There is much speculation at the moment as to the efficacy of the US/Australia alliance. Some are questioning the need for it others the nature of it, arguing that as the alliance stands it has stripped Australia of much independence of thought and action.
We need a close relationship with the United States, just as we need close relationships with other powerful and ‘like-minded’ countries although the domestic and foreign policies of the Howard Government have ensured that there are few countries with which we now have a like mind, and this has been exacerbated by John Howard and Alexander Downer’s crude and idiosyncratic diplomacy.
These failings have been recently highlighted with Howard’s injudicious and intemperate remarks about US Senator and presidential hopeful Barack Obama. With an apparently off-the-cuff comment, Howard has put his own and Australia’s future relationship with the US on the line, and kick-started a debate that many say should have begun some time ago.
Howard is a neo-con, a supporter of the Right wing of the US Republican Party. He is a loyal Bush man and has indicated that he is going to go down with the USS Bush. He could not have given a stronger indication of this than his attack on Obama, who has a very good chance of becoming the next US President, and if it’s not him it will be one of his Democratic Party colleagues.
Howard has effectively dealt himself out of the game. His attack on Obama means that he can’t stick around after Bush is gone and his thoughtless and egotistical desire to curry favour with the little man in the White House now means it will be difficult for his successor within the Liberal Party to have a meaningful relationship with a Democrat President, particularly if it is Obama.
Howard embraced Bush as soon as the latter became President. US foreign policy became Australian foreign policy right down to not signing the Kyoto Protocol. Howard’s abrogation of national sovereignty and his craven fawning on Bush and his Administration has demonstrated neither experience nor maturity. Cunning as a fox he may be, but he has hidden his increasingly obvious shortcomings behind duplicity.
As a point-scoring exercise and with the Federal election looming, the Liberals have now tried the tactic of calling Rudd too inexperienced to be Prime Minister, although Rudd’s diplomatic career has facilitated a sophistication and balance in dealing with world leaders so obviously lacking in Howard.
Our provincial Prime Minister has made a farce, even tragedy, out of our relationship with the US. He is not the first to do so but we should ensure he is the last.
The tone and substance of that relationship was set soon after General Douglas MacArthur arrived in Australia at the end of March 1942 as Commander-in-Chief, Allied Forces, South-West Pacific Area. MacArthur confronted war-time PM John Curtin and insisted that strict censorship be applied to the military campaign then being waged in Papua New Guinea. Curtin complied. The highly respected Australian war correspondent Osmar White was so incensed that he left PNG saying that he no longer had a job.
MacArthur, with an eye on quick victories for his domestic reputation in the US, instructed the compliant commander of Australian forces, General Thomas Blamey, to sack the Australian leaders on the ground (Major-General Rowell and Brigadiers Allan and Potts) get a hurry on in the battle on the Owen Stanley Ranges. These local commanders had been fighting a tactical withdrawal while they put together reinforcements and supplies for an offensive against the Japanese which would drive them back across the rugged and inhospitable ranges. The Japanese had reached the end of their supply lines and were exhausted.
The Australian offensive began when Blamey flew into PNG and cruelly carried out MacArthur’s directive. That he was able to do so was entirely due to the fact that the Australian public had only a sketchy idea of what was going on and had no idea how well these generals had performed. As a result they had no domestic constituency in Australia to rally to their support and they suffered a most unjust fate.
Does this sound familiar? Censorship imposed by the United States put a ban on reporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and sought to keep a lid on trumped-up WMDs. Why is it that American democracy has an aversion to the truth and, more importantly, why has Australia gone along with this aversion?
Thanks to Bill Leak
Robert Menzies continued the national cringe, riding the twin horses of British and American prestige until it became obvious to him that the British had little and the Americans a lot.
This realisation was advanced during the Cold War. Australia expressed concern about being attacked from the north and through ANZUS and other treaties sought to lock the US into our defence.
Menzies worked himself into a lather over the ‘Domino Theory’ in Southeast Asia to the point that he became an active and persistent lobbyist for US intervention in South Vietnam. This outcome having been secured, he then introduced conscription in Australia for overseas service; thereby showing very little belief in the strength of his cause and the young men of Australia. Many believed that Menzies used the war in Vietnam to impress the Americans with Australian loyalty and compliance. They call it ‘paying our dues’ or ‘topping up the insurance policy.’
All this has done is feed the Australian inferiority complex and avoid the difficult process of growing up and making our own decisions. Problems with the nature of the US/Australian relationship are entirely of our own making. The US rightly or wrongly will do what it feels it has to do. There is simply no need for Australia to cravenly follow suit.
Howard has adopted the supplicant mentality in spades, but the wonderfully weird thing is that, with his attack on Obama, he has just thrown away all the credit he thought he had gained though our involvement in Iraq. Others argue that credit cannot be earned from fealty to Bush because, as with Nixon, no future Administration will honour his debts. These are the risks that accompany poor judgment and poor diplomacy.
From the outset Howard should have embraced both sides of US politics. Australia needs to build relationships throughout America and to do that it needs self confidence and self respect. A useful starting point in that process might be to begin tackling pressing domestic problems. The ‘war on terror’ is also a political weapon which has been used ruthlessly and expensively by all involved. Those that are playing the terror game have the capacity to take attention away from the real problems of the environment and distribution of potable water. This is another legacy of the Bush/Howard nexus.
Please don’t tell me that Howard is smart and experienced, his record bel
ies that. I will however concede that he is as cunning as a drought-stricken fox and as mendacious as a problem gambler.
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