

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34 thoughts on “Bob Carr the ‘authorised leaker’ and hypocrite

  1. Itsarort

    The real question here is whether there’s any substance to Carr’s remarks. Julie Bishop’s comments in February that received grand accolades from right-wing pro-Israeli writers like Daniel Mendel, inferring that settlements on the West Bank are not illegal, strongly suggests that Mark Leibler and others ARE expecting some serious bang for their bucks.

  2. Elvis

    You can accuse Carr of many things, but I really don’t think the charge of bigotry holds water.

  3. klewso

    Is nothing sacred? …..Then again he was a journalist?

  4. DiddyWrote

    Carr always struck me as a pompous, braying ass and with these memoirs he has removed all doubt.
    What I have never understood however is why it was deemed so important to parachute the retired Carr into the position of Foreign Minister. It didn’t appear to improve Labor’s standing in the polls and Carr didn’t appear to bring any great talent to the position.
    Can anybody explain?

  5. laughlovenjoy

    Bernard’s spot on again. National interest my bottom. Self-interest all the way.

  6. prodigy

    Carr left NSW in a mess. As a stop-gap Foreign Minister he achieved nothing of note.

  7. Dez Paul

    Thanks, Bernard. I hope Carr reads this article and cringes, if not weeps. If he loves the good ol’ US&A so much he can migrate there.

    100% agree with you, DiddyWrote, except to add that he was, is and always will be a self serving, pompous, braying ass. He should’ve remained a valet with Macquarie Inc.

    Maybe Julia’s memoirs will shed some light on why he became FM. Stephen Smith, much more deserving, had to eat the bog baguette on that one.

  8. j.oneill

    The reactions to Carr’s comments on the Zionist influence on Labour during his term as FM have been unduly narrow in their focus. The fact of the matter is that the Israel lobby is extraordinarily powerful in Australia as it is in the US. That hold true irrespective of which of Tweedledee or Tweedledum currently occupy the Treasury benches. We have only to see how rapidly, and utterly with our fanfare, explanation or even mention in its election manifesto, the Coalition reversed the modest improvements in Australia’s voting pattern in the UN on Palestine-Israel issues that Carr promoted.

    Australia is once again in the select company of 5 or 6 nations who vote in support of Israel. It is an enduring disgrace.

  9. Pedantic, Balwyn

    Carr was pretty hopeless as NSW Premier, leaving it in a financially parlous state, though he wouldn’t be alone in that regard. He appeared to have few qualifications to be Foreign Minister, though again that hasn’t stopped a whole host of predecessors or even successors.
    However, in one area he is unique. His inability to understand that Israel feels threatened by its neighbours, as would any sovereign state surrounded by countries that are dedicated to its overthrow, is cause for some measured response from most non-Muslims, who are charged by their country with Foreign Affairs, but not our Bob.
    He has adopted a one eyed view that Israel is all bad and anyone opposing them is all good. Obviously it’s not so, there rights and wrongs on both sides. However it is wise to spend time in Israel and surrounding countries to gain an understanding of the conflict between them and not rely on “lunatic left” attitudes from Sydney’s inner suburbs to condemn the Jewish lobby out of hand.
    Encroachment of the Left Bank, displacing Palestinians, is abhorrent. But so is shooting missiles into homes and school yards from Gaza, South Lebanon and the West bank. Two wrongs do not make a right, and if the Jewish lobby work effectively and assiduously to win support for their country who can blame them. After all the Arabs States, particularly from the Gulf spend copious amounts for the same purpose.

  10. CML

    So…let me get this straight, only those you all agree with should be allowed freedom of speech. Got it!!

    Who are the hypocrites again? Do tell.

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