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Brothers in arms – dire diplomacy

By Bruce Haigh - posted Monday, 14 March 2011


With the Middle East in the throes of a major political re-alignment, the best Julia Gillard can say in Washington is to praise the US position on Israel and to flick the question on a no fly zone over Libya to the UN, while Rudd continues to press for it. Asked as to a possible Australian contribution to a Middle East initiative by the West she responded that Libya was a long way from Australia – so is Afghanistan.

Rudd presses for a no fly zone when Australia has no capacity to contribute. The F35 program to supply Australia with jet fighters has stalled in the face of financial and developmental problems in the US. The Australian Air Force is in a similar position to the Navy, it does not have the assets to project and maintain a force offshore. At the moment Australia is an unreliable military ally.

Did Gillard touch upon these difficulties and shortcomings in Washington?

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As speeches go Gillard's address to Congress was cringe making, it was not the sort of speech one would expect to hear from the leader of an independent country.

I heard no words from Gillard about the need for the fundamental reform of the US financial system, access of Australian beef and other agricultural produce, of the need to withdraw from Afghanistan, of Australian determination to protect the rights of Julian Assange and of concern at US prevarication over the unfolding events in North Africa.

We do not need to blow our trumpet over our escape from the GFC. Our saviour was China, not the Australian Treasury and certainly not the USA who caused it.

It was the speech of a leader of a vssal sate. It was a speech Harold Holt would have been proud of, "All the way with the USA". Why did she make it? It was an unnecessary suck, unless of course we are being softened up for an announcement that the US will station increased military assets in Australia and this was an attempt to show a close relationship in order to justify an bolstering an American military presence. Are we about to become a pawn in the evolving competition between China and the US?

Mind you it might be useful to have some functioning US naval and airpower stationed in Australia in view of the lack of our own assets and manpower.

Gillard's speech was as unedifying as it was revealing. It was the speech of a bully. Suck-up and kick down. She is the Prime Minister who keeps refugee children in detention and Aboriginals in limbo. She has neither the wit nor wisdom to solve these outstanding problems involving the most vulnerable in our society. How she could hold her head up in Washington is amazing.

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The carbon tax is a dog; arrogance and political ineptitude have dominated in dumping the skeleton of a proposal on the Australian public without dialogue and consultation, without flesh, blood, muscle and brain there can be no discussion. Tony Abbott is a known quantity, he is a spoiler, by going off half-cocked she played right into his hands, in the absence of a firm proposal he can say what he likes.

She and Tony Bourke buckled, or rather were out-bullied, by a few angry and ill-informed farmers over water reform. She gives no indication of understanding the fundamentals of the issue and its importance to the future of the nation. Short term political needs have been allowed to dominate.

Gillard might have been better advised to have sought an American commitment to stabilising Libya and seeking the establishment of democracy. The Middle East is an important trading block for Australian, along with many other countries it is a vital source of oil.

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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