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The American dependency

By Bruce Haigh - posted Thursday, 23 June 2016


Irrespective of whether he wins or not, by nature of the fact he is where he is, Donald Trump throws into question the nature of our relationship with America, including the so called Alliance.

How is it that a country like America, with a lot of talented people, can produce a presidential candidate like Trump and see him within a hairs breadth of becoming President?

Is it the same phenomena that saw Abbott become Australian Prime Minister, Boris Johnson seeking to become British Prime Minister or the narrowly defeated right wing Presidential candidate in Austria, Norbert Hofer, Dutch right wing aspirant for Prime Minister, Geert Wilders, Presidential aspirant in France, Marine Le Pen or even our own Malcolm Turnbull, who has gone from a small l Liberal to right wing conservative in the space of five months?

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A common theme with all is demonization of asylum seekers and immigrants, particularly Muslims. They ascribe to and seek to maintain a status quo which has gone – the supremacy and dominance of the white population. But Trump is more. He is a Xenophobe with a huge military arsenal potentially at his disposal and an 'army' of rednecks backing him internally which includes members of state and federal police, the border force and members of the US armed forces.

Australia rushed to the side of the American involvement in Viet Nam. It was a war which should never have been fought. It was entered into because of an American commitment to winning the Cold War. The analysis which saw Viet Nam as a domino in an Asian and broader world scenario was flawed. But as a part of paying our premium on the US defence insurance policy Australia went and in the process for the first time conscripted young men to fight overseas.

It was a policy implemented by red neck Robert Menzies, Australian Prime Minister from 1949-1965 and an American and Monarchical admirer, who tugged his forelock at both. He is lauded by the Sydney Institute and other conservative institutions, such as the Institute for Public Affairs and conservative Australians such as Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.

Turnbull embraces the American Alliance, but the unequal nature of the arrangement and the huge power imbalance between the two countries, can hardly be seen as an alliance of equals. It is on American terms and always has been.

Australian military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has achieved nothing positive or of lasting gain. Instead we have seen the rise of ISIS, and the Taliban both in Afghanistan and Pakistan are stronger. American diplomacy relies on military power without it they believe their ability to negotiate is weak.

American pressure forced the Australian purchase of the F 111 and now the F 35, it pushed the construction or purchase of larger submarines resulting in the Collins Class lemon, for construction of the air defence destroyers and now a new generation of submarines. They made acceptance of the Pine Gap spy and control facility a test of the Alliance. Operation of that facility and access to the information it gleans is entirely on their terms – hardly an outcome from an Alliance of equals.

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Turnbull says he could work with Trump, how could anyone? The man is repugnant.

Paradoxically for a Republican, Trump has tapped into white blue collar and red neck fear of a loss of economic and social standing; they fear being a minority in their own US of A. This mood and Trumps fostering of it is dangerously destabilising and could lead to social unrest, whether Trump wins or loses the genie is out of the bottle.

Where is the USA headed, with or without Trump as President? Trump does not like China, but Clinton is unlikely to moderate the responses already in place and planned to counter what the US sees as unjustified Chinese regional expansion. For Australia it remains all the way with the USA for better or for worse. But we could act as a broker; we could convene a permanent regional structure for ongoing dialogue to reduce and redirect tension.

Many years ago Australia, through its key federal public departments, universities and independent think tanks might have sought to construct an independent Australian defence and foreign policy, centred on the region rather than US global concerns, ideology or fears over oil supply. Such a policy might have been nuanced and subtle. It would have required a degree of maturity and self confidence that to date has been sadly lacking in Australia.

Is it too late? Are we irretrievably bound up in the fate of America, like a Roman vassal state as the Empire moved toward collapse?

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat.

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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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