Howard's Fatal Flaw

Last Updated Jan 11, 2011 5:09 PM EST

Over this Christmas I read the 663 pages of Howard's recent biography Lazarus Rising. (The title comes from Howard's famous quote, when he had been ousted yet again as the Liberal Leader in 1989, that for him to regain the Liberal leadership would be like Lazarus getting a triple bypass.)

The book is great example of how a person with a high Normal component in acts and thinks. While Jeff Kennett has accused Howard of being so egotistical that he believed he was infallible, I would disagree. Howard admits both a number of mistakes and also changes in policy. As Australia's second longest serving Prime Minster there are bound to be numerous examples. Normals are logical and rational thinkers, demonstrate strong control of their emotions and are typically conservative. Their first questions when facing a decision are why change and who else is doing this? Kennett has accused Howard of not being a reformer but as you read the book there is example after example of major changes: gun-laws, GST, labour laws, Aboriginal intervention, immigration, etc.

Howard shows remarkable control over his emotions. In 2010 one of the best demonstrations was the shoe-throwing incident on the ABC program Q&A.
What you do have to admire about Howard is that he is a great believer in the Westminster form of government and in particular the principles of full cabinet discussion, agreement, joint decision making and full responsibility. The contrast with his successor government is stark. He appears to have been very good at sounding out the opinions of others.

He also appears not have lorded it over those people beneath him. While his enemies accuse him of being an egotist, this political autobiography is less egotistical than most.

It is on Iraq that Howard demonstrates a weakness that most Normals have and that is to over-rely on expert reports, particularly "unfamiliar" experts. In the book three reasons are put forward by Howard for Australia supporting the USA in Iraq.

  1. Australia is the only country to fight along US troops in every war since Federation and Australia needs the US as an ally.
  2. He was in Washington DC on the day of the attacks and he understands the emotional ferocity the events unleashed in the US.
  3. He was privileged to read the Office of National Assessment report which clearly stated there were WMDs in Iraq. According to Howard the ONA report (mostly produced by the CIA) would have no political bias.
Since the release of Fair Game it is clear that Cheney and Rove clearly pressured the CIA to produce a report that was politically biased and not supported by evidence. Howard, who appears to have developed a good degree of realistic cynicism, fell for ONA report big time. While there have been numerous criticisms of Howard in the media I don't think I have ever read one about Howard's potential gullibility.