At a different time, Tony Abbott's cowboys-and-Indians reductionism of the Syria crisis ('It's not goodies versus baddies, it's baddies versus baddies') might have played right into Labor's characterisation of the Opposition Leader as a man not ready to lead Australia into the world.

But everything seems to be going wrong for Labor at the moment, so instead this incident looks like an example of Abbott actually defying Rudd's description of him as a pugilist who lacks the temperament for managing global affairs. Because as it turns out, Rudd's language on Syria has been much more aggressive than Abbott's, whose circumspection now looks prescient, given President Obama's decision not to rush into military action.

It's more than prescience, though. Abbott is essentially right about the difficulty of finding a side which Western countries can support in Syria's civil war. Rodger Shanahan has been making this point for months. To reduce the issue to primary school terms such as 'goodies' and 'baddies' is not exactly a victory for the political discourse, but it does get to the heart of the problem.

Lost in the confected outrage over Abbott's 'goodies' and 'baddies' comment was his assessment in the same interview of international law relating to Syria:

Where the Security Council is, for whatever reason, ineffective, there is precedent for right thinking powers, if you like, to take action. And that was in former Yugoslavia, where Britain, the United States and other countries took action in Kosovo.

Hardly a ringing endorsement of the Security Council when Abbott is poised to become prime minister of a country which is now president of that body.

This was also interesting, again from the same interview:

Well, all Australian governments instinctively want to support our friends and allies, and our greatest ally is obviously the United States.

Abbott calls it an instinct, I call it an ideology. Either way, it should be resisted (and Abbott seems to have done so on this occasion) because it suggests an unthinking and automatic response when challenges such as the Syria crisis arise. The alliance is above all a policy, and as such it deserves regular scrutiny and analysis.

Nor are we entirely powerless to shape events. As events in the UK House of Commons have just demonstrated, US alliance partners can have a profound effect on American foreign policy. To borrow a line from James Brown's post, 'Rather than looking to the US to be told what part we will play in the alliance, there has never been a better time for an active ally to chart a course'.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.