Despite one welcome outburst of independence by refusing a request for more troops on the ground in the Middle East and a generally less sycophantic approach than most of his predecessors,the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington had all the usual hallmarks of a client presenting tribute to the Emperor. The fact that Australian and American comentators felt the need to sound surprised at the refusal of a US request is instructive.
The stress on shared values is interesting. Certainly we share many values with many Americans but do we endorse their gun culture? Do we share the values of Trump and his very many supporters? The USA is a complex country with many different cultures and values.When our leaders go to Japan they criticise the Japanese about the rights of whales and when they go to China about the rights of humans but they never criticise the Americans about human rights abuses in Guantanamo or their failure to conform with the the Nuclear Disarmamant Treaty (NPT).
Do we accept the view that the USA is somehow exceptional and that it has a manifest destiny that gives it rights internationally that others don’t have? Quite possibly we do! President Obama, a liberal and moderate President who generally does represent those sections of American society with whom Australia has some affinity, has felt it necessary to boast of America’s economic and military might. The conflict between the USA and China, and Russia, is not really about values but about great power competition. Each of these three powers believes it has some kind of special destiny which makes it different from the rest of us so we should not be surprised if they all want to be supreme globally or at least within their traditional sphere of influence. Mr Turnbull made it clear that we are allied with one of those powers which suggests we will end up getting into more wars we should keep out of.
However, Mr Turnbull’s approach was echoed by the mainstream Australian media response which in turn reflects Australian fear of the outside world and our need for a protector.True independence is not an Australian value.
Cavan Hogue was former Australian Ambassador to USSR and Russia.