In response to the great Arab revolt of 2010-2011 (or "tectonic shift" as he calls it) Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd gave an important speech, Australia's Foreign Policy Interests in the Middle East, to the National Press Club in Canberra on 22 February.
My observations and thoughts on Rudd's perspective, rhetoric and general musings will come in a second post. For this, I'd like to focus on how The Australian's foreign editor, Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan, who appears to have been the only ms pundit to have tackled the subject, has reported or, more correctly, distorted a key aspect of Rudd's speech. If ever a reminder was needed to check out the primary sources* before swallowing what you read in the Murdoch press, this is it.
Rudd leads into the relevant section thus:
"It is important to be clear sighted about the implications for the wider region and the world, should political stability in Egypt, Libya and beyond continue to deteriorate." (foreign minister.gov.au) He then goes on to make 5 points:
"First, if as a result of the process of democratic transformation in Egypt, we see the rise of Islamist parties, which in turn dispense with hard-won democratic freedoms, the danger of a more benign operating environment being created for militant Islamist and terrorist organisations becomes greater. That is why it is particularly important that the international community monitors closely the political posture being adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood."
Now see how Sheridan ramps up Rudd's "more benign operating environment": "The first is that if an Islamist political environment is established in Egypt, or anywhere else in the Arab world, it will almost certainly encourage terrorism. That would threaten Australians directly, and our interests more broadly." (Rudd's activism on Mid-East mirrors national interest, 26/2/11)
"Secondly, and more broadly, the radicalisation of governments in key regional countries such as Egypt will have geostrategic impact. How Iran's influence would play if Islamist groups seized power in even a few Arab countries is a vexing question. So we have a significant stake in supporting outcomes which give a central place to moderate, mainstream, pluralist forces."
With Sheridan, Rudd's "vexing question" takes us directly to Israel's obsession with Iran: "Secondly, an Islamist political environment in Egypt or any Arab state, or even prolonged chaos or instability, would almost certainly strengthen Iran. That would damage Australia's interests in a multitude of ways - including reducing US influence and reinforcing Iranian nuclear ambitions."
"Third, it is important that Egypt's new government continues to support those measures which have underpinned regional peace. More than ever we need to strive for a successful outcome of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority - a prospect which offers peace and security to both."
Now compare Rudd's emphasis with Sheridan's: "Thirdly, the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, which is the linchpin of regional stability, would come under threat."
"Fourth, if political instability across the Middle East collapses, it will create new push factors for unauthorised people movements from the Middle East to other destinations across the world."
Hey, shouts Sheridan, that means Australia and we don't want them!: "Fourthly, Islamist triumph or continued instability would almost certainly lead to an increase in illegal people movements which would wash up in Australia. That is a result nobody wants."
"Finally, political turmoil in Libya has already had a profound impact on international energy markets. The spot price of Brent crude has now risen to levels not seen since September 2008 and has increased 13% since the start of this year. This would immediately translate into the retail price of fuel in this country and elsewhere around the world."
Only now do we get Sheridan merely dotting the 'i's: "And fifthly, international energy markets would be disrupted leading to higher fuel prices, which would damage global and Australian economic growth."
I'd love to have heard Rudd's expletives on reading Sheridan's distortions. If Sheridan's account of his speech were all you had to go by, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Rudd's main concerns, like Sheridan's, are the prospect of an Australia under siege from Islamist terrorists and illegal immigrants, a militant and nuclear-armed Iran poised to take over the Middle East, and a seething cauldon of instability should the Egyptians junk their treaty with Israel. Now the really scary thing is that Rudd may actually think this way. On the face of it, however, whatever the other indicators may be, his NPC speech does not bear this out.
[* For an earlier example of Sheridan's way with primary sources, see my 15/4/10 post Be Afraid... Relax.]