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U.S. and Australia — joined at the hip

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Australia's dependence on America is damaging to our own way of life (Image by Dan Jensen)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wants us to join with the U.S. in tackling the problems which Donald Trump created with Iran and presumably to soften us up to host missiles to protect the U.S. marines and port facilities in Darwin, writes John Menadue.

WE ARE BEING SOFTENED UP again, step-by-step, to support the U.S. military and industrial complex that promotes perpetual war.

The U.S. is the greatest threat to peace in the world. It is an aggressor across the globe. It is the most violent country, both at home and abroad. And people know it. The Pew Research Centre found in 2018 that 45% of people surveyed around the world saw ‘U.S. power and influence as a major threat’.

Retired U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis complained that President Trump should show more respect for allies. But the U.S. shows the most respect for allies that do what they are told or supinely comply — like Australia. Our PM even gets an invitation to dinner with Trump and he cannot contain his eagerness. Our media join in the vicarious thrill of it all.

Apart from brief isolationist periods, the U.S. has been almost perpetually at war; wars that we have been foolishly drawn into. The U.S. has subverted and overthrown numerous governments over two centuries. It has a military and business complex, a “hidden state” that depends on war for influence and enrichment. It believes in its “manifest destiny” which brings with it an assumed moral superiority which it denies to others. The problems did not start with Trump. They are long-standing and deep-rooted.

Unfortunately, many of our political, bureaucratic, business and media “elites” have been so long on an American drip feed that they find it hard to think of a world without an American focus. We had a similar and dependent view of the UK in the past. That ended in tears in Singapore.

Conservatives rail about Chinese influence but they and we are immersed and dominated by all things American, including the Murdoch media. Our media do regard Australia as the 51st American state. Just look at the saturation coverage of the Democrat primaries with the Presidential Election still 15 months away. Easy and lazy news. It's harder and nowhere near as interesting to cover much more important news in Indonesia and Malaysia.

In a blog titled Is war in the American DNA?’ I have drawn attention to the risks we run in being “joined at the hip” to a country that is almost always at war. The facts are clear. The U.S. has never had a decade without war. Since its founding in 1776, the U.S. has been at war 93% of the time. These wars have extended from its own hemisphere to the Pacific, to Europe and most recently to the Middle East. The U.S. has launched 201out of 248 armed conflicts since the end of WWII. In recent decades, most of these wars have been unsuccessful. The U.S. maintains 700 military bases or sites around the world including in Australia. In our own region, it has a massive deployment of hardware and troops in Japan, the ROK and Guam.

U.S. fleets patrol in strength off the Chinese coast. The U.S. would have mass hysteria if the Chinese fleet patrolled off the Californian coast or Florida Keys, as it is legally entitled to do.

The U.S.-led illegal invasion of Iraq encouraged by John Howard has resulted, directly and indirectly, in the death of a million people and the displacement of millions of others. It has exposed historic religious, tribal and ethic tensions. Worldwide terrorism and ISIS are the direct results of U.S. aggression and our complicity. John Howard is never held responsible for the massive calamity that he helped facilitate. He remains a national hero, at least in the Liberal Party.

The U.S. has been meddling in other countries’ affairs and elections for a century. It tried to change other countries’ governments 72 times during the cold war. Many foreign leaders were assassinated.

In the piece reproduced in this blog (The fatal expense of U.S. Imperialism), Professor Jeffrey Sachs said:

‘The scale of U.S. military operations is remarkable… The U.S. has a long history of using covert and overt means to overthrow governments deemed to be unfriendly to the US… Historian John Coatsworth counts 41 cases of successful U.S.-led regime change for an average of one government overthrow by the U.S. every 28 months for centuries.’

The overthrow, assassination, or interference in foreign governments are diverse, including Honduras, Guatemala, Iran, Haiti, Congo, Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, Chile, Iraq, Afghanistan and, most recently, Syria.

And this interference continued with the undermining of the pro-Russian Government in the Ukraine by the U.S.-backed Maidan coup in 2014. Gorbachev and Bush agreed that in allowing the reunification of Germany, NATO would not extend eastwards. But with U.S. encouragement, NATO has now provocatively extended right up to the borders of Russia. Not surprisingly, Russia is resisting.

Despite all the evidence of wars and meddling in other countries’ affairs, the American Imperium continues without serious check or query in America or Australia.

There are several reasons why the American record of war and interference has not been challenged.

The first is what is often described as America’s “manifest destiny” — the God-given right to interfere in other countries’ affairs. This right is not given to others because many Americans see themselves as more virtuous and their system of government better than others.

Despite their assumed world role, many Americans have a limited understanding of other countries’ culture and life. Only 32% of Americans have passports. In the UK and Australia, it is 70%. Before he became President, George Bush had only been overseas once. That was to visit Beijing where his father was the Ambassador.

Professor Tom Nichols reported in this blog (How America lost its faith in expertise, and why that matters), Public Policy Polling revealed that 43% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats supported bombing a place called “Agrabah”, which turned out to be a fictional place in a cartoon. Only an ignorant people could presume that their country should bomb a city that did not exist. To this day, 70% of registered Republicans doubt that Obama is an American citizen.

The U.S. has invaded countries it knew about and, in many cases, cultures and people it knew nothing about, who were assumed to be less virtuous and wise than the U.S.

In examining the failure in Vietnam, General Walter T Kerwin Jr observed that:

‘We never understood the Vietnamese. We think we know best. We tried to force on them what they should do…’

The ignorance of ordinary Americans and its politicians of other countries is legendary, but possibly just as important is their resistance to any relief of that ignorance. That may not seem unusual — but it is dangerous for a country with overwhelming military power employed around the globe.

The second reason why the American Imperium continues largely unchecked is the power of what President Eisenhower once called the military and industrial complex in the U.S. In 2019, I would add the intelligence community and politicians to that complex who depend heavily on funding from powerful arms manufacturers across the country and the military and civilian personnel in over 4,000 military facilities across the U.S. Democrats and Republicans both court these wealthy arms suppliers and their employees.

The intelligence community, universities and think tanks also have a vested interest in the American Imperium.

This complex which co-opts institutions and individuals in Australia is often called “the hidden state”. It has enormous influence. No U.S. President, nor for that matter any Australian Prime Minister would likely challenge it.

Australia has locked itself into this complex. Our military and defence leaders are heavily dependent on the U.S. Departments of Defence and State, the CIA and the FBI for advice. But it goes beyond advice. The “Five Eyes” led by the CIA applied pressure to us on 5G as part of a broader campaign to attack almost all things Chinese. We willingly respond and join the U.S. in disasters like Iraq and the Middle East. While the U.N. General Assembly votes with large majorities to curb nuclear proliferation, we remain locked into the position of the U.S. and other nuclear powers.

Our autonomy and independence are also at great risk because our defence/security “elites” in Canberra have as their holy grail the concept of “interoperability” with the U.S. This is mirrored in U.S. official and think tank commentary on the role they see for us in our region. So powerful is U.S. influence and our willing cooperation with it, that our foreign policies have been largely emasculated and sidelined by the defence and security views of both the U.S. and their acolytes in Australia.

The concept of interoperability does not only mean equipment. It also means personnel where increasingly large numbers of Australian military personnel are embedded in the U.S. military and defence establishments, especially in the Pacific Command in Hawaii. The last U.S. Commander in Hawaii very nearly became the new U.S. Ambassador in Australia. Instead, he was sent to Seoul to keep the ROK in line.

The U.S. military and industrial complex and its associates have a vested interest in America being at war and our defence establishment, Department of Defence, ADF, Australian Strategic Policy Institute and the “intelligence” community are locked-in American loyalists.

As Geoff Raby in this blog has argued, our security and intelligence agencies like ASIO and ASIS have led and bullied the Australian Government into hysteria over China. The collectors of intelligence have become the propagandists and policy makers. Paul Keating calls them “nutters”. DFAT has been sidelined. With our intelligence agencies out of control, it is not surprising to see the travesty of the prosecution of Bernard Collaery and Witness K. The wrong people are being charged.

The third reason for the continuing dominance of the American Imperium is the way the U.S. expects others to abide by a “rules-based international order” which was largely determined at Bretton Woods after WWII and embedded in various U.N. agencies. That “order” reflects the power and views of the dominant countries in the 1940s. It does not recognise legitimate interests of newly-emerging countries like China, who now insist on playing a part in an international rules-based order.

The U.S. only follows an international rules-based order when it suits its own interests. It pushes for a rules-based system in the South China Sea while refusing to endorse UNCLOS (Law of the Sea) or accept ICJ decisions. The invasion of Iraq was a classic case of breaking the rules. It was illegal. The resultant death and destruction in Iraq met the criteria for war crimes. But the culprits have gone scot-free.

It is a myth that democracies like America will behave internationally at a higher level of morality than other counties. Countries act in their own interests as they perceive them. We need to discount the noble ideas espoused by Americans on how they run their own country on the domestic front and look instead at how they consistently treat other countries. Consider how the Kurds are being treated. They led the fight against ISIS but are now largely abandoned by the U.S. and other “allies”. The Kurds are holding the Australian wives and children of ISIS fighters but we are so slow to decently help. The scrapping of the alliance with the Kurds is made the more dishonourable by the emergence of the new version of the US/Saudi alliance with its resulting tragedy in Yemen.

U.S. claims about how well they run their own country are challenged on so many fronts. 43 million U.S. citizens live in poverty, they have a massive prison population with its indelible racist connotations, guns are ubiquitous and they refuse to address the issue. Violence is as American as cherry pie. It is embedded in U.S. behaviour both at home and abroad.

The founding documents of the U.S. inspire Americans and many people throughout the world. ‘The land of the free and the home of the brave’ still has a clarion call. Unfortunately, those core values have often been denied to others. For example, when the Philippines sought U.S. support it was invaded instead. Ho Chi Minh wanted U.S. support for independence but Vietnam was invaded.

Like many democracies, including our own, money and vested interests are corrupting public life. Democracy in the U.S. has been replaced by “Donocracy”, with practically no restrictions on funding of elections and political activity for decades. Vested interests are largely unchecked. House of Representatives electorates are gerrymandered and poor and minority group voters are often excluded from the rolls. The powerful Jewish lobby, supported by fundamentalist Christians, has run U.S. policy off the rails on Israel and the Middle East.

The U.S. has slipped to number 21 as a “flawed democracy” in the Economist’s Intelligence 2016 Democracy Index. (NZ was ranked fourth and Australia tenth.) It noted that ‘public confidence in government has slumped to historic lows in the U.S.’ That was before Trump.

Many democracies are in trouble. U.S. democracy is in more trouble than most. There is a pervasive sickness.

 Our risky dependence on the U.S. cannot be avoided or excused by laying problems at the door of Donald Trump. Malcolm Fraser warned us about a dangerous ally long before Donald Trump came on the scene. U.S. obsession with war and with overthrowing or undermining foreign governments goes back over a century. So does domestic gun violence.

Donald Trump excesses are not likely to significantly move American policies from what has become the norm over two centuries.

Hugh White has pointed out that the U.S. has, in effect, now given up looking after anyone but itself — “America first”. It could, of course, be argued that Trump is just being honest and saying what U.S. Presidents have always done, looking after their own interests even if they refused to admit it.

A major voice in articulating American extremism and the American Imperium is Fox News and Rupert Murdoch, who exert their influence not just in America but in its subservient “allies” like Australia. In the media, Fox News supported the invasion of Iraq and is mindless of the terrible consequences. Rupert Murdoch applauded the invasion of Iraq because it would reduce oil prices. Fox and News Corp are leading sceptics on climate change which threatens our planet. In April last year, the New York Times told us that outside the White House, Rupert Murdoch is Trump’s chief advisor. Rupert Murdoch runs political parties as much as media organisations.

But it is not just the destructive role of News Corp in the U.S., UK and Australia. Our media, including the ABC and even SBS, is so derivative. Our media seems to regard Australia as an island parked off New York. We are saturated with news, views, entertainment and sitcoms from the U.S. It is so pervasive and extensive, we don’t recognise it for its very nature. The last thing a fish recognises is water.

Mike Keating described (as Hugh White pointed out) that, based on Australian Treasury figures, by 2030, Chinese GDP is projected to be 70% larger than U.S. GDP. It is already 15% larger. The U.S. has record debt which the recent tax cuts, like those of Reagan and Bush, will only worsen.

One outcome of the declining comparative U.S. economic power is that the U.S. will ask its allies to do more. We saw the influence of U.S. budgetary pressures in its launch of the pivot to the Pacific. We have seen the first step with Marines in Darwin. There are a lot more big steps to come.

The U.S. may return, hopefully, to its brief periods of isolationism and leave its allies to their own devices. Maybe they will do us a favour.

Despite continual wars, often unsuccessful, the overthrow or subversion of foreign governments and declining U.S. economic influence, U.S. hegemony and domination of Australian thinking continues.

Despite all the evidence, why do we continue in denial?

One reason is that as a small, isolated and white community in Asia, we have historically sought an outside protector, first the UK and, when that failed, the U.S. We should not bury in Anzackery the enormous price we paid for British “protection”. We have not shaken off that dependence and subservience to distant empires.

We continue to seek security from our region through a U.S. protector rather than, as Paul Keating put it, security within our own region. Our long-term future depends on cooperation in our region and not reliance on a dangerous and distant ally.

Another reason why we are in denial about the American Imperium is, as I have described, saturation of our media with U.S. news, views and entertainment. We do not have an independent media. Whatever the U.S. media says about tax cuts for the wealthy, defence or climate change, it inevitably gets a good run in our media.

A further reason for the continuing U.S. hegemony in Australian attitudes is the galaxy of Australian opinion leaders who have benefitted from American largesse and support — in the media, politics, bureaucracy, business, trade unions, universities and think tanks. Thousands of influential Australians have been co-opted by U.S. money and support in “dialogues”, study centres and think tanks. The U.S. has nourished agents of influence in Australia for decades. China is a raw beginner in the use of soft power.

How long will Australian denial of U.S. policies continue? When will some of us stand up? When will our humiliation end?

Are our political leaders right in their assessment that any questioning of the threats posed by our interpretation of the benefits and obligations of the U.S. alliance will lose them an election?

Insofar as China is any sort of distant threat, it would be much less so if we were not so subservient to the U.S. The U.S. is determined to make China its enemy. We are cooperating in that process.

The U.S. is a very dangerous ally. It is more likely to get us into trouble than out of trouble.

We are joined at the hip to the most violent and dangerous country in the world.

John Menadue is a commentator, businessman and former diplomat. You can follow John on Twitter @johnmenadue. This article was originally published on John Menadue's blog 'Pearls and Irritations' under the title, 'Tugging our forelock again and again to our dangerous ally'.

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