Terrifically toned biceps are the must-have accessory of the modern and powerful. On the right kind of woman they pervade an intangible attitude that vacillates between “don’t mess with me”, “I get things done” and also, if we’re honest, “I can basically rock any kind of sleeveless evening dress you throw at me”.
Right in the centre of this pool of the female and genetically blessed comes Anna Wintour, the editor and chief of American Vogue whose terrifying editorial direction was immortalised in the 2007 documentary, The September Issue and the fictional take, The Devil Wears Prada.
Most recently Wintour has become the controversial nominee on President Obama’s shortlist for US Ambassador to France or the UK when the New Year rolls around.
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Bob Carr is as good as threatening to lead a conga line Gangnam Style down George Street this morning after our bid for a two-year spot on the UN Security Council worked.
“It’s the world saying ‘we see Australia as a good country, a fine global citizen’,” said the beaming Foreign Minister. He just Tweeted: “Victory for Australia! Aus wins Security Council seat - big, decisive win with 140 votes in first round of voting.”
He also said on radio: “It’s always a thrill to see Australia win in an international forum where the competition’s intense.” A bit like the Olympics really.
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Obama is weak and has made America timid. Obama is more a follower than a leader; a passive figure lacking clarity, lacking purpose and lacking resolve. He has deserted past and potential allies, and is guilty of allowing the Middle East to become a more dangerous region than when he took office.
It’s less than a month to the US Presidential election, and as the focus turns from domestic to foreign policy, these are the charges being levelled against the incumbent by Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Speaking at the Virginia Military Institute in Washington recently, Romney prevailed on those gathered that the country couldn’t afford another four years of failure, passiveness and receding influence. That its best hope for realising a so-called ‘American century’, securing its dominant economic, political and cultural influence, is his elevation to the oval office. It’s a message he reiterated in yesterday’s town hall debate in Hampstead, New York.
On Friday, Australia time, the United Nations in New York will decide on which of three states: Finland, Luxembourg or Australia, will be awarded a Temporary Seat on the Security Council.
Much has been made not only of the Government’s decision to seek the seat but also the process that surrounds contending nations’ efforts to lobby individual countries and their groupings. Conservatives have been particularly critical of an increase in Australian aid to Africa.
In truth, the decision of voting nations will not be determined by such vague machinations. The core issue is beyond whether we offered sufficient last minute aid to Africa, or whether Luxembourg secured Pacific island votes by attending five years meetings of the Melanesian Spearhead group. The real dangers of such analyses lies in what they are inclined to obscure.
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Julia Gillard once said she would rather be at home watching children learning in a classroom than roaming the international diplomatic stage. This week she’d probably rather be anywhere than the bathroom of her suite at the Waldorf Astoria.
The PM has been struck down with a stomach bug right when she really didn’t need one. She’s just had to cancel dinner with Barack Obama.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr was sent in her place overnight to deliver a speech Gillard was too sick to give. Did you hear the introduction he got at the business lunch where Gillard was supposed to give a glowing report on our economy? The fellow doing the welcome didn’t even know how to say her name.
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Julian Assange has won political asylum in Ecuador. So despite having a gaggle of QCs, buckets of cash from rich backers, an internationally connected group of lobbyists and exhausting all legal avenues in the UK, he bears the tag “asylum seeker”.
Team Jules has belted out a statement celebrating this. Team GB isn’t planning on a motorcade for safe passage for Assange to get from Knightsbridge to Heathrow. In fact, its Foreign Secretary William Hague is even saying that Ecuador may be harbouring an “alleged criminal”.
If Jules was to look over his shoulder, would he see a train wreck or would this be blocked by his own portrait styled in Che Guevara likeness? Whether intended or not, there are Olympic consequences from Team Jules on modern-politick. In fact, Team Jules has a won a clean sweep of Gold, Silver and Bronze for political carnage.
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It’s always entertaining when a political figure with no real responsibilities other than winning votes makes a high-profile foray into the delicate world of foreign affairs.
Unshackled by anything resembling real authority over such things as military or security policy, opposition politicians are free to blunder in to say, Chinese-American geo-political sensitivities, without concerns they might accidentally spark an explosion in the Taiwan Strait.
You only have to look at how quickly Bob Carr hit the “delete post” button on his Thoughtlines blog when he went from interested private citizen to Foreign Minister in the blink of a cursor.
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Kevin Rudd, the backbencher from Queensland? No such thing. In his own mind, he’s still Foreign Minister. Prime Minister, too.
Rudd turned up in the United States last week and addressed the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. It’s a talk that should have been given by his replacement, Bob Carr.
If Australia knows that Rudd is no longer the Prime Minister, or Foreign Minister, the rest of the world does not. Because Rudd is still roaming it, acting as though he is.
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Recently I visited Andorra, Albania and San Marino. The trip elicited sideways glances from odd spot type gossip columnists who, with an almost salacious air, suggested that it may have had something to do with Australia’s UN Security Council campaign.
I confess: guilty as charged.
Australia is running for the UN Security Council. It is a tight race. We are trying to win. We are campaigning hard. Each of these countries has a vote. We are seeking their support.
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Welcome to this week’s I Call Bullshit. Today we’re looking at the super-viral Kony 2012 campaign by Invisible Children, a group dedicated to stopping African warlord Joseph Kony.
Doesn’t it feel good, battling evil African terrorists with your Facebook, your Twitter, maybe even your credit card? The Kony story is such a good yarn. It has the perfect villain, who eats small children for breakfast. Then with all the trappings of modern-day warfare – that is, a viral video and social media campaign – we can all be keyboard heroes marching to save the poor kids.
Millions of people have now seen the Kony 2012 film by NGO Invisible Children. When I started writing this piece it was around 7.3 million, right now it’s almost at 10 million. And that’s just on YouTube. It’s on Vimeo and a bunch of other sites as well.
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If you break the law overseas, don’t expect government to bail you out. Julian Assange hasn’t been charged under any laws for Wikileaks and that’s what makes Julia Gillard’s abandonment of an Australian citizen so disappointing.
The Wikileaks founder is a divisive figure, evoking reactions of admiration, loathing, love and horror for releasing a mountain of classified US cables. But whatever picture painted of Assange you subscribe to, he deserves to be treated fairly. No matter how much you hate the release of cables, it doesn’t make it illegal.
Like most major media outlets, Wikileaks operated an anonymous drop-box for information and US marine Bradley Manning is alleged to have filled it in spectacular fashion. Through a possible plea bargain, the US appear intent on establishing that far from voluntarily offering up the cables, Manning was coerced to do so by Assange. That case seems even more implausible following last year’s revelations that Manning googled Assange and Wikileaks over a hundred times on his work computer before he allegedly handed over the material to Wikileaks.
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There is something enticing about the idea of life in the foreign service, with the promise of exotic travel, dealings and double-dealings with diplomats from the dodgiest regimes, cocktails on the lawn at lavish ambassadorial residences.
We have been reminded this week, however, that a very large part of the role of the foreign service is to lend a helping hand to ratbags who get themselves into strife overseas, and believe that it’s the job of the Government to get them out of trouble.
You would imagine that any Australian diplomat posted to a place such as Phuket would spend most of their time arranging ambulances for guys called Wazza who ploughed their Vespa into the back of a tuktuk after 14 bottles of Singha, safe in the knowledge that our Government can save them from their own stupidity.
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Last Friday, 16 September, Papua New Guinea celebrated the 36th anniversary of its independence.
The last 36 years has been an endlessly fascinating journey for a country with which Australia has had an abiding interest. Yet you wouldn’t know this from our media. With less Australians based in PNG since Independence it seems PNG’s profile in our national discourse has diminished and this has to change.
So last night PNG’s Independence Day was marked in the Commonwealth Parliament through the inaugural PNG Independence Day Oration.
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So Kevin Rudd reckons he’s a better bet to captain the Brisbane Broncos than run for Prime Minister again.
Julia Gillard, who once laughed off her Lodge aspirations by claiming she was more chance to play for the Western Bulldogs, could be forgiven for taking that as a declaration of war.
From earthquakes and tsunamis to violent insurrection in the Middle East, 2011 has borne witness to enormous devastation – which, while tragic for those involved – has certainly enabled Rudd as Foreign Minister to suddenly become more ubiquitous on Australian television than the Daddo brothers.
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It’s time that Mr. Rudd learned some manners.
Imagine, for a moment, that your house has caught fire. Imagine that some of your family members are still inside the house.
You are doing everything within your power to get them out, and to safety. At the same time, you know that some of your family members have already died.
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Most of us at some stage or another have received an invitation to a school reunion. Although I would hate to admit how long it has been since I left high school.
Even more sobering was an email I received inviting me to a reunion for the class of 1981 diplomatic cadets joining the Department of Foreign Affairs.
It is worth thinking about how much the world has turned on its head over the last 30 years.
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From working with U.S forces in Afghanistan, many Commanders observed how Afghanistan had become a politically correct war.
Ralph Peters hit the nail on the head in his 2006 New York Post article when he observed that it is hard enough to bear the timidity of our civilian leaders - anxious to start wars but without the guts to finish them - but now military leaders have fallen prey to political correctness.
Unwilling to accept that war is, by its nature, a savage act and that defeat is immoral, influential officers are arguing for a kinder, gentler approach to our enemies.
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Some one hundred years ago, US President Woodrow Wilson led the United States into World War I. He did so championing a new world order designed to avoid war.
Wilson’s new order was characterized, among other things, by an “open” diplomacy that discarded the secret dealings and alliances of the past. Wilson’s open diplomacy ran headlong into the realities of world politics; he met with stinging rejection by the US people; and within 20 years, the world was again at war.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange would have us believe that he, alone, can succeed where President Wilson failed.
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Kevin Rudd might be egotistical, self-serving, mistake prone and a control freak but he is perfectly suited to the foreign ministry.
Although Rudd demanded the foreign affairs portfolio at the barrel of a gun, it’s a win-win situation for him and Australia. Rudd gets to travel the world and prepare for a post-political career and the country gets can rest assured that its biggest political liability has one of the least influential portfolios in government.
Rudd cannot do damage as Australia’s chief diplomat because diplomacy is the most overrated profession since travel agents. International relations is not about the high politics of the diplomatic elite; rather, it is about globalisation and interactions between individuals and firms operating within a global market.
In so many ways it looks familiar. Players lining up for their turn to lead, mark the ball, and pass to their team mate leading in the opposite direction. It is the quintessential footy drill.
But with the familiarity comes two big differences. First, despite this being Australian Rules we were not in Australia. And second, every sprinting player left a cloud of dust rising in his wake.
Nauru is a footy mad nation and the Linkbelt Oval is its home of footy. It is the MCG. It may also be the most unique ground in the world of AFL. It is not a field of grass. Rather, footy is played on soft phosphate looking dirt which sits upon a base of coral rock.
Julian Assange must be stopped. Not because he’s a traitor or an anarchist, a whistleblower or a terrorist – but because he’s a frigging killjoy. And he’s slowly ruining all our fun.
The world used to be a magical place, full of wonder and mystery. Ancient peoples still cut off from the modern world. Whole continents yet undiscovered. Nobody knowing who really shot JR. There was so much we didn’t know, and it was utterly fascinating.
We don’t have any of this anymore. Now we know everything. Now we have dark matter. Now we have third umpires. And now we have Wikileaks. And it’s boring as hell.
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Mark Arbib has been pulling in that shaved and toughened nut over the past few months after he and ALP national secretary Karl Bitar started to be blamed for every Labor woe, and for imposing a policy-by-focus-group substitute for genuine leadership.
His return to the national spotlight through yet more Wikileaks material will not please the political hard-head.
Labor leaders current (Anna Bligh) and past (Morris Iemma) have accused the pair of wrecking their patches. A tactical, personal retreat was Arbib’s response.
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So Kevin Rudd’s been musing about the Chinese and how we might need to be ready to “deploy force” if efforts to integrate the PRC into the rest of the world go horribly wrong.
We established long ago the former PM has a tendency to get a bit carried away in discussions with other world leaders. Remember how he allegedly got off the phone from George W Bush and regaled his dinner guests with the cracking yarn that the then-US president didn’t know what the G20 was.
Or how in Copenhagen he went off about how the Chinese were trying to “rat-f**k us”. And who can forget his nickname for the UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon - “Spanky Banky”.
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The Prime Minister has now spent more time overseas than her predecessor ‘Kevin747’ did in the same period.
Partly a product of timing – the end of the year begs attendance at a number of multilateral forums – she has visited the troops in Afghanistan; lobbied for the World Cup in Switzerland; conducted bilateral visits to both Malaysia and Indonesia; and attended the Asia-Europe Meeting in Brussels, the East Asian Summit in Vietnam, the G20 in South Korea and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation in Japan.
Gillard’s latest trip was to Portugal for a NATO meeting on Afghanistan spending by her calculation “fifty-five hours in the air for eighteen on the ground”.
Reflecting earlier this month in Japan on her travels before flying overnight back home for Parliament she said, “There are a few moments when you would have to say it has been a bit slow but overwhelming it has been a good experience”. But just how she has been doing out there on the world stage depends on which audience you speak to.
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Australian Ambassador to Japan, Murray McLean OAM, caught up with Thom Woodroofe at APEC this week and discussed the prospect of him moving to be our man in Beijing, and the behaviour of the Chinese at Copenhagen last year .
Reports in the Australian Financial Review last weekend suggested that Murray McLean is on the shortlist to be our head diplomat in Beijing.
While the job has been advertised internally in DFAT, the mandarin speaking Ambassador humbly brushed off the suggestion he was being considered for the shift to China. He says he will go “wherever the government wants him to go” when his term expires “sometime in 2011”, but he may be asked to pack his bags for Beijing before then.
Ambassador McLean has been our main man in Tokyo for almost six years now, a lengthy appointment by any measure. But his CV oozes China.
Ahead of US Secretary of State Clinton’s visit to Australia this weekend, The Punch caught up with US Ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich to discuss the recent parliamentary debate on Afghanistan and the US mid-term elections.
United States Ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich makes no secret of the fact he was watching the debate on the Afghan war pretty closely.
“We were obviously very interested in it because Australia is a key partner is Afghanistan. Our take on it was that this is healthy. We did extensive internal review at the end of the 2009 to determine what’s the best course and how do we see this resolving and what are we going to need to do it.
“That was heavy internal conversation, and I think with all our partners we want them to have, if there are doubts, to have that honest discussion,” he told The Punch yesterday.
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A peculiar diplomatic exodus is taking place away from Australia’s economic heartland.
Over the past year more than half-a-dozen Consulates based in Perth have either completely shut-shop or withdrawn key representative postings.
What is Western Australian doing wrong? Foreign governments should be scrambling to court the state that is essentially driving the nation’s economic development.
A year ago Barack Obama declared himself the first ‘Pacific President’ but so far his engagement with the region leaves a lot to be desired.
President Obama hosted the second US-ASEAN Summit in New York on Friday. Many are hopeful the insubstantial two-hour lunch meeting on the sidelines of the UN will signal a turning point in the Obama Administration’s approach to Asia.
So far the President has visited Europe six times and Asia only once. His European adventures have included spruiking a hometown Olympic bid and accepting the Nobel Peace Prize with one hand while saluting off more troops into harm’s way with the other. While some of his trips across the Atlantic have taken him to important gatherings of the G20 and NATO, declaring war on nuclear arms along the way, it is Asia – not Europe – that should be centre of the world’s attention right now.
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During the recent election campaign, any significant attention to our place in the world and foreign policy was lost amongst the cacophony of discussion of the environment, climate change, the economy, broadband internet and Speedos.
With the exception of the boat people drama, both major parties seemed strangely silent on the topic of Australia’s interaction with the outside world. ‘Moving Australia Forward’ probably didn’t extend to dumping the entire country somewhere in the North Atlantic, but that’s about as much attention as it got.
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Australia-Israeli relations have not come under this much pressure since the bungling spook and lothario Amir Laty was thrown out of Canberra in 2003.
Faking Australian passports is arguably a more serious offence than trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to seduce female officials and cultivating the daughter of then Attorney General Philip Ruddock. That is what Laty did before he got his marching orders.
In Canberra’s leafy diplomatic neighbourhood of Yarralumla yesterday a senior Israeli diplomat, who is almost certainly a spy, was told to pack his or her bags for Tel Aviv.
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Are you scared about the world’s future? Worried that so many things could go wrong? One of the smartest people I know says let’s keep it in perspective:
The future is not to be seen as something preordained, something already existing and impatiently waiting in the wings for its turn on the stage of history. The future does not exist; it is not something there to be discovered, like an island or a mountain. It is something which has still to be made. And how it is made, and what it will become, will depend on people like you, here and throughout the world.
The speaker was my friend Owen Harries. The occasion was a function at Sydney University where he received the highest honour possible, the Doctor of Letters. It recognised his contribution to the intellectual life of Australia and the US over more than fifty years.
After a torrent of undiplomatic language in the days after they discovered that Israel had used forged Australian passports in the assassination plot against a terrorist gun dealer in Dubai, Kevin Rudd and Stephen Smith have fallen silent.
The British Government has stepped up its diplomatic offensive against Tel Aviv over the passport scandal by expelling Mossad’s London station chief, but Canberra has so far not followed suit although we have abstained from a vote in the United Nations.
Britain has a much more robust tradition of hard headed diplomacy than Australia. Our diplomats are trained to whisper and dance a two-step with the devil rather than risk the megaphone and a public confrontation.
US President Barack Obama will visit Australia in March.
The White House has just confirmed a rumour that has been circulating in Queensland since last November.
President Obama’ visit will commemorate the 70th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations between the US and Australia and there is mounting evidence that the visit will feature Queensland prominently being the home state of Prime Minister Rudd.
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How much do we really care about whales? How much are the Australian people and its Government really willing to put on the line in our relationship with Japan to stop the killing of our sonar speaking cousins?
Tony Abbott has gone some way to answering this question by saying he doesn’t think it’s worth taking Japan to the International Court of Justice or International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. In Abbott’s summation it’s just not worth pissing off the Japanese and risking a legal fall-out with our number one trade partner.
“We don’t like whaling. We would like the Japanese to stop,” he told Macquarie Radio yesterday. “On the other hand, we don’t want to needlessly antagonise our most important trading partner, a fellow democracy, an ally.”
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He is the Elvis memorabilia collecting international law expert who is now Obama’s man in Australia. New US Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich spoke to The Punch’s Leo Shanahan at his residence in Canberra last week about his relationship with Barack Obama, climate change, Afghanistan and his most prized possessions.
As a talented lawyer, Clinton administration advisor and long-time friend of Barack Obama Jeffrey Bleich knew he wanted an opportunity to serve in the Obama’s White House, but initially neither Bleich nor the President could decide on a job title or what it was he would be doing.
“So I asked the President what I would be doing and he said ‘well let’s just call it Special Counsel to the President.’ So I became special counsel to the President.”
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I was 25 when my father first told me he was a spy.
It was 1977, and I was in New York as a tourist, on my first visit to the United States, and Dad was living in Washington.
I had not seen him since 1971, when I had spent two months with him and my stepmother travelling around Mongolia, where he was then Britain’s Ambassador. We were not estranged: we had just been living or working in different parts of the globe throughout that time.
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