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The Pinkerton Effect: The US Marines in Darwin

Subordinates rarely have a good time of dictating matters to their superiors. In the webbed power relations that pass as realpolitik, Australia is the well-behaved child in the front of the room, yearning to be caned and spoilt in equal measure. Ever since Australia’s Prime Minister John Curtin cast his eye to Washington in an act of desperation during the Second World War, fearing defeat at the hands of the Japanese and British abandonment, the United States has maintained its role, a brute to be relied upon, even as it careers into the next disaster. An underlying rationale since then has been dangerously simple: With the United States, right or wrong, sober or drunk.

An important element in the relationship has been the forced belief that the US has no bases in Australia, preferring the untidy ruse of rotation. A base implies permanency, garrisons with darkened influences on the local populace, followed by the all-too-predictable requirement for courts martial. A rotation on exercise suggests a casual visit and a bit of sunny fun.

The US armed forces, as Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, do this with callous freedom under the broader aegis of the alliance with Canberra, fucking the Oriental subject and departing, having impregnated the host, and propelling her to a despair that eventually kills. The metaphor carries over for what sounds, promiscuously enough, a classic military strategy: rotation, not occupation; movement, not garrisoned entrenchment. To that end, it follows that the US does not occupy Australia so much as penetrate it with convenience, use it, and discard if and when needed, all pimp, and occasionally reassuring plunderer.

In 2014, US President Barack Obama fluted his views about the Pacific and the future role of US forces on a visit to Australia, yet another notch on the belt of the imperium’s move into the Asia-Pacific. “By the end of this decade, a majority of our Navy and Air Force fleets will be based out of the Pacific, because the United States is and always will be a Pacific power.”

In 2015, Admiral Jonathan Greenert did his little Pinkerton expedition to Darwin, hoping to find suitable environs to seed further. The US, in his words, was “doing a study together with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to see what might be feasible for naval co-operation in and around Australia which might include basing ships.” (The horny Lothario must always sound cooperative and consultative).

A new port facility, planned to be situated at the Glyde Point area, has been one part of this potentially dubious harvest. The intention here is to broaden the scope of naval operations, with the port intended for amphibious war ships, while providing comfort to the rotating marine force. The Australian Defence Department, as is its wont, refuses to confirm this, telling the country’s national broadcaster that it had, at present “no plans for the development of a new naval facility in the Northern Territory.” The evidence suggests otherwise, given the completion of the recent $40 million road to Gunn Point, near Glyde Point. (The road to militarism tends to have good paving).

A few mutterings are available from the Australian Defence Force. A spokesman explained, noting additions to the infrastructure, that, “The [fuel storage] facility will support training and enable enhance cooperation between the Australian Defence Force and the US Marine Corps and US Air Force.”

It has been a touch under a decade since US marines began arriving in Darwin, all part of the Obama administration’s desire to pivot the imperium. In 2018, Washington sent a contingent of 1,500 soldiers as part of the US-Australian force posture agreement, an understanding said to continue till 2040. The national interest analysis of the agreement reads like an authorising document for occupation, however described. Weasel assurances are present to give the reader the false impression of Australian independence; there would be, for instance, “respect for Australian sovereignty and the laws of Australia”, the need to agree to consultation “and affirms that the initiatives will occur at Australian facilities, consistent with our long-standing policy that there are no foreign military bases on Australian soil.”

Such a position did not fool Nick Deane of the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network, an organisation that continues to promote the dangers of a continuing US military presence on the continent. “Having foreign troops on home territory creates a potential breach in any sovereign nation’s defence. The first criterion of independence has to be the nation’s capacity to look after itself by conducting its own defence.” The presence of foreign troops should only be countenanced in “the most extreme of situations.” Those had hardly presented themselves, despite the usual psychic pressings posed by a rejigged version of the Yellow Peril.

Groups such as IPAN, along with a few defence contrarians such as Mike Gilligan, argue that Australia simply does not need this added presence for peace of mind, being more than capable of dealing with its own security.

Australia’s problems have been amplified by another player in the crammed boudoir. The People’s Republic of China is also sniffing, perusing and seeking a foothold. Darwin’s port was leased to Landbridge Industry Australia, a subsidiary of Shandong Landbridge Group in 2015, which might have been regarded as more than just a tease. Such foreplay did not impress various critics at the time, including the then federal treasurer, Scott Morrison. “They didn’t tell us about it!” he is noted to have said. “Which Australian city controversially leased their port to a Chinese company in 2015?” Strategy wonks were baffled; this move on the part of the Northern Territory government did not tally.

It would be convenient to deem the Northern Territory government a convenient whipping boy in this whole business. Australia, thus far, is proving an erratic courtesan on all fronts, happy to provide coal to Beijing in abundance with a certain amoral confidence but abstinent and circumspect on technology. (Its directions to remain firm against Beijing from Washington regarding Huawei and 5G are clear enough).

Canberra is also rebuffing various efforts being made by the PRC in the Pacific. The Australian heart remains firmly, perhaps suicidally, in Washington’s embrace, but its politics remains scrambled. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s recent megaphone tour of the Solomon Islands was meant to be a signal to China that the Pacific remained Canberra’s neighbourhood watch zone and, by virtue of that, a US playground by proxy. Pinkertonism is a hard thing to shake.


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  1. Wat Tyler

    Australia is enslaved by the USA ( and it is not alone in that, but other countries in thrall to the USA, like Israel and Japan, it’s only other friends, are there out of economic necessity. We are in thrall out of fear.), and we now know more about US politics than we know about the politics of nations that are, or soon will be, more important to us. What America wants us to do, we do, regardless of whether or not it is our business or to our advantage. We have leapt into wars that the US started for no other reason than to aid US commerce. Every so often the US nominates a nation it needs to exploit and then demonises its leaders (the Americans need a hate figure) and we just go along with it. Do we REALLY give a toss about Venezuela’s supposed HR abuses any more than we care about Saudi Arabia’s HR abuses? No’
    And neither do the Americans. They just want Maduro’s Oil.

  2. Brad Golding

    The US has troops in Australia for one primary reason. To destroy our government with freedom and democracy should another Gough Whitlam style government come to power. The CIA/MI6 cabal destroyed Whitlam’s government and will not allow another. Sadly, the sheeple of Oz think that by becoming a republic Australia will be free and independent. Poor sods know nothing about the clutches of the banks and corporate USA/EU.

  3. Andrew Smith

    Australia was growing up then John Howard, NewsCorp and the IPA emerged.

    Still amazes me how easily Australians are led into looking up to either the US or UK for approval while whinging and complaining locally as if unempowered, and ignoring the rest of the world (except ‘Europe’ and ‘Asia’ for trips).Yet, US and UK appear to be in decline and many Australians view themselves susceptible (to something here) due to our supposed ‘shared Anglo Saxon values’ vs. e.g. ‘Islam’.

    Heard the same dog whistle at my local drinker from I guess an uneducated (who should not try dog whistling) NewsCorp follower wanting to talk about issue in Oz of ‘Anglo Saxon, values and Islam’, while jabbing one in the arm with their finger; wonder where he was going to lead me…? My polite response was that such utterances exclude most of Oz society, including from the past, Irish Catholic and Jewish, and those who make such demands for an Anglo Saxon (myth) nirvana could migrate to US or UK?

  4. New England Cocky

    Thank you for recognising the US Occupation Force in darwin will soon have the capacity to strike south towards Canberra as well as north towards the Yellow Peril. The invasion of Canberra will over-fly some of the richest mineral deposits in the world that foreign owned multinational corporations and their overseas shareholders want to exploit at no net cost to themselves and certainly no benefit to Australian voters, white or black.

  5. Wam

    Speak to the conservatives about non-whites to the north compared to 20m whites in Australia and hear why we suck up the septics and that pig-iron bob’s ‘reds’ and phon’s ‘swamped’ are still echoing.
    My understanding of ANZUS in the 50s was we would join the yanks in any pacific operations and the septics would commit to giving us ‘aid’.

    Ignorance is bliss I thought the Pinkertons were a 19th century vigilante style mob and had disappeared. That was true but only the ‘s’ has gone. Leaving the Pinkerton spectre alive and well.

    A look at the countries with overseas bases is interesting we have butterworth and seem to have something in the UAE.

    ps in the absence of labor as the chief cause, Morrison is setting up the septics and China as the perpetrators of our economic woes.

  6. Florence Howarth

    I believe the IPA was established in the days of Menzies & Murdoch’s father. Has managed to operate in the background up to now. Not sure when it took on the look of the US Tea party.

  7. Andrew Smith

    Regarding IPA think was a much more modest operation in the past and Coles was involved in its establishment.

    However, the weaponisation of the IPA probably started with its inclusion, along with CIS, in the Koch Bros’ Atlas Network, also supported by Exxon Mobil etc. and using model legislation from ALEC (Bernardi had been linked in past)

    Further, ALEC, described as a ‘bill mill’ had also been strongly linked with John Tanton of ZPG (who collaborated with Paul ‘Club of Rome’ Ehrlich, Sea Shepherd’s Paul Watson, supported by Rockefeller (Standard Oil/Exxon Mobil), Ford and Carnegie foundations, with a strong whiff of bigotry.

    Tanton was described by SPLC as the ‘racist architect of the modern anti-immigration movement’, admirer of the white Australia policy and helped co-opt both eugenics driven white nationalists and anti-abortion conservative and/or evangelical Christians, separated by a ‘Chinese wall’ (in fact most of the Christians cited obviously not so keen on ethics). Tanton’s public obsession and success had been linking, without empirical evidence, ‘immigration’ and ‘population growth’ with environmental degradation under the banner of ‘sustainability’, ‘limits to growth’ and ‘carrying capacity’ (cooked up and/or promoted via the Club of Rome, sponsored by owners of Fiat the Agnellis, VW and hosted on the Rockefeller estate)

    Tanton’s mob and their ‘research’ now informs the Trump White House, also have been informing UK MPs via Population Matters and Migration Watch (Brexiters) but preceded first by inroads into Australian politics, academia and media from the ’80s.

    You’d almost think that there is significant interference or influence upon Australian politics directly by US and/or proxies?

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