I’m into the second day of an extraordinary set of meetings, the 15th annual Australian American Leadership Dialogue, staged in Melbourne, Australia. They are extraordinary because of the seriousness and general candor of discussions ranging from climate change policy challenges to the mess in Iraq to brewing issues in Asia and with China.
These sessions are also extraordinary because of who is here.
Former and current Labor Party leaders Kim Beazley and ascending political superstar and prime minister probable Kevin Rudd have virtually attended the entire meeting. In a Rudd government, Beazley — who has one of the most distinguished set of ministerial and party tenures and is retiring from Parliament — is rumored to be the next Australian Ambassador to the U.S.
But the Howard government is well represented as well. Peter Costello, who many think will succeed Howard as head of the Liberal Party (the Tories here), has been here throughout the sessions — as Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.
I had breakfast with the likely next Treasurer of Australia Wayne Swan who is now the Shadow Treasurer in the Labor Party. This is a small conference — maybe 100 delegates if that — and the diversity on the Australian side is perfect, and the civility among parties here is extremely impressive.
On the American side, the diversity and serious players here are also impressive. The new founding CEO and President respectively of the Center for New American Security Kurt Campbell and Michele Flournoy are here. Paul Wolfowitz wearing his new American Enterprise Institute hat is here. Norm Ornstein, Thomas Mann, and EJ Dionne are here. So is Lael Brainard of Brookings and the first Ned Lamont of Connecticut Senate races — Joe Duffey, who ran for the Senate in Connecticut as a Democrat the year that Lowell Weicker won. Anne Wexler — super lobbyist and political influencer in Democratic political circles — is here and has organized much of the meeting.
Former Ambassador-equivalent to Taiwan Douglas Paal, IT wunderkind Larry Irving, Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, and former New Republic Editor Peter Beinart are part of the American delegation. Charlie Cook — one of America’s great interpreters of campaigns — gave a brilliant talk here yesterday morning. And former CIA Director Porter Goss sat a couple seats from me at breakfast and did a tour of the Victoria Governor’s mansion with me. I’ve been a critic of Goss’s regime in the past, but between Goss and James Woolsey in such a role — I prefer Goss.
Clinton domestic policy adviser Bruce Reed, Obama advisor and Brookings fellow Susan Rice, former Clinton administration Asst Secretary of State Stanley Roth, and former Pennsylvania Republican Congressman and race car driver Bob Walker are here.
Phil Scanlan, founder of the Australian American Leadership Dialogue, is proud of the fact that in 15 years, no one has leaked any of the internal conversations of the conference. I won’t either. . .unless I get permission from one of the speakers or commentators to do so which is allowed by the rules.
But I will say that this kind of encounter is a great template for meetings focused on serious policy quagmires. We don’t have many sessions in the U.S. where so many obvious political and intellectual rivals (even enemies) work through problems and have serious, clear-headed discussions.
We are deep into commentary now by UC San Diego/Scripps Institution of Oceanography Director Tony Haymet, scientist Larry Smarr, and Victoria Premier John Brumby on climate change policy choices and challenges.
Yesterday was the Iraq War, grand strategy, geoeconomic and geostrategic realities. No one pulled their punches — not even me. But that’s all that can be said.
— Steve Clemons