Australia initially related to the world through its ‘great and powerful friends’. Britain was the first such friend – a family bond based on the empire. The United States was the second such friend with the ANZUS alliance negotiated as a result of the Cold War.
But the era of great and powerful friends is over. Australia now accepts responsibility for its own fate and negotiates its own way in Asia and the rest of the world.
So begins the transcript of the ABC Program ‘Australian Story’ documentary 100 Years
Under the Howard government, Australia has returned to the days of great and powerful friends, leaning more and more on the alliance with America we call ANZUS, as if ANZUS still amounted to anything substantial. This ‘leaning’ is never better displayed than through undertakings and seeming obsequious attitudes to issues which the rest of the world see little or no value in.
Under the Howard government, Asia has been virtually ignored, save for some pandering to China, due entirely to a need to keep the resources boom booming and our economy afloat. Japan is still our largest trading partner, but China is soon to overtake her. As for the rest of Asia and the sub-continent, relations have amounted a virtual vacuum. If America isn’t interested, then neither is Australia, or so it appears.
I am grossly disappointed in this government, and not entirely from a dislike of the hard-right ideology it displays. Where is Australia’s independence of direction? Our so-called responsibility for our own fate and negotiating our own way in the world? Take Iraq, as the prime example. The Petraeus Report won’t issue until 15 September, yet John Howard is only too willing to accept the word of George W. Bush that all is going swimmingly in Iraq, with the US troop surge showing results. Is it? How would anyone know? Just exactly how much longer will Australia maintain – at undoubtedly enormous cost to the Australian taxpayer – it’s tiny, politically symbolic presence in that theatre? Judging from the compliant attitude displayed today, virtually forever. Britain is preparing to withdraw, again because of political imperatives at home, but withdrawing none the less. Five thousand combat troops from the UK as compared to Australia’s five hundred fifteen. They’re planning on going and we’re planning on staying indefinitely. Where is the rationale for such a position?
I’m equally concerned that our relationship with our ‘Great and Powerful Friend’ is evolving more and more around militaristic needs and desires of that friend. Howard’s statement,
“Further enhancement of the joint training capability by providing additional support for training by American and Australian forces, and also further cooperative efforts, to develop access and capabilities for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,”
indicates to me that the mooted US military presence in this country, on top of those quasi-military or science locations already established, which Howard rejected in 2003-4 due to public unrest at media stories at the time, now appear to be fact. This is, of course, the standard John Howard modus operandi. If public opinion is adverse, reject any assertions, let the hue & cry die away, then when least expected, go right ahead anyway. This is hardly a representation of the Howardian ‘aspirational nationalism’ unless of course, Howard sees Australia aspiring to become that much spoken of 51st State.
On the subject of Iraq, I find Bush’s rhetoric fascinating from the perspective that it never changes. Sure, the words change, but the thrust never does.
“If you don’t think Iraq is important, if you don’t think it matters what the society looks like there, then there’s no amount of reconciliation that would cause people to say, ‘great it’s working’. If you believe – like I believe – that security of the United States and peace of the world depend upon a democracy in the middle east and in Iraq, then you can see progress and I’m seeing it. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Is there more work to be done? You bet there is.”
Very powerful, emotive inferences there. ‘If you don’t think’……means ‘you’re a coward and don’t have the courage or conviction for the big tasks’. ‘If you don’t think it matters what society looks like’ means that if you don’t think Americanisation of another culture is right, then you’re just plain wrong. ‘If you believe – like I believe’ means ‘I’m right…..I’m always right and no-one is going to tell me I’m wrong because I never am’. I’m especially interested in the use of the ‘a’ in “security of the United States and peace of the world depend upon a democracy in the middle east”. What is Israel, if not a democracy? Ahhh, but it’s not a Jeffersonian democracy, and a core ideal of that democratic belief is to spread what Jefferson called the “Empire of Liberty” to the world. When Iraq fails completely at some point after Bush has departed the scene, you can bet your last Yankee nickel that some future administration, most likely a Republican administration with similar ideals to the neo-con collective, will be having another crack at creating a Jeffersonian democracy in the middle-east because that’s what Americans do.
A great and powerful friend America may be, but as a great and powerful master, I see her much like my father taught me to treat electricity. A good servant, but a bad master. Australia is surrendering her responsibility to remain independent of her great and powerful friends. She is becoming a client, just like all the other client states of the US of A.