The Queen of Sheba in Oz


Well the real Queen’s visit is over.

She flew into Australia in her own plane, and was greeted by our high and mighty at the airport. She marched along a red carpet, through serried ranks of her own sailors, she spent three days telling our leaders what was happening in the world, and what she expected of them. She attended the Commonwealth Games, and presented a gold medal to a delighted winner. Fittingly, for someone of her status visiting an unstable, terrorist-infested country, she travelled in a 17-car motorcade, as police helicopters clattered overhead. But Condoleezza Rice is now on her way back to her mighty homeland. She left a day or two after that old English woman who opened the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

There was something quite surreal about the US Secretary of State’s visit to Australia. Theoretically, we’re an independent country, but here was an outsider telling us we should be ‘containing’ China, our most powerful and important neighbor and trading partner in Asia. And she ranted about China’s military budget, which this year was increased by 14.7 per cent to US$35 billion. As she told The Australian‘s Greg Sheridan, ‘We’ve said we have concerns about the Chinese military build-up, we’ve told the Chinese they need to be transparent about what their military build-up means.’

She was telling Greg, and no doubt her Australian hosts John Howard, Alexander Downer and our defence staff, about this outrageous Chinese military spending in the same week as the US Senate approved the 2006 US Federal budget, which allocates a basic US$439 billion for defence. This figure is roughly equal to the total defence budgets of the rest of the world combined including those of China and Russia and does not include another US$67 billion to keep the Iraqi war going. And, as US Senator Robert Byrd reminded his colleagues this week, that Iraqi war has so far cost,’an astounding US$320 billion.’

Thanks to Bill Leak.

American demands for the ‘containment’ of China whatever that might mean for once stirred Alexander Downer to demur ever so gently. Before Rice arrived our Foreign Minister told Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News, ‘We don’t support a policy of containment of China. I don’t think that’s going to be a productive or constructive policy at all.’ Some sense at last although if ever there was a statement of the obvious, this was it.

Australia has as much chance of ‘containing’ China, as Downer has of halting the flow of the Murray River with his left hand. And his financial advisors have probably told him our economy will collapse if we piss off China so badly that it stops us digging up our backyard and shipping it off to build the shining new Middle Kingdom.

China is already too big and powerful for American dreams of ‘containment’ to be anything but … dreams. This is not the case with Iran.

In Washington, the people who gave us the Iraqi civil war ‘If this is not a civil war, then God knows what is,’ exclaimed the former Iraqi Prime Minister, Iyad Alawi in mid-March are now sizing up Iran for a dose of shock and awe. The drumbeat about Iran’s nuclear program and the need to stop it, is gradually building in much the same way as the hysteria mounted over Iraq’s ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ before the US invasion, exactly three years ago.

The US is already preparing the world for what could be a pre-emptive air strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. In the draft of the National Security Strategy of the United States released by the White House on 15 March, Iran is specifically warned that the United States reserves the right to take ‘participatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack.’

As Condi said at her press conference in Sydney before she left:

Iran is a challenge because it is seeking to have a nuclear program that would allow it to develop a nuclear weapon, and it’s doing that, we believe, under the cover of the Nuclear Test Ban treaty.

This, from a woman whose own country has more nuclear weapons than any other, which is pressuring Australia to sell uranium to India which has an active nuclear weapons development program, and which is the foremost protector of the only country in the Middle East which is known to have a secret, unsupervised, nuclear weapons stockpile and weapons development program, Israel.

What should concern Australians is that Rice was talking about ‘containment’ of China, and was threatening Iran, while she was on Australian soil. Seen from Tehran or Beijing, Australia is simply an American puppet unless it steers a path independent of American foreign policy.

If China should be as ‘transparent’ as Rice demands, then Australia and the US should be utterly transparent about what they’re saying about China and Iran. In the interests of ‘transparency,’ what did Condi tell our leaders about Iran? Did she ask Howard, Downer and Brendan Nelson for support in any future adventure against Iran? If Iran was discussed in any context, what was said?

What if, after the recent talks with Rice and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, Alexander Downer or, even better, John Howard had appeared on radio and television to make a statement something like this?:

Among many issues discussed during the recent bilateral talks with the United States, and trilateral talks which included Japan, Australia took a clear stand on three major issues.

We told Secretary Rice that China was a major trading partner of this country, and that we have excellent political and economic relations with it. We don’t agree with China on all issues human rights is one but we see China as a major stabilising force in the region, particularly the Korean peninsula.

We also discussed the question of Iran and whether it is, or is not, developing nuclear weapons. We said that this is not proven either way. Furthermore, Iran, with whom we have trade and diplomatic relations, is not seen as any threat to this country. We told the Secretary that Australia would never support any unilateral diplomatic or military action against Iran. This position could only be changed by a United Nations Security Council decision, backed by United Nations sponsored investigations.

Finally, we gave the Secretary a date when Australia will withdraw its military personnel from Iraq.

Well dream on.

On past form, our masters will only let us know that they’ve dumped us in Iranian ordure when the troop transports start gathering in Darwin or Townsville and we suddenly find there’s this dreadful smell rising up from around our ankles.

What’s so worrying is that this could actually happen. After all, Howard and Downer bought the US lies about Saddam’s WMDs and his close connection with al-Qaeda. So you would have to worry about what garbage Condi told them about Iran. Already, the rhetoric is eerily reminiscent of the propaganda about Saddam and Osama which preceded the invasion of Iraq.

At the same media conference where she accused the Iranians of trying to build a bomb, she stated flatly, with no evidence, that Iran was ‘the central banker of terrorism.’ Now nobody is giving me the latest CIA printouts, but I do know, from covering Iran and Iraq, on the ground, for many years, that Shi’ite Iran is hardly likely to be bankrolling the world’s most famous terrorists Osama bin Laden, and his bloodthirsty lieutenant in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarkawi. Both happen to be Sunni fanatics and one inspires while the other leads, the brutal sectarian war on Iraq’s Shi’ite majority. I h
ope, but doubt, that someone is telling Howard and Downer simple stuff like this.

So Condi has left us to our simple pleasures of football and the triumphs of our Golden Girls in the swimming pool. We have said goodbye to the woman described, by her worshipper Greg Sheridan in his The Australian profile, as ‘the most powerful woman in the world, the most powerful woman in American history, the most powerful Black woman since the Queen of Sheba.’

Having seen this ‘intensely gifted’ woman (Greg again), and heard her spiel in Australia, you have to ask yourself: If this woman is so brilliant, why has she become a leading mouthpiece for a US Administration led by the laziest and most stupid man ever to attain the presidency; a man who has taken our countries into a disastrous war which has already soaked Iraq in blood and which will almost certainly see it destroy itself in civil war; a man who has plunged America into the deepest debt in its history, mainly to finance this brutal war and to give his rich supporters huge tax cuts, and whose personal popularity among his own people is at 36 per cent, the sort of level in the polls Richard Nixon reached before he was forced to resign?

Either Condi is as stupid as her boss which hardly seems possible, as we are talking about a man with the thought processes of maize or she knows exactly what’s going on, and has made a completely cynical decision to stay with Bush, and spread his Administration’s propaganda, regardless of the long-term cost to her own country. She would only do this because she thinks the high profile of her job gives her the sort of public recognition you need to win a television-dominated US presidential election.

Either way, I think I prefer the Queen of England.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.