Monday, February 23, 2009

Clinton's Australia snub

A US adviser wrote to explain Clinton's bypass of Australia in her Asia tour in the right-wing Murdoch paper, The Australian.

What I found interesting were the comments left by readers, which I have posted beneath the article. There appears to be some dismay at Australia's "puppy dog" status in its relationship with the US. Perhaps many Australians don't like playing the role of the boot licker, and indeed such distaste in our alliance with the US has become increasingly apparent since our controversial decision to follow Bush into Iraq (despite great public opposition at the time).

Many Australians do wonder if there's an alternative to obsequiousness? Is being subservient to the US truly crucial to Australia's security? Would winning the trust of our Asian neighbours not alleviate our paranoia of our 'alien' backyard, and subsequent need to hold onto the tail of US imperialism?

The comment that best sums up the US-Australian relationship has become my Quote of the Day:

To the US, we are little more than a loyal and obedient puppy dog that enjoys an occasional pat on the head.

Clinton's bypass is no snub

The Australian
Christian Whiton

SECRETARY of State Hillary Clinton is making Asia her first destination as America's top diplomat. That she is skipping Canberra on a trip that includes stops in Tokyo, Jakarta, Seoul and Beijing is not a slight. But it should provoke some strategic thinking in Australia and the US about the future of a long and unique relationship.

First, it is important to understand that Clinton's trip is more about diplomatic turf in Washington than it is about new diplomatic initiatives.

Canberra need not worry about being left out of a tour that is meant to define a portfolio for the new secretary, who must compete against a bevy of other foreign policy luminaries in the Obama administration.

An unspoken reason for the trip is one of Washington's endless bureaucratic struggles, in this case recovering the China account for the State Department, which had been forced to cede it to the Treasury in the previous administration. The need for this arose as other top-billed diplomatic missions in the Obama administration were assigned to high-profile special envoys. Clinton also must compete for turf against Vice-President Joe Biden, who previously chaired the Senate's foreign policy committee, and a White House national security adviser and UN ambassador who have plenty of their own ideas on foreign policy.

During the long run, Clinton's emerging interest in Asia may spell opportunity for those in Australia and the US who believe our relationship should play a larger role in shaping world events. For starters, Clinton may be a better strategic judge than her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, who throughout her career devised diplomatic theories that sounded smart in the salons of academe but did not work in the real world. These included believing Beijing would pressure its North Korean ally to disarm, believing Russia would act responsibly if consoled and offered proper deference, and believing a lame-duck administration could resolve the Israel-Palestine issue in its final year, to name just a few.

Clinton's experience on the US Senate Armed Services Committee suggests she is less enthralled with academic constructs and in some instances may be more hard-nosed than her Republican predecessor. Time will tell. A key test will be whether she chooses to be more of a realist on China and places a premium on actions over words. This would be a departure from recent US administrations, which often took at face value Beijing's word that it was helping on matters such as counter-proliferation and North Korea, despite all evidence to the contrary.

The Rudd Government and its loyal Opposition can play a role in shaping this. Australia has been the US's most reliable English-speaking ally on matters of hard power and soft power during the past decade. The interests of both countries would be served were this to be developed further. This could include deeper co-operation to undermine Islamist activity - the antecedent to open jihadism - throughout Southeast Asia and even globally. Such activity may be necessary to prevent the Middle East from figuratively drawing up to Australia's northern periphery and isolating it from Asia with a belt of radical enclaves. Co-operation between two governments with similar views on climate change could help prevent the Europeans from doing anything really crazy in this area when our economies can least afford it. Partnering more makes sense, as Australians and Americans understand how quickly the world's problems can travel great distances to involve us, whether we like it or not.

However, a proactive strategy for Canberra is needed. Diplomats in the US and elsewhere have an unfortunate tendency to take allies for granted and look more for headline-grabbing breakthroughs with adversaries than modest enhancements to existing alliances. Added to this is an error of judgment among many foreign policy analysts in Washington and Asia who overstate the importance of China's economy and understate the military threat posed by Beijing. Throughout the decade, this has meant not enough attention paid to traditional Pacific allies and those who share our values, and too much hand-wringing over a Chinese economy that, in fact, is still smaller than Japan's and will continue to trade with Australia and the US regardless of our diplomats' charm or lack thereof.

By reminding Washington of the similar way we both view the world's threats and opportunities, taking account of the new secretary of state's interest in Asia, and continuing to be a cool-headed ally, Canberra can advance the interests of both Australia and the US. An alliance born in the darkest days of World War II and that persisted and thrived in the years since ought to be at the forefront of shaping the world today.

Christian Whiton was deputy special envoy for North Korean human rights issues during the administration of George W. Bush. He is a senior adviser at DC Asia Advisory in Washington.

Reader comments

A Dose of Reality 12:10am today

Christian, I think you need to actually find out the nature and attitudes of both sides before you use the phrase "An alliance born in the darkest days of World War II". The US was simply interested in using us then as they are now. Australia had been deserted and betrayed by Britain (Churchill) and facing invasion with its' troops kept elsewhere (Churchill - ignoring Australias' demand that its' troops return to defend their home). A bad deal was struck to save the country. MacArthurs words to Curtin should not be forgotten, I wonder if in your ideology you care to know them.....

A Dose of Reality 11:58pm February 18, 2009

john lamb of Brisbane- An intelligent, independent and proudly Australian statement. As are the bulk of the other statements (so far). Pity we have had so many years of snivelling, scared little people in charge of our foreign and defence policies for so long. They have sold us off so cheaply...

KBaus of Perth 6:42pm February 18, 2009

Would not worry a tiny bit. The West in general is the US. Australia share many common traits with the Americans. II WW was a good show when Australia change its focus from British Imperium to USA. In the Battle of Coral Sea the US stopped the Japanese fleet inits advance on Australia. We are allies by birth. On the other hand China is emerging superpower and already is flexing its muscle. So it is perhaps better for us that Clinton did not come here in her first trip.

john lamb of Brisbane 12:13pm February 18, 2009

I think it would be absolutely perfect for Australia to be "snubbed" or by-passed by the US. Although it might mean weaning us off of the imperial teat which resulted from a transfer of admiration from our mother country to the US in WW2, I don't see it as a bad thing. Among other benefits could be an independent, non-aligned foreign policy and a defence force which is just that and not willing cannon fodder for superpower imperial ambitions.

Tony of Brisbane 12:06pm February 18, 2009

Australia suffers from an over-inflated view of its position in the world. To the US, we are little more than a loyal and obedient puppy dog that enjoys an occasional pat on the head.

MelbChappie of Mlbourne 11:09am February 18, 2009

You said 'An alliance born in the darkest days of World War II and that persisted and thrived in the years since ought to be at the forefront of shaping the world today.' Can I call that extreme hyperbole? As is much of the nonsense that spouts from the Australian side of our much 'loved' relationship with the yanks.

John-boy 11:04am February 18, 2009

Old Clive - seems your memory's fading. The rodent had an ego big enough to send us to war without even bothering to seek Parliamentary approval. That's unfettered hubris for you.

Prima Donna of Ultimo 8:54am February 18, 2009

"An alliance born in the darkest days of World War II..." Aren't you confusing the ANZAC Pact of 1944 across the Tasman ditch (Cordell Hull & Doc Evatt) that made FDR very cross, with the ANZUS Treaty of 1951 under Truman?

Old Clive of Maryborough 8:53am February 18, 2009

How short sighted can you get? Hilary should have invited KLEVER Kevin along and then she could have just listened in as he solved the problems of the world. The ego of some of these blokes is unbelieveable, that in it itself is bad enough but most of them are backed up by staff people who have even bigger ego's.

shep of Grafton 3:16am February 18, 2009

I think you skipped over the most important reason Hillary went to China. Chinese higher ups don't like her (not even a little bit), and never have. In addition, It may surprise you but not everyone around the world is in love with the Clintons. Asia is not fond of US Democrat policies in general preferring Republican stances on many social and economic issues. And as for the bond between the US and Australia, the US, unfortunately, thinks of Australia as the tail on the dog.

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