Conservatives are guided by circumstances and basic values rather than ideology (See "Inside Right" by Britain's Ian Gilmour) and Australia's Prime Minister embodies that well. Part of one summary below from a journalist who has monitored Howard for many years
When John Howard came to power 10 years ago he was a foreign policy amateur, yet imbued with deep foreign policy attitudes, and the story of the past decade is how he revised his policy but kept his attitudes untouched. There is a multitude of criticism of Howard's foreign policy but little analysis of what he tried to achieve, a bizarre omission.
The answer to this question is that Howard aspired to give effect to his foreign policy attitudes. Rarely articulated in his early years, such attitudes have always been the key to his policy. From the start Howard believed that the US would grow only more influential in the world and that our bond with the US was a prized national asset, an unconventional view at the time. He believed the foreign policy establishment was wrong in its reliance on a faltering multilateralism and that the UN's utility had been exaggerated. He saw foreign policy as being about state-to-state relations and was sceptical about regionalism, whether in Europe or Asia.
Howard believed that Japan was our best friend in Asia, China was our greatest opportunity, Indonesia was a flawed giant that should not monopolise our attention and Israel should be defended for its values and its history. He believed that globalisation was a golden moment for Australia, that a strong foreign policy depended on a strong economy and that Australia's world reputation would be determined by the quality of its economy and society, not by moral edicts from the human rights industry.
There was never any grand plan to Howard's policy. It was a case of trial and error and, at the start, there were many errors. But Howard had a framework. He sought an ongoing synthesis between realpolitik or the national interest and being a values advocate seeking a populist domestic affirmation for his foreign policy. It was a task loaded with tensions. And what were his values?
For Howard, Australia is part of the Western liberal tradition. He assumed no conflict between our cultural heritage and our Asian geography. He presented himself to the region and to the nation as a cultural traditionalist and asserted that this was the foundation for Australia's relations with the world. It was his deepest instinct and a break from Paul Keating. It meant Howard's Asian engagement was based on shared interests and different values.....
Update: I should have noted that well-known American conservative Russell Kirk also stressed that conservatives are guided by circumstances and basic values rather than by any ideology. The Gilmour book I quoted seems to be out of print but Gilmour was a prominent Conservative in the British parliament. He was in fact at one time Lord Privy Seal under Margaret Thatcher.
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