Is our alliance with a Trumpian America worth it?
Over eighty years ago Prime Minister John Curtin prepared a New Year’s Eve message for the Australian people. It was written three weeks into the war with Japan. It was published in the Melbourne Herald on 27 December, 1941:
‘Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.’
With this message he informed the world that Australia’s foreign policy direction must change, in response not only to the military situation with Japan, but to Australia’s location in the Pacific. From then on, he states, Australia will be proactive, the architect of her own interests.
Australia disengaged from the ‘general war’ to concentrate on the Pacific conflict. Both Churchill and Roosevelt were surprised, and dismayed, but the die was cast. Australia survived the war, but only with massive assistance from the U.S. America has been the cornerstone of our foreign policy ever since.
Eighty years later, are Australia and the U.S. still a ‘perfect match’, or is it time to re-consider the partnership? Although America is still the pre-eminent power on earth, does Australia need its protection, and secondly, does America provide that protection, and if it does, at what price?
Is there a credible threat to us, or would we be more sensible to take a leaf out of New Zealand’s book, and be no-one’s enemy, and no-one’s target? It is important to look at our similarities, but also at the areas where we diverge.
Shared history, shared values?
For years, at least until President Trump was elected, there was a type of consensus that what we had in common far outweighed our differences. Recent events, particularly in America’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and then the Black Lives Matter protests, have thrown some doubt on that shared vision.
Many have used the “shared history, and shared values” argument to justify our continued relationship. Others question the value for Australia, which has stood loyally by its mighty ally, through its many wars, with not much to show for the effort, except in terms of lost lives, and wasted military resources. We were never there as equal partners.
We supported American wars whenever we were asked
Australia joined the U.S. in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the First Gulf War in Iraq, the Afghanistan War, the Second Gulf War in Iraq. We even joined the so-called War on Terror.
When push comes to shove, Australia is expected to step forward, no questions asked. Perhaps the debt from 1941 – 1945 has been repaid?
Australia and the U.S. are both nominally democratic societies, and yet there is a tradition in the U.S. of actively trying to suppress the vote for minorities, and to rig elections by gerrymander. There are efforts to outlaw postal voting, begun when in the midst of a global pandemic.
Australians are used to electoral matters being decided by independent umpires. We are not only encouraged to vote, but we are punished if we do not. So is America still a democracy, and is it worth defending?
Guns in America
Probably the most contentious right Americans possess is the right “to keep and to bear arms”. Covered by the Second Amendment and intended to permit the personal use of arms as a defence against state tyranny, it has mutated into a violent and uncontrolled gun culture.
In 2021, the most recent year for which complete data is available, 48,830 people died from gun-related injuries in the U.S., according to the CDC.
This was the highest number of gun deaths since 1968 (see here). Another side of this tragedy is that suicide accounts for almost twice as many deaths as homicide.
By comparison Australia’s gun deaths in 2019 were 229. It is incomprehensible to us living in Australia that Americans insist on their right to kill, and to be killed.
This situation is exacerbated by the militarisation of the various state police forces, and the sheer number of mainly gun-fuelled deaths. Most of those deaths are of Black men, arguably by overzealous police. Do we share the values of a nation which practices officially sanctioned, racially based murder?
Did Scott Morrison commit us to a war with China?
Our previous, unlamented Prime Minister ramped up the hysteria and the rhetoric concerning China. He committed a sum of $270 billion to defence, which included funding for long range missiles. These are presumably to warn China that we are deadly serious about defending ourselves, militarily, against our largest trading partner.
This can be traced back to a slavish desire, on Morrison’s part, to please Donald Trump. The ex-President, in an attempt to divert attention away from his own criminal governance of the country, had sought to demonise China for somehow ‘inventing’ Covid19.
By jumping on Trump’s bandwagon, Australia is going to be ‘protected’ if China reacts badly to our belligerence. That must be why we are investing in nuclear powered submarines, to be ‘delivered’, in dribs and drabs, if at all, in the 2040s.
It is uncertain whether human civilisation will even survive until the 2040s. Already climate change is contributing to mass migrations; droughts and floods are affecting food and water security; the West is already fracturing under the political pressures of exploding refugee numbers, and political volatility is out of control. Russia is just the first rogue state to bust out of the bubble.
Labor has drunk the kool-aid
The logic behind following the United States anywhere is flawed. It is a nation which seemingly needs wars, in order to keep its over-sized military busy, and focused outwards. How else to restrain its generals and admirals?
The American Century is over. The country is hopelessly divided, and its people are not only divided on political grounds, but also on economic, religious and racial lines. Inequality has morphed into something resembling the Middle Ages.
If America was once a trusted ally, the Trump presidency must have caused us to reconsider where we stand. A buddy this week, maybe not so much next week?
We need to tread carefully until the U.S. has a leader who can be trusted. Joe Biden is 80 years old. At his age, how long can we rely on his common sense? His main opponent will probably be Donald Trump, who is crazy, old and unstable.
This then is the horse we have hitched our wagon to. In Australian terms, “have we backed the wrong horse?”
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What about Pine Gap?
” . . .
The station is partly run by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), US National Security Agency (NSA), and US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and is a key contributor to the NSA’s global interception/surveillance effort, which included the ECHELON program. The classified NRO name of the Pine Gap base is Australian Mission Ground Station (AMGS), while the unclassified cover term for the NSA function of the facility is RAINFALL. . . “
Sums it up pretty well, I think.
NO, in answer to the headline question.
Agreement with everything else.
I would add that there is little that is altruistic in US actions. Their own perceived needs come first. Yes, some good is done, but not in countries where it provokes war.
Biden is no better than the Mango Mussolini when it comes to China and the pressures of the military industrial complex. We need to separate ourselves from both the USA and the UK.
We are being set up to fight the US proxy war with China.
Most likely over Taiwan, but any contrived provocation will do.
It’s that simple.
Presidents come and go but policies and ideology can remain the same e.g. via institutions and think tank influence; unless events compel them to do otherwise e.g. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
On China, Xi has not continued previous policies and has solidified his authority or leadership, but in Oz there is little analysis in media of what neighbouring nations are doing regarding China and internal machinations while favouring one eyed ideological antipathy towards the US (often for good reason).
In Anglosphere of US, UK, Australia and Canada there are too many on the ageing left and right who view the world through same old simplistic 20thC ideological prisms ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’. Meanwhile many influencers inc. in Oz seem to echo the same talking points i.e. pro-Putin/Russia, anti-Ukraine/EU, anti-NATO and the big divider is Xi; many support Xi (and critical of the US), but many don’t.
‘We need to tread carefully until the U.S. has a leader who can be trusted. Joe Biden is 80 years old.’ so what and why can’t he be trusted?
The US like elsewhere is ageing, so that 80 makes Biden one of many oldies, while electorally he sits near the median of the upper age median voter in the US.
This would suggest that he may be nearer the majority of the voter cohort (and understanding), and able to see off GOP candidates who target the above median age to screw younger generations?
My belief system tells me that the alliance with USA, when founded during WW2, was only signed off by our partner because it was favourable to US interests.
I have recently consumed “Our Exceptional Friend”, and been reminded of the nature of our alliance, and any others that the US negotiates, and it sidesteps a whole lot of moral enterprises that you would expect the worlds policeman to be firmly in favour of.
It would seem that they only involve themselves in things that will “make America great again”.
So Pine gap, and shifting their front line onto our doorstep is something that you may expect.
They remain insulated, so going to the mall does not mean walking through a minefield, or experiencing birth defects from agent orange or depleted uranium.
From a US perspective, being our friend will only last as long as its to their advantage, and as we see in the proxy war with Russia they will begrudgingly be there to do only what is necessary to keep some semblance of being superior.
We have put up with this mad uncle for far longer than is strictly justified, and if we put the question to AI i am confident of the outcome.
Thank you for including the Korean War in the list of conflicts we have been dragged into. Korea gets rarely ever mentioned which goes to show how poorly informed are most of the people calling themselves journalists. There is no excuse for ignorance as there are many books written containing actual accounts of Korean veterans. My late husband contributed war photos and personal accounts of the battles of Kapyong and MaryAng San.
@ Steve Davis, that sounds a logical conclusion. Western nations, including Australia exported most of their industrial base to China. Russia teams up with China to deliver the final coup. A conflict doesn’t even need to be particularly extreme, just enough to lock up supply chains. A blockade of Singapore-Malaysia refining hub, or blocking trade through the South China sea would be enough to make Aussies realize what it means to have less than 2 weeks of fuel in its Strategic Reserve. Someone get ready to hand Albo the white flag.
It is somewhat embarrassing to note that while we have been dicking around with an inland rail line that has now run massively over budget, China has been able to link some 900 cities with high speed, cheap and efficient rail services that run on time.
As pointed out in this NYT article, China has not achieved this with vast oil revenues but on the back of hard work and national pride.
Some might say embarrassing, Terence, others may point out, with resigned cynicism borne of decades of observation, that this is merely how things get done in these times in this country, as so acutely observed by Donald Horne in Lucky Country.
As my Chinese partner has pointed out, China could not have achieved what it has if it had been saddled with a two (or more) party democratic model. The existence of an autocratic one-party rule is the enabler for the modern development of that country, as opposed to the ‘she’ll be right’ approach typified in Australia, plenty of time, no need to hurry, give the guys the weekends off, double & triple time for night shifts and other out of ordinary work conditions and so on, as well as the yes it’s on, no it’s off, yes it’s on again ping-ponging every three or four years as a function of competing political interests.
When I shifted to NSW from SA in 1980, the decision to upgrade the Pacific Highway between Sydney & Brisbane was in its nascent phase. More than forty years later that project was completed. Forty years! Not much evidence of any sense of urgency.
Chinese psychology has little in common with westerners, and I’m certain they feel all the better for that circumstance, nor do they wish to emulate western attitudes or approaches to problem solving. I’ve spent a large slice of my life in the company of these people, and with almost no exceptions I find them intelligent and industrious and good-natured as well as being rightly offended at the criticism leveled at them by western media and political classes.
Terence and Canguro, I could not agree more — great comments.
@ Steve Davis: I must agree. When the USA (United States of Apartheid) is an ally then countries have been shown to never need any other enemies.
I think we are due to be given a few lessons by China, on how their influence can be applied without the “bombs, and bullets” approach that we have used to date.
But of course with the help of our US friends who formulated our foreign policy, “no worries, Matey”.
We had the good sense to store our reserve fuel in USA, so we have that supply chain covered.
“She`ll be right”.
Yes Douglas, our reserve fuel situation is a disaster waiting to happen.
If disaster does happen, there will, however, be a benefit.
It will wake a few clowns up to the true nature of our friends and allies, and the usefulness of our military treaties — close to zero, as NEC never tires of pointing out…
I live in Far North Queensland and we were promised, when Peter Beattie was Premier (1998 – 2007) that the Pacific Highway between Brisbane and Cairns (also known as Bruce) would be made into an all weather super highway – we are still waiting – and every year the Bruce Highway is shut down at various points due to flooding.
Recently I met some Canadian tourists who commented on the deplorable state of our Highway 1 – they couldn’t understand why we were not able to build an all weather, multi lane road all the way up the East coast. Contrast their Trans Canada Highway running East-West, all weather even allowing for massive snow fall……………..
Terence, hopefully sans flooding, I’ll be on that very highway later in the year. Friends at Millaa Millaa have encouraged me to take the trek north for the Yungaburra music festival next October.
As we prognosticate by mainly looking through the lens at the 20th Century, we cannot avoid looking at America’s decisive role in the putting down the horrors of fascism and Naziism. But to have some balance we probably ought not forget the entire western hemisphere’s violent and oppressive incursions into east Asia, and more particularly the horrors perpetrated upon China by mainly Britain and America. Of course, these incursions were always about dominion over resources, trade and a population put into servitude of the west.
Since WWII, certainly the west made huge advances and modernised out of necessity and off the back of wartime industrialisation. But with Anglo-American hubris and self-righteousness, fell for its own one-sided story of supremacy in instituted cold wars and further as a xenophobic and mostly racist world policemen. From the 60s onward it progressively went stark raving mad. Rather than realising the roots and cost of its own psychological difficulties, it concealed itself in a manic consumerist industrial binge. Invariably, in lock-step with its notion of policemen, reverted to industrialised militarism. The hungry insatiable beast invented would become its raison d’être and in its feeding the rest of the world’s bête noir, and its bereft citizens divided, conquered and refugees in their own country.
Of course the Russia / Ukraine debacle, irrespective of Putin’s brutal despotism, is a direct result of the beast’s manufactured deafness to Putin and pumping of an adversarial model of NATO.
In the face of Anglo-America’s cultural and economic demise, are we now seeing the putting down of the hungry beast and its insatiable pillaging, opting for sustainability and security of survival? With the wounds deep, it will be a delicate but essential operation requiring collaboration with the rest of the world, after all none can go down without calamitous affect on all.
It may be known by some ‘in charge’, yet because of the vicissitudes of trust and cooperation, the story is usually made differently for each group of minds affected by their lived past. Oz in its way may be grasping an opportunity for participating in change, not staying in a worn dependence and servitude?