We are useful idiots for the US war industry and its followers in AustraliaDec 6, 2022
America believes that it should run the world unchallenged in all dimensions of statehood.
Known as AUSMIN, the high-level talks between the United States and Australia are now underway in Washington on foreign policy and defence. Held annually since 1985 they are the cement which binds this habit of our being allies.
It is time to talk frankly about the big picture behind these talks and understand that our independence is no longer welcome within them. Friends need to be candid.
From the outset of the alliance Australia has been a customer of the US war industry while also a useful idiot in providing token forces for US power application almost anywhere on the globe, whether the conflict was important to our interests or not. On no occasion did the conditions of the ANZUS treaty apply. On odd occasions we did reject the idiocy mantle. But mostly we just sucked up the body bags, while political leaders moved on and the RSL was replenished.
Australia is a second-rate ally, compared to European nations and Japan. When constructing its web of alliances after the war, America chose not to guarantee armed assistance for Australia if we are attacked. Yet in parallel with our idiocy, Australia has been astute enough to deal with this US ambivalence, by creating defences to protect ourself independently. It’s taken 40 years of single- minded defence policy and a couple of trillion dollars from taxpayers to get there. And the US encouraged Australia enthusiastically in the project, across many, many AUSMINs as we poured billions into its war merchandise.
What America Wants These Days
But these days the US prefers that we drop our self- reliance. Our independence is no longer welcome, distracting from America’s newest, biggest priority – containing a confected threat in China. America argues that Australia fighting as part of an “integrated deterrent” is in our interest. Never mind that we are strongly averse to being opened up to missile attack, for America. That is the elitism of US foreign policy at work, explained later.
But it is also because the US knows it is in trouble. It lacks the means to contain China. Its forward Defence Plan projects peanuts in new dollars for the Indo Pacific strategy. Hence we see intense effort into realigning the minds of disparate allies – Japan chiefly, maybe Korea, Phillipines and Australia. An unlikely lot, but needs must when it comes to useful geostrategic idiots. Such an alliance, largely self-funded, within American control has no parallel. The Cold War in Europe was financially the reverse- sustained by US funding, with European NATO allies failing perpetually to meet spending targets.
But why China, and why this gearing up now? Surely there’s room for negotiation over the underlying disputes.
Vast writings exist for those wanting to rationalise this issue. But put simply, America believes it should run the world unchallenged in all dimensions of statehood. The world should be unipolar. China has the potential to be another pole, and must be reduced, including by military pressure. This ethos is underpinned by brutal dogma. Reflecting on the Iraq war in 2005 Jim George outlined the influence of Leo Struss thus:
Strauss ..emphasises the re-invocation of strong nationalism and cultural unity in modern western societies; the value of a simple religious and philosophical morality, and (ultimately) of a ‘war culture’ as the basis of maintaining such unity; the use of maximum force by the Western democracies in the face of endemic threat; and of a more general ‘peace through strength’ approach to foreign policy by the US, the political and ideological leader of modern Western civilisation.
From Strauss too has come the notion that elite rule is crucial if post-Enlightenment liberalism is not to further threaten the (classical) democratic model of governance, and that the neoconservative elite has the right and indeed the obligation to lie to the masses in order that the ‘right’ political and strategic decisions be made and implemented. Hence, the use of the so-called ‘noble lie’ (“International Politics”, volume 42, 174–202).
Lie they did, about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. Twenty million dead from the Iraq war. Today noble, obligatory lying is mainstream.
Layers of Idiocy
In Australia, layers of useful idiocy have risen around the proclaimed villainy of China. Our security prospects are evaluated by an intelligence structure that is beholden to US interests in subtle and persistent ways. How convenient for a hegemon is that, with the absence of transparency, of critical performance measurement and of comprehension of intelligence’s proper role in public administration?
Our war industry has alarm-mongering in its DNA, and the financial means and the access to promote skewed perspectives – via a willing media beholden entirely to the riches in advertising.
And Australia has a thriving specialist security commentariat, hard to tolerate because they deceive for a dollar through opaque specialist language. Our think-tanks frame issues from the US perspective, and offer advice while ignoring our own interests wilfully. By example, ASPI is releasing a volume of essays recommending Australian priorities for the AUSMIN talks:
Australia needs the US to have protected force flow, mobility, logistics support and a full spectrum of capability options in the region, so that it can effectively undermine the confidence of the People’s Liberation Army in its ability to achieve a quick military victory far from US shores. Australia should look to AUSMIN to shape how our role and capabilities are integrated into US plans, and do so by being an active and credible participant (AUSMIN 2022: Integrated Deterrence).
Bloated abstract language like “integrated deterrence” conceals the US purpose of incrementally controlling our defence resources for its warring with China. No mention of Australia’s priorities, or of tension between US aims and our own interests. ASPI’s useful idiots are financed by other useful idiots further up the US war food chain wholly uninterested in Australia.
Time for Reflection in US Foreign Policy?
This is not to say that all is set in stone and minds are closed when American professionals address foreign and defence policy. Mearsheimer observes that if the rocky hegemonic journey has taught the US anything it is that “nationalism is more important than ideology. Nationalism is about self determination. Nations want to control their own fates and where sovereignty is concerned their political leaders are jealous gods” (The Great Delusion 2018). This truth is evidenced in the Australian context by our embracing the chance at defence self- reliance and nurturing it patiently to maturity. For that we have to be thankful to America.
Australia’s nationalism will not be diminished by US attempts to contrive security structures around China. Nor will Japan’s, Korea’s nor the Phillipines’. Most likely each State will fund its independent defence within loose sharing and consultative arrangements. How such an aggregation might turn out is the stuff we ought to be moving on, gradually. The hope is that America has learnt from its mixed success over decades of protecting its pile. Our nationalism will not be subordinate to an American fiat on China. Nor need it be.
Spare a thought for our Ministers in Washington. Beneath the bonhomie, they have the daunting duty to protect Australia’s interests from America’s unremitting elitism.