RICHARD BUTLER. Turnbull and Trump: Everything Is Illuminated. 

In New York, for the Coral Sea commemoration, Turnbull pledged permanent Australian fealty to the US and expressed agreement to Trump’s concept of “fake news”. Rupert Murdoch presided over the ceremony. Greg Norman was present as a witness. Very illuminating.  

George Will is widely regarded as the leading conservative analyst and commentator, in the US. Throughout Obama’s presidency, he attacked and criticized him, unceasingly.

On 3rd May, the Washington Post published an opinion piece by Will in which he spoke about President Trump’s “dangerous disability” and called upon: “the public to quarantine this presidency by insistently communicating to its elected representatives a steady, rational fear of this man whose combination of impulsivity and credulity render him uniquely unfit to take the nation into a military conflict”.

On 6th May, in New York, Prime Minister Turnbull, speaking publicly, and in the Presence of President Trump, indicated that he saw it as inherent to the Alliance relationship, that Australia would accompany the US in whatever war it chose to pursue.

That George Will should warn, so categorically, about the unfitness of a Republican President is truly remarkable, although the commentariat, around the world, is filled with expressed concern about Trump’s fitness for the job and the future directions of the US, in every significant policy field.

Major political leaders also feel confronted by Trump: his ignorance of the make-up of current world problems, of which there is an unprecedented number; his methods of work, ranging from his tweets to clearly exercising virtually no control over his senior cabinet members (for which, it could be argued, we should be grateful) to reversing policy declarations overnight.

Not so with our Malcolm. In his remarks in New York, he confirmed: the dominant military nature of the Alliance; his agreement with Trump that we had always won, including in Vietnam; that we are winning now in  “the sands of the Middle East”; his agreement with the concept of “fake news” of which he too had been a victim; that the two had “lots of friends in common”, including golfer Greg Norman, who was present.

Speaking of sources of news, it was significant that Trump was introduced, by News Limited/Fox head, Rupert Murdoch. Trump referred to Murdoch repeatedly in his remarks. He did not refer to the uniformly uncritical treatment he has received from Fox.

Given the role Murdoch and his outlets played in the US election and plays each day in Australia, the effusive recognition of him at the 6th May event demonstrated how very far the destruction of objectivity in journalism has gone. The use by Trump, and now it would appear Turnbull, of the selective notion of “fake news” is simply a part of this.

The similarity and contrasts between George Will’s and Turnbull’s stances are illuminating. Both are focused, essentially on the US’ military capabilities, under Trump. They are both authentic conservatives; putting muscle before brains.

By contrast, Will is alarmed by Trump’s evident disabilities in the military field and is thus recommending that Trump be corralled, if not removed. Turnbull gave the impression, in his prepared remarks, that we Australians have no qualms about Trump’s leadership, not only as such, but also as the potential commander of our militarily, under the alliance.

The occasion in New York was the 75thanniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. Obviously, it was thus bound to have, in major respects, a military character. But, two aspects of it were remarkable: there was virtually nothing else to the occasion, but military accounts, of heroism for example; and, the ties between the US and Australia that Trump referred to, “of affection history and culture” were “sealed in blood”. It was a striking instance of: all history is military history.

Following their brief joint appearance before the press, Prime Minister Turnbull’s fawning towards Trump has been widely commented upon. That this was consistent, for example, with the plain sycophancy displayed by Prime Minister Gillard in her speech Congress in 2011, does not remove the strikingly demeaning nature of what we saw. It underlined the clear statement of our determination to remain a client state of the US, made by Turnbull, in his prepared remarks.

This was justified by reference to the crucial nature of the battle fought in the Coral Sea, jointly with the US military in 1942.

Our national security and integrity was at stake then. The Japanese were moving on New Guinea, and thereafter, Australia. We had an indisputable national interest in that fight. The American’s had theirs too; the denial to the Japanese of bases in the Solomon’s which would have made much more difficult the US drive towards Japan.

It is worth noting that nowhere in the remarks by Trump or Turnbull was reference made to the use of nuclear weapons on Japan. Instead it was asserted that the battle of the Coral Sea brought about the defeat of Japan; “fake history”? comparable to Trump’s assertion that “we” won in Vietnam.

The battle of the Coral Sea was fought to preserve Australia’s independence as a secure sovereign state. The US played a major role in the victory there, but did so, because it was in their national interest, and in response to the Japanese attack upon the US, at Pearl Harbour

The narrative relied upon in New York on 6th May, was that our effort was motivated by the defence of freedom and our shared values, those “sealed in blood”.

We can argue interminably about the extent to which ordinary people and politicians and officials, felt that way then, or do so today. What there is no argument about is that Australia was directly threatened in 1942. But, to extend precisely the same reasoning of needing to resist a direct threat, as Turnbull did, to justify our being at war in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan today, is deceptive and without merit.

Richard Butler AC: former Ambassador to the United Nations, Diplomat in Residence at the Council on Foreign Relations, New York.

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7 Responses to RICHARD BUTLER. Turnbull and Trump: Everything Is Illuminated. 

  1. Margaret Paton says:

    Good article. I agree that Turnbull will increase the Australian military presence in Afghanistan following the US lead. These things should always be referred to Parliament. Trump is clearly a nutcase but I doubt that anything would improve under Pence – maybe only the level of embarrassment for rational American citizens! It is all very concerning. I do hope that Shorten would not ‘go along’ if he was PM.

  2. Tony Kevin says:

    ‘Ours not to reason why,

    Ours but to do or die’.

    Kipling? Charge of Light Brigade? Anyway, it’s apt.

  3. Margaret Paton says:

    Regarding Mr Butler’s last paragraph, there’s no doubt that Australians genuinely feared an invasion by Japan during WW2. However it seems that an examination of official Japanese war records reveals that this was never seriously considered or planned.
    http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/05/31/1022569832145.html
    Phillip Adams also interviewed another historian not so long ago, whose own research re-inforced this view.

  4. Jim KABLE says:

    “This was justified by reference to the crucial nature of the battle fought in the Coral Sea, jointly with the US military in 1942.

    Our national security and integrity was at stake then. The Japanese were moving on New Guinea, and thereafter, Australia.”

    No, Richard – the Imperial Japanese were NOT moving “thereafter” – nor earlier, indeed – on Australia. And the Battle of the Coral Sea was NOT a victory – more a kind of draw. No matter how much the US wants us to believe that “they saved us” – or indeed no matter how much “our” politicians want/need us to believe that the US saved us and so to abase themselves before the kinds of things the US wants to therefore do to us – setting up peppercorn rent spy bases – even this latest spate of US troop rotations at the base – for which WE pay – in Darwin. Please!

  5. Andrew Farran says:

    This reminds me of General MacArthur’s reply to an Australian after the war when thanked for ‘saving’ Australia he is reported to have said:”I didn’t come here to save goddam Australia; I came to save America”. The illusionists shouldn’t forget that!

  6. Niall McLaren says:

    To my recollection, Japan never intended to invade Australia as it would have drawn too many troops and material from China, which was its primary goal. All they wanted to do was deny Darwin, Pt Moresby, Broome etc to US forces.
    If we had not wasted our resources in Nth Africa, Greece, Crete etc, and had allowed our troops to fight as they showed in PNG; if we had been in a state of armed neutrality; if, if, if… But anybody who thinks the US will take Australia’s interests into account in its geopolitical calculus is a dangerous fool.

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