CAVAN HOGUE – The Trumpet shall sound, And we shall be razed!

Australia’s response to US Trumpeting in Iraq has been muted and said nothing about whether we agree in principle that it is acceptable to assassinate foreign nationals in other countries. Russia in Britain?

US policy designed to protect American live and assets has had the opposite effect including on Australia. Trump’s bellicose rhetoric is disturbingly like that of Teddy Roosevelt and George W Bush both of which led to aggression. Will Australia be dragged into yet another fine mess? This raises questions not just about what interest we have in the Middle East and how we protect them but also leads to heretical thoughts about the value of the American Alliance. We have been found wanting on climate change. Will we also be found wanting on geopolitical change?

 Fine articles from Bob Bowker and Mike Scrafton  in Pearls and Irritations have examined the details of the current Iran/US imbroglio which understandably has tended to be burnt out in the media by the bushfire crisis. I want to look at some of the more general implications. What does this tell us about American policy and about Australian policy?

It is hardly news that Trump is unpredictable and has been getting increasingly belligerent. To a large extent he sees the world through American domestic concerns no doubt including his desire to be reelected. He seems also to be strongly influenced by hawks like Pompeo, Pence and John Bolton. Patriotism of a jingoistic kind is nothing new in the USA. Theodore Roosevelt and the Hearst press spring to mind as an earlier incarnation of emotion driving aggression. The failure of US decision makers to clearly analyse the implications of their actions is also nothing new as the Coalition of the Willing illustrated.

As always, there are American academics, journalists and even politicians who see things more clearly and are publicly critical of their government’s policies and actions but they are not the decision takers. So while the justification for the latest assassination and rhetoric is that it will protect American lives and assets, a number of experienced observers of the Middle East have pointed out that it will have exactly the opposite effect. Will Trump and Murdoch emulate Roosevelt and Hearst? More recently, US policy has been erratic. They supported the Taliban against the USSR without thinking about local reality and longer term factors with predictable results. When Australia was on the Security Council during the Iran-Iraq war we were constantly urged to support Iran!

An issue which seems to be largely ignored is the question of whether assassination in other sovereign states of people you don’t like is justified. If we accept that what was in effect an attack on another country was justified because the target was a bad guy, as we did in the case of Osama bin Laden, then who decides what is justified? We condemned Russian assassination in Britain of people they presumably saw as a threat but how does that different in principle? Or is it OK if we do it but not if people we disaprove of do it? So much for the rules based order.

Australia has rightly called for all parties to be restrained but has asked Iraq not to kick out Australian troops who are said to be training Iraqis to fight Daesh. Of course if you train other people’s troops you have no say in how they will use that training. We are there, as usual, because the Americans want us there, not because the Iraqis want us there. Having joined in an illegal invasion of Iraq to please the USA we are now stuck with the consequences of that ill advised action. By leading with our chin publicly we make it more likely that Australians will be targeted as part of any revenge attacks on the US. Direct criticism of the US action has been absent which would not be the case if a country like China or Russia had done the same thing.

So here we have another example of Australia’s alliance driven foreign policy. We are putting all our eggs in a somewhat shaky basket. Some praiseworthy efforts have been made by the government to work more closely with our neighbours but this is very much a second prong in our policy. We have been shown to be wanting in our approach to climate change so perhaps it is time to show more imagination on our approach to geopolitical climate change? A thorough and realistic look at our long term interests should start from zero and take nothing for granted. Two minute sound bites are not good enough.

Cavan Hogue is a former diplomat.

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7 Responses to CAVAN HOGUE – The Trumpet shall sound, And we shall be razed!

  1. Simon Sedgley says:

    Thank you for your article Cavan. In it you say and then ask: “Patriotism of a jingoistic kind is nothing new in the USA…Theodore Roosevelt and the Hearst press spring to mind as an earlier incarnation of emotion driving aggression. Will Trump and Murdoch emulate Roosevelt and Hearst?”. So, Genie Energy Ltd’s Israeli subsidiary appears to be drilling and exploring for gas in the Golan Heights. Members of the subsidiary’s strategic advisory board include Rupert Murdoch, Dick Cheney, James Woolsey (former CIA Director), and Larry Summers (former US Treasury head), among others. Does that answer your question?

  2. Kien Choong says:

    If one believes that (given its democratic and liberal institutions) the US is fundamentally a benign power, it is hard to understand why “US allies” are so reluctant (afraid?) to oppose the actions of a rouge administration. US administrations come and go, and simply criticising the actions of rouge administrations should do no harm to Australia’s long-term relationship with the US.

    Kevin Rudd once told the Chinese government that “true friends” (“zhengyou”) will tell each other uncomfortable truths. Yet US allies don’t seem to be true friends at all. No wonder the Chinese government was so sceptical about Kevin Rudd’s claim to be a “true friend” of China.

    • Hans Rijsdijk says:

      Read William Blum and you tend to believe that the US is a basically malign power whose sole purpose is to control other people’s resources (particularly oil) for its own benefit with the excuse that it protects America’s interests. And it will stop at nothing to achieve this.

  3. Lawry Herron says:

    I sent this 6 January to the letters editor at The Australian but of course it was not printed:
    “Should we applaud the assassination without trial or due process of General Qassem Soleimani? All same bin Laden – that’s OK then? Victor’s justice without victory or justice, might being right?
    This is dog eat dog stuff, fine until an even bigger cur presents and the biter is bit.
    Back when we were civilised there were laws of war about this.”

  4. Anthony Pun says:

    As long as we are tied to the apron strings of Uncle Sam, there is no opportunity to utter any independent foreign policy, less we incur the American displeasure and removed from the position of Deputy Sheriff. If Australia does make a moral judgement on the action of our American ally, then we have lost the moral ground of being critical of others on “state sponsored political assassination”, “human right breaches” or “non-adherence to international law” or “disregarding any rule-based convention/bodies”.
    AccuWeather estimates the total damage and economic loss caused by the Australia wildfires from September 2019 and into 2020 will be $110 billion and there goes the budget surplus. With such a huge fire bill, can we afford to lose any trade with China or can we afford too maintain our troops overseas? Is it time for Australia to be “decoupled” from the US foreign policy on China and Iran containment policies?

  5. James O'Neill says:

    I respectfully agree with the author’s conclusion that Australia is in need of an independent foreign policy. Given that both Labor and the Coalition are wedded to the US, like the obedient colony we effectively are, the prospects of that seen vanishingly small.
    One wishes however that the author had refrained from the casual slander of Russia. Just whom did they assassinate?
    He also needs to brush up on the true history of CIA asset Osama bin Laden instead of repeating the usual propaganda version.

    • R. N. England says:

      There is a good motive for the Russians to try to kill Skripal. Il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un espion pour encourager les autres.

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