DENNIS ARGALL. The Pompeo view

Aug 9, 2019

US Secretary of State Pompeo said a couple of things in Sydney recently that were wrong in fact. He articulated an absurd philosophy about foreign investment, unaware that he’d just accused China of thinking something similar. His utterances of high-minded principles in the Australia-US relationship and US strategic policy mask very dark realities.

Two statements in Sydney recently by US Secretary of State Pompeo need to be quoted and challenged.

First at an event hosted by the conservative Centre for Independent Studies:

“T[O]M SWITZER: Does Washington still believe unequivocally that the ANZUS alliance obliges Canberra to America’s side in the event of a conflict. The ANZUS alliance, does that oblige us to Australia’s participation in any conflict?

“MIKE POMPEO: Yeah, the ANZUZ [sic] alliance is unambiguous.”

The treaty is not ambiguous, but it doesn’t say what he seems to think it says.

Article IV of the ANZUS Treaty says:

“Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on any of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes.

“Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.”

Any presumption of automatic obligation is wrong.

Second, in remarks to press at the AUSMIN meeting in Sydney, arising from comparison of the US with China:

“The United States invests nearly $170 billion in Australia each and every year.  The United States is by far the largest investor here in Australia, accounting for more than 25 percent of all foreign direct investment.

“It’s easy sometimes to forget that the amount of private investment in the Indo-Pacific far surpasses the amount of government investment here.  Judging how private enterprise has been the engine for driving the astounding prosperity in this region over several decades, we hope all countries will welcome more of it.”

He’s entitled to his philosophy but the numbers are wrong. $170 billion is close to the total value of US direct investment in Australia (investments in which Australia has no share), but has no meaning in annual data. Annual growth has been $47bn and $33bn in the two years 2016-2018.

But the philosophy that nations do better proportionally with the level of US investment may suit a Rotary speech in Kansas but is not reflective of any balanced judgement by the investment-receiving country. Though it’s close to the thinking of the United States Studies Centre at Sydney University.

(Were any university organisation with China connections to publish a promotional paper like that it would of course be ridiculed.)

At the core of Pompeo’s perspective is this:

“Let me be clear:  The United States is a Pacific nation.  We care deeply about what happens here and we’re here to stay.  And I want all Australians to know they can always rely on the United States of America.  And just as we talk about Britain as a special relationship, we think of this as an unbreakable relationship.  It’s grounded in our shared values of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.”

While that provides a framework for disparagement of others, the United States has a second to none record of intervention in democratic processes in other countries and support for repressive dictatorship. They are not alone, but they stand out in cloaking self-interest and violence in such sanctimonious language. Foreign policy based on threats of sanction or violence. Notably recently in Senator Rand Paul being authorised to offer the Iranian foreign minister a chat with the US president, with advice also that if he said no he’d be sanctioned (which he did, which he was). A situation in US domestic affairs too, of divided realities and sense of rectitude feeding to increasing violence; of electoral gerrymander; tricks to shape the membership of the Supreme Court, and tyrannical tweeting from a president who ignores law.

They now wish Australia to entangle with more military ventures in the Middle East. Thus far having no connection to the rule of law, our current entanglements lacking legal basis as did the invasion of Iraq in 2003, argued for with lies and based on nonsensical expectations. The 2003 Iraq war instantly turned a badly governed country into an ungoverned country, Iraq handed to Iran. Iran, now subject to threats, the only country to defeat Israel in war, via Hezbollah, 1982-2000 and 2006. Arguments from the US and UK for intervention reflect imperial dreaming. Former UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has just published a book about Iran called “The English Job” making use of a very old Iranian expression “when things go wrong it’s always an English job.” This Al Jazeera article of 30 July contains a recent chronology and long-term perspective:

As to Australian thinking about the Gulf, Defence Minister Reynolds told journalists at AUSMIN this, which belongs to the genre of explanations to five year olds of where babies come from, forever the standard for consultation in Australia:

“The request that the United States has made is a very serious one and it is a complex one.  That’s why we are currently giving this request very serious consideration.  We will ultimately, as we always do, decide what is in our own sovereign interests, and we certainly discussed this issue during our ministerial consultations.  But again, no decision has yet been made.”

Dennis Argall worked in the Australian Departments of Foreign Affairs and Defence, worked in other areas of government and held posts as counsellor and acting minister in Washington and as ambassador to China.

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