(Australian Associated Press)
The world should judge Donald Trump on substance and not style, says former Australian prime minister John Howard.
Speaking at a US-Australia relations conference in Sydney on Monday evening, Mr Howard said the American president’s actions universally justified cause “for a positive response”.
“Its impossible to talk about our relationship without acknowledging that President Trump has brought a different style to the position,” Mr Howard told the function, hosted by Australian and US embassies and think tanks.
“It is very important to look to the substance of what the American administration is doing and not be distracted by the style and externalities.”
Mr Howard pointed to Mr Trump’s military response to the chemical attack on Syrian civilians by the Assad regime earlier this year as an example of good leadership.
“That was consummately executed, both in a military sense and also in a diplomatic sense and it won the applause of the world.”
Mr Howard went on to say he believed the seemingly continual turnover of senior White House staff was beginning to settle following this week’s ousting of controversial strategist Steve Bannon.
“I think I see a return to normalcy in the personnel,” Mr Howard said, prompting an subtle murmur.
Afterwards, his comments were described as “delusional” by audience member, Sydney University academic James Curran.
“I think he’s got the blinkers on with the US,” the history professor told AAP.
“He’s delusional in the belief that now that Bannon is gone, the Trump White House is slowly settling down into some kind of normalisation.”
Prof Curran challenged Mr Howard’s assertion that there was any “substance” behind Mr Trump’s unconventional style.
“I’m not too sure where the substance is, I haven’t seen it,” he said.
“Yes, he spoke about Syria strikes, well what was the strategy to back that up?”
Prof Curran said he didn’t believe Australia’s current prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, was as confident in Mr Trump.
“As I understand it, Turnbull is privately scathing of Trump – privately scathing.”
Distinguished research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute Kori Schaki said while she believed Mr Howard had a point, she wasn’t convinced Mr Trump had yet proved it.
“I think style matters and I think words matter, so I’m not entirely persuaded by his argument,” Ms Schaki told AAP.
“But his point to watch what they do, not just what they’re saying – I do think he’s right about that.”