Australia: Clinging to a declining and aggressive US. An updated repostFeb 14, 2021
Declining empires never go gracefully. And neither will the US empire – addicted as it is to a belief in its ‘exceptionalism’ and its grounding in aggression both at home and abroad.
The attack on the US Capitol reminds us how fragile our ally is. The civil war is unfinished business.Western media have sought to minimise this constitutional crisis- a democratic blip and nothing more!
Joe Biden will smooth a few rough edges but he won’t do much to arrest the decline. He will keep telling us that ‘America is back’ and leading again!
Many of the Biden appointees are retreads from the failed Obama era and it was Obama who led the pivot to Asia with marines in Darwin and hopes of more US basing in Perth and Cocos -Keeling.
The Democratic Party has joined with Trump and many Republicans in what they call a firm line on China. The Democrats were accused in the 1950’s of ‘losing China’. They live in the shadow of that accusation.
The US continues to assert it’s global leadership and hegemony but will not concede China influence in it’s own region. China has a legitimate interest in the South China Sea but we ignore the illegal and giant US military base in Diego Garcia in the middle of the Indian Ocean which threatens China and much of the region. The inhabitants were thrown off the island with the cooperation of the British.
Apart from brief isolationist periods, the US has been almost perpetually at war. The greatest military risk we run is acting as a proxy for the US in its dispute with China. The record is clear. Time and time again we have allowed ourselves to be drawn into the imperial wars of the UK and the US. We have forfeited our strategic autonomy while parroting on about our sovereignty.
Over two centuries, the US has subverted and overthrown numerous governments. It has a military and business complex that depends on war for influence and enrichment. It believes in its ‘manifest destiny’, which brings with it an assumed moral superiority it denies to others. The problems did not start with Donald Trump. They are long-standing and deep-rooted.
Australia runs great risks in committing so much of our future to the US. Instead, we must build our security in our own region and not depend so exclusively on a foreign protector.
Unfortunately, many of our political, bureaucratic, business and media elites have been on an American drip feed for so long they find it hard to think of the world without an American focus. We had a similar and dependant view of the UK in the past. That ended in tears in Singapore.
In this blog (Is war in the American DNA?), I have drawn attention repeatedly to the risks we run in being ‘joined at the hip’ to a country that is almost always at war. The facts are not disputed. The US has never had a decade without war. Since its founding in 1776, the US has been at war 93% of the time. These wars have extended from its own hemisphere to the Pacific, to Europe and most recently to the Middle East. The US has launched 201 out of 248 armed conflicts since the end of World War II. In recent decades most of these wars have been unsuccessful. The US maintains 700 military bases or sites around the world, including in Australia. Mainly in a bid to contain China and North Korea, the US has in our region a massive deployment of hardware and troops in Japan, the Republic of Korea , Guam and Diego Garcia.
Just think of the US frenzy if China had a string of similar bases in the Caribbean or their ships patrolled the Florida Keys.
The illegal US-led invasion of Iraq has resulted, directly and indirectly, in the death of a million people and the displacement of millions more. How can we deny that the US is the most aggressive and dangerous country on our planet? It is far more dangerous than China.
The US tried to change other countries’ governments 72 times during the Cold War. Many foreign leaders were assassinated. In the piece reproduced in this blog (The fatal expense of US Imperialism), Professor Jeffrey Sachs said:
‘The scale of US military operations is remarkable … The US has a long history of using covert and overt means to overthrow governments deemed to be unfriendly to the US … Historian John Coatsworth counts 41 cases of successful US-led regime change for an average of one government overthrow by the US every 28 months for centuries.”
The overthrow or interference in foreign governments is diverse, including Honduras, Guatemala, Iran, Haiti, Congo, Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, Chile, Iraq, Afghanistan and most recently, Syria.
And this interference continued with the undermining of the pro-Russian government in Ukraine by the US-backed Maidan coup in 2014. Gorbachev and Reagan agreed that in allowing the reunification of Germany, NATO would not extend eastwards. But with US encouragement, NATO has now provocatively extended right up to the borders of Russia. Not surprisingly, Russia is resisting.
Despite all the evidence of wars and meddling, the American Imperium continues without serious check or query in America or Australia.
I suggest several reasons why this record has not been challenged.
The first is what is often described as America’s “manifest destiny”; the God-given right to interfere in other countries’ affairs. This right is not extended to others because many Americans see themselves as more virtuous and their system of government better than others.
Professor Tom Nichols reported in this blog (How America lost its faith in expertise, and why that matters) public policy polling that revealed that 43% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats supported bombing a place called ‘Agrabah’. This turned out to be a fictional place in a cartoon. Only an ignorant people could presume that their country should bomb a city that did not exist! To this day 70% of registered Republicans doubt that Barack Obama is an American citizen.
The ignorance of ordinary America, and its politicians, of other countries is legendary but possibly just as important is their resistance to any relief of that ignorance. That may not seem unusual – but it is dangerous for a country with overwhelming military power employed around the globe.
The second reason why the American Imperium continues largely unchecked is the power of what President Eisenhower once called the “military and industrial complex” in the US. In 2020 I would add “politicians” who depend heavily on funding from powerful arms manufacturers and military and civilian personnel in more than 4,000 military facilities. The intelligence community and many universities and think-tanks also have a vested interest in the American Imperium.
This complex co-opts institutions and individuals around the globe. It has enormous influence. No US president, nor for that matter any Australian prime minister, would likely challenge it.
Australia has locked itself into this complex. Our military and defence leaders are heavily dependent on the US Departments of Defence and State, the CIA and the FBI for advice. We act as branch offices of this complex.
But it goes beyond advice. We willingly respond and join the US in disasters like Iraq and the Middle East. While the UN General Assembly votes with large majorities to curb nuclear proliferation, we remain locked into the position of the US and other nuclear powers.
Our autonomy and independence are also at great risk because our defence/security elites in Canberra have as their holy grail the concept of “interoperability” with the US. This is mirrored in US official and think-tank commentary on the role they see for us in our region. So powerful is the US influence and our willing cooperation that our foreign policies have been largely emasculated and sidelined by the defence and security views of both the US and their acolytes in Australia.
The concept of interoperability does not only mean equipment. It also means personnel, with increasingly large numbers of Australian military personnel embedded in the US military and defence establishments, especially in the Pacific Command in Hawaii.
The US military and industrial complex and its associates have a vested interest in America being at war and our defence establishment, Department of Defence, ADF, Australian Strategic Policy Institute and others are locked-in American loyalists.
The third reason for the continuing dominance of the American Imperium is the way the US expects others to abide by a “rules-based international order” that was largely determined at Bretton Woods after World War II and embedded in various UN agencies. That ‘order’ reflects the power and views of the dominant countries in the 1940s. It does not recognise the legitimate interests of such newly emerging countries as China, which now insist on playing a part in an international rules-based order.
The US only follows an international rules-based order when it suits its own interests. It pushes for a rules-based system in the South China Sea while refusing to endorse UNCLOS (Law of the Sea) or accept ICJ decisions such as on Diego Garcia, a giant US base in the Indian Ocean. The invasion of Iraq was a classic case of breaking the rules. It was illegal. The resultant death and destruction in Iraq met the criteria for war crimes. But the culprits have got off scot-free. Only Tony Blair has suffered reputational damage.
In his petulance and ignorance, Donald Trump was hell-bent on destroying the WTO and the WHO, both key institutions in a global rules-based order.
It is a myth that democracies like America will behave internationally at a higher level of morality. Countries act in their own interests as they perceive them. We need to discount the noble ideas espoused by Americans on how they run their own country on the domestic front and look instead at how they consistently treat other countries. Consider how the Kurds were treated. They led the fight against ISIS but were then largely abandoned by the US and other ‘allies’. The scrapping of the alliance with them was made more dishonourable by the US/Saudi alliance with the resulting tragedy in Yemen.
The US claims about how well they run ‘democracy’ in their own country are challenged on many fronts. Alongside great wealth and privilege, 43 million US citizens live in poverty. They have a massive prison population with its indelible racist connotations. Guns are ubiquitous but refuse to address the issue. Violence is as American as cherry pie. It is embedded in US behaviour both at home and abroad.
The founding documents of the US inspire Americans and many people throughout the world. “The land of the free and the home of the brave” still has a clarion call. Unfortunately, those core values have often been denied to others. For example, when the Philippines sought US support it was invaded instead. Ho Chi Minh wanted US support for independence but Vietnam was then invaded.
Like many democracies, including our own, money and vested interests are corrupting public life. As some have described it, ‘Democracy’ in the US has been replaced by ‘Donocracy’, with practically no restrictions on funding of elections and political lobbying for decades. House of Representatives electorates are gerrymandered and poor and minority group voters are often excluded from the rolls. The powerful Jewish lobby, supported by fundamentalist Christians, has run US policy off the rails on Israel and the Middle East. With enormous US backing Israel is well on the way to becoming an apartheid state The powerful private health insurance industry has mired the US in the most expensive and inefficient health services in the world
Our risky dependence on the US cannot be avoided or excused by laying problems at the door of Donald Trump . Malcolm Fraser warned us about a dangerous ally long before Donald Trump came on the scene. US obsession with war and with overthrowing or undermining foreign governments goes back over a century. So does domestic gun violence,inequality and racism.
Donald Trump excesses are not likely to significantly move American policies from what has become the norm over two centuries.
Hugh White has pointed out, the US has in effect now given up looking after anyone but itself – “America first” – which makes it very dangerous for a country to be joined at the hip with the US, with or without Donald Trump. It could, of course, be argued that Trump is just being honest and saying what US presidents have always done, looking after their own interests even if they refuse to admit it.
A major voice in articulating American extremism and the American Imperium is Fox News and Rupert Murdoch who exert their influence not just in America but also in the UK and Australia. Fox News supported the invasion of Iraq and is mindless of the terrible consequences. Rupert Murdoch applauded the invasion of Iraq because it would reduce oil prices. Fox and News Corp are leading sceptics on climate change which threatens our planet. News Corp underpins American imperialist intentions. The New York Times tells us that outside the White House, Rupert Murdoch was Trump’s chief adviser. God help us!
In the past as in the Vietnam war, the good sense of the American people turned the tide. It is now a moot point whether the US can turn the tide again. The sickness is now more entrenched by Fox News and other moneyed extremists.
But it is not just the destructive role of News Corp in the US, UK and Australia. Our media, including the ABC and even SBS, is so derivative. Our media seems to regard Australia as an island parked off New York. We are saturated with news, views, entertainment and sit-coms from the US. It is so pervasive and extensive, we don’t recognize it for its very nature. The last thing a fish recognizes is water. We really do have a ‘white man’ media’. We see it most obviously today in its paranoia over China.
Despite continual wars, often unsuccessful, the overthrow or subversion of foreign governments and declining US economic influence, US hegemony and domination of Australian thinking continues. Despite all the evidence, why do we continue in denial?
One reason is that as a small, isolated and white community in Asia we have historically sought an outside protector, first the UK and when that failed, the US.
We are often told that we have shared values and common institutions first with the UK and now with the US. But counties will always act first in their own interests as Australian farmers found as a result of Trump’s dealing with China.
We continue to seek security from our region through a US protector rather than, as Paul Keating put it, security within our own region. Our long-term future depends on relations in our region and not reliance on a dangerous and distant ally.
Another reason why we are in denial about the American Imperium, is, as I have described, the saturation of our media with US news, views and entertainment. We do not have an independent media. Whatever the US media says about tax cuts for the wealthy, defence or climate change it inevitably gets a good run in our derivative media.
A further reason for the continuing US hegemony in Australian attitudes is the seduction of Australian opinion leaders over decades who have benefitted from American largesse and support – in the media, politics, bureaucracy, business, trade unions, universities and think-tanks. Thousands of influential Australians have been co-opted by US money and support in travel, ‘dialogues’, study centres and think tanks. That is real ‘foreign influence’.
A US citizen, Rupert Murdoch makes and breaks Australian governments. US investors have controlling interests in our largest companies
China is a beginner in this soft power game.
How long will Australian denial of US policies continue? Are our political leaders right in their assessment that any questioning of the threats posed by our interpretation of the benefits and obligations of the US alliance will lose them an election?
In so far as China is any sort of distant threat it would be much less so if we were not so subservient to the US. The great risk of war with China is if we continue to act as a proxy for the US. Will we join the US in a military standoff over Taiwan?
What will we do if the US decides to follow the advice of some of its senior generals and use tactical nuclear weapons in North Korea? Their use would engage the US/Australian facilities in Central Australia a fact that would not escape the notice of China
We are a nation in denial that we are ‘joined at the hip’ to a dangerous ,erratic and risky ally. Apart from brief isolationist periods, the US has been almost perpetually at war.
No US president in recent decades has successfully managed let alone controlled the US military,industrial,political and intelligence complex . We follow in the wake of that complex. We ceded our sovereignty long ago .