As China reasserts its historical world role, its influence will grow in Australia and elsewhere. But that influence is minimal compared with the US which has ‘agents of influence’ thick on the ground in Australia. Our media ,including the ABC, is saturated with US content and a large part of it is controlled by an American citizen with close ties to Donald Trump. We have a reasonable degree of domestic political autonomy despite foreign ownership of our major companies but we have ceded effective foreign and defence power to the US military,industrial and intelligence complex. All our major political parties are happy to maintain our quasi colonial status.
This article was first published on the 9th of August 2019. It is now slightly updated.
The US is the greatest threat to peace in the world. It is an aggressor across the globe. It is the most violent country both at home and abroad. And people know it. The Pew Research Centre found in 2018 that 45% of people surveyed around the world saw ‘US power and influence as a major threat’
Retired US Defence Secretary Mattis complained that President Trump should show more respect for allies. But the US shows most respect for allies that do what they are told or supinely comply, like Australia. Our PM even gets an invitation to dinner with Trump and Scott Morrison cannot contain his eagerness. Our media join in the vicarious thrill of it all.
Apart from brief isolationist periods, the US has been almost perpetually at war; wars that we have been foolishly drawn into. The US has subverted and overthrown numerous governments over two centuries. It has a military and business complex, a ‘hidden state’, that depends on war for influence and enrichment. It believes in its ‘manifest destiny’ which brings with it an assumed moral superiority which it denies to others. The problems did not start with Trump. They are long-standing and deep rooted.
Unfortunately, many of our political, bureaucratic, business and media ‘elites’ have been so long on an American drip feed that they find it hard to think of a world without an American focus. We had a similar and dependent view of the UK in the past. That ended in tears in Singapore.
Conservatives rail about Chinese influence but they and we are immersed and dominated by all things American,including the Murdoch media. Our media do regard Australia as the 51st American state. Just look at the saturation coverage of the Democrat primaries with the presidential election still 15 months away! Easy and lazy news. Its harder and nowhere near as interesting to cover much more important news in Indonesia and Malaysia.
In this blog (Is war in the American DNA?), I have drawn attention to the risks we run in being ‘joined at the hip’ to a country that is almost always at war. The facts are clear. The US has never had a decade without war. Since its founding in 1776 the US has been at war 93% of the time. The ‘frontier’ which dominates so much of American historical thinking was grounded in violence and aggression including occupation of large parts of Spanish/Mexican lands. These wars then 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 WWII. In recent decades most of these wars have been unsuccessful. The US maintains 700 military bases or sites around the world including in Australia. In our own region it has massive deployment of hardware and troops in Japan, the ROK and Guam.
US fleets patrol in strength off the Chinese coast. The US would have mass hysteria if the Chinese fleet patrolled off the Californian coast or Florida Keys,as it is legally entitled to do!
The US led illegal invasion of Iraq encouraged by John Howard has resulted, directly and indirectly in the death of a million people and the displacement of millions of people. It has exposed historic religious,tribal and ethic tensions. World wide terrorism and ISIS are the direct result of US aggression and our complicity.John Howard is never held responsible for the massive calamity that he helped facilitate. He remains a national hero at least in the Liberal Party.
The US has been meddling in other countries’ affairs and elections for a century. It 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 ,assasination,or interference in foreign governments are 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 the Ukraine by the US-backed Maidan coup in 2014. Gorbachev and Bush 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 in other countries’ affairs, the American Imperium continues without serious check or query in America or Australia.
There are several reasons why the American record of war and interference 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 given to others because many Americans see themselves as more virtuous and their system of government better than others.
Despite their assumed world role, many Americans have a limited understanding of other countries’ culture and life. Only 32% of Americans have passports. In the UK and Australia it is 70%. Before he became President, George Bush had only been overseas once. That was to visit Beijing where his father was the Ambassador.
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’ which 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 Obama is an American citizen.
The US has invaded countries it knew about and in many cases, cultures and people it knew nothing about, who were assumed to be less virtuous and wise than the US. In examining the failure in Vietnam, General Walter T Kerwin Jr observed that ‘we never understood the Vietnamese. We think we know best. We tried to force on them what they should do…’ The ignorance of ordinary Americans 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 2019, I would add the intelligence community and politicians to that complex who depend heavily on funding from powerful arms manufacturers across the country and the military and civilian personnel in over 4,000 military facilities across the US. Democrats and Republicans both court these wealthy arms suppliers and their employees.
The intelligence community, universities and think-tanks also have a vested interest in the American Imperium.
This complex which co-opts institutions and individuals in Australia, is often called “the hidden state”. 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. But it goes beyond advice. The ‘five eyes’ led by the CIA applied pressure to us on 5G as part of a broader campaign to attack almost all things Chinese.We willingly respond and join the US in disasters like Vietnam,Iraq and the Middle East. While the UN General Assembly votes with large majorities to curb nuclear proliferation, we remain locked in to the position of the US and other nuclear powers.
Our autonomy and independence is 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 US influence and our willing cooperation with it 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 where increasingly large numbers of Australian military personnel are embedded in the US military and defence establishments, especially in the Pacific Command in Hawaii. The last US Commander in Hawaii very nearly became the new US Ambassador in Australia. Instead he was sent to Seoul to keep the ROK in line.
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 the ‘Intelligence’ community are locked-in American loyalists.
As Geoff Raby in this blog has argued , our security and intelligence agencies like ASIO and ASIS have led and bullied the Australian Government into hysteria over China. The collectors of intelligence have become the propagandists and policy makers. Paul Keating calls them ‘nutters’ . DFAT has been sidelined. With our intelligence agencies out of control it is not surprising to see the travesty of the prosecution of Bernard Collaery and Witness K. The wrong people are being charged.
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” which was largely determined at Bretton Woods after WWII and embedded in various UN agencies. That ‘order’ reflects the power and views of the dominant countries in the 1940s. It does not recognize legitimate interests of newly-emerging countries like China who 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. 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 gone scot free.
It is a myth that democracies like America will behave internationally at a higher level of morality than other counties. 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 are being treated. They led the fight against ISIS but are now largely abandoned by the US and other ‘allies’. The Kurds are holding the Australian wives and children of ISIS fighters but we are so slow to decently help.The scrapping of the alliance with the Kurds is made the more dishonourable by the emergence of the new version of the US/Saudi alliance with its resulting tragedy in Yemen.
US claims about how well they run their own country are challenged on so many fronts. Forty three million US citizens live in poverty, they have a massive prison population with its indelible racist connotations, guns are ubiquitous and they 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 invaded.
Like many democracies, including our own, money and vested interests are corrupting public life. ‘Democracy’ in the US has been replaced by ‘Donocracy’, with practically no restrictions on funding of elections and political activity for decades. Vested interests are largely unchecked. 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.
The US has slipped to number 21 as a ‘flawed democracy’ in the Economist’s Intelligence 2016 Democracy Index. (NZ was ranked 4 and Australia 10). It noted that ‘public confidence in government has slumped to historic lows in the US.’ That was before Trump!
Many democracies are in trouble. US democracy is in more trouble than most. There is a pervasive sickness.
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.
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” . 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 refused 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 in its sub serviant ‘allies’ like Australia. In the media, 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. In April last year the New York Times told us that outside the White House, Rupert Murdoch is Trump’s chief adviser. Rupert Murdoch runs political parties as much as media organisations.
But it is not just the destructive role of News Corp in 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.
Mike Keating described (as Hugh White pointed out) that, based on Australian Treasury figures, by 2030 Chinese GDP is projected to be 70% larger than US GDP. It is already 15 % larger. The US has record debt which the recent tax cuts, like those of Reagan and Bush, will only worsen.
One outcome of the declining comparative US economic power is that the US will ask its allies to do more. We saw the influence of US budgetary pressures in its launch of the pivot to the Pacific. We have seen the first step with Marines in Darwin. There are a lot more big steps to come.
The US may return ,hopefully,to its brief periods of isolationism and leave its allies to their own devices. Maybe they will do us a favour!
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 should not bury in Anzackery the enormous price we paid for British ‘protection’. We have not shaken off that dependence and subservience to distant empires.
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 cooperation 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, 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 media.
A further reason for the continuing US hegemony in Australian attitudes is the galaxy of Australian opinion leaders 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 ‘dialogues’, study centres and think tanks. The US has nourished agents of influence in Australia for decades. China is a raw beginner in the use of soft power.
How long will Australian denial of US policies continue? When will some of us stand up? When will our humiliation end?
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 US is determined to make China its enemy. We are cooperating in that process.
The US is a very dangerous ally. It is more likely to get us into trouble than out of trouble.
We are joined at the hip to the most violent and dangerous country in the world.