Malcolm Fraser’s lucid case for Australia to strike out independently from the USA in its foreign and defence policies (Dangerous Enemies, MUP 2014) pointed to a vitally important fact. The America we signed the ANZUS treaty with in 1951 is absolutely no longer the America with which Malcolm Turnbull would have us joined at the hip today. It is time to face the fact that the contemporary USA is a major threat to Australia’s security and prosperity. It’s time to replace ANZUS with a more mature agreement that will not constrain Australia’s independence.
In his monumental work, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, Paul Kennedy noted that “Washington must face the awkward and enduring fact that the sum total of the United States’ global interests and obligations is nowadays far larger than the country’s power to defend them all simultaneously.” Written over three decades ago, those words are even more relevant today than they were when Kennedy originally wrote them.
The American imperium is grossly over-stretched. Its military engagements in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and openly and clandestinely in myriad other places have placed America’s own security – and economy – in jeopardy. Moreover, as the late Chalmers Johnson warned in his important book Blowback, much of this wanton militarism is the direct cause of deep and enduring enmity being directed at the United States. The appalling blundering by US strategists in Afghanistan and in the Middle East is the prime motivator of terrorist organisations like Al Qaida and ISIS. The more America goes to these kinds of war, the more it has to go to war.
Indeed, as John Menadue has pointed out, the US is the most war-mongering power in the world today. Operating in cahoots with the CIA, its grotesque military-industrial complex has become a monster that dominates the US economy, drip feeding inflammatory anti-communist and anti-Islamic populist propaganda into the simple minds of many of America’s half-educated population, inducing them to vote for cynical politicians whose strings are being pulled by CEOs of the very conglomerates profiteering from arms manufacturing. These CEOs and their companies can only survive if America is perpetually at war. So America is perpetually at war.
And now Trump is demanding massive military parades to excite the hollow minds of Americans like himself, endorsing his cronies and financial backers in the military-industrial complex.
In the 1950s, when ANZUS was in its infancy, in Australia the imagining of America was of a big brother nation benevolently inclined toward us, a society with similar religious and political values, a fellow democracy, a major part (along with Britain) of the great white hope that ridiculously thinks of itself as the racially, culturally and politically superior “Anglosphere.”
Fearing Abandonment (to borrow Allan Gyngell’s evocative phrase) we began to cleave to our “great and powerful ally,” our very own superpower. The firm belief took hold in Australia’s equally half-educated minds that America would always be there to protect us against a remilitarized Japan, the Chinese red menace, the Soviet Union, and the fearfully falling dominoes of Southeast Asia that had so foolishly abandoned their colonial overlords.
This was all an Australian fantasy, the product of a lazy complacency that still holds the “lucky country” back from becoming a mature, intelligent and independent state that should be contributing to cosmopolitanism in the region in which it is geopolitically located.
Nor is America today the America of Australia’s sustained fantasizing about it.
The contemporary American body politic, and the society underpinning it, is a very sick entity. Not a few observers, within and outside the US, believe it is in terminal decline.
The policies that Trump and the Republicans are implementing will push America closer to becoming a failed state – very like the old Soviet Union. Tax cuts for big companies will simply exacerbate socioeconomic inequality. This in turn undermines productivity and contributes to social conflict and increased crime rates. To pay for the tax cuts the government will have to cut back on social welfare programs, public health, education and associated policies that would – if well conceived and implemented – ameliorate inequality and revive the economy. Meanwhile the budget will plunge further into trillions of deficit.
Trump is the price for which America is paying through the nose for the devastations of the neoliberal economic Weltanshauung that has plagued US public policy since Ronald Regan. He will certainly make things worse if he is allowed to stay in office.
The perpetrators of the neoliberal debacle remain in power – even in the face of their extraordinary complicity in the making of the Global Financial Crisis. They are clearly unfazed by their criminal actions as they continue to plunder the American economy for their own ill-gotten gain.
The medium and long-term outlook for America’s economy is grim. The one good thing that Trump may gift the world is detaching the American economy from the global economy (as for example he has done with the TPP). The world needs to firewall itself against the robber barons on Wall Street and the US’s inevitable economic decline. “America First” is likely to result in America Last. The global economy can’t afford to allow itself to be dragged down by the US.
American society is also increasingly dysfunctional: consider the massive imprisonment rates, rising crime rates, the thousands killed by guns each year, the deeply entrenched racism (especially prevalent among too many police officers), corruption in government, ballooning drug addiction and associated crime rates, discrimination against “Dreamers” and other migrants … The list is endless.
This is not an America with which Australia should be in a craven alliance. Moreover, by posing at America’s deputy sheriff in the Asia Pacific we are alienating those very states without whose friendship and cooperation we cannot live securely or prosperously.
Turnbull will soon be visiting Trump on a “state visit”, no less. The last thing we need from our hollow prime minister is a repetition of his “joined at the hip” slogan so reminiscent of Harold Holt’s “All the way with LBJ”. We urgently need a leader who will stand up to the bully president, one who is capable of helping to navigate the country towards a post-ANZUS foreign policy.
Allan Patience’s book, Australian Foreign Policy in Asia, has just been published by Palgrave Macmillan.