Will behaving like the 51st state of the United States win Wentworth for the Liberals?

Oct 17, 2018

Prime Minister Morrison has been channeling Donald Trump for the Wentworth by-election, on two key policies and in his handling of the truth of important matters.

The US is currently pursuing foreign policies, which have five main features. Their policies are: selfish to an unprecedented degree; destructive of established international rules and principles; opposed and often plainly rejected by virtually all other states; causing the development of new relationships and alliances not previously contemplated, as a means of defending against US fiat; and, perhaps above all, failing, more often than succeeding.

And bear in mind, what we see or discern of the widespread international alarm about current US policies, is its surface, what we are allowed to see. Such obscuration is in the nature of diplomacy and maybe it should be for the sake of dignity and, the security of careful planning to deal with current problems. Assuredly, today’s diplomatic sub-structure is a frenzy of private discussions. How could it be otherwise, when the Head of State and Government of the US, is of the character of Donald Trump.

It is in this context and relevant to Australia, that a question worth asking is: which US policy decisions both hold a central place in current US conduct and most fully incorporate the five hallmarks of that policy style, described above?

They are: the decision to re-locate the US Embassy to Jerusalem and recognize that City as solely the capital of Israel, thus dismissing historic Palestinian claims on any part of the City and; the decision to remove the US from the Six Power nuclear agreement with Iran, done with major US input, in 2015.

Both of these US decisions are opposed by almost all other concerned states, except Israel, and both are considered as posing significant dangers to attempts to: stabilize the Middle East; significantly reduce the impetus to terrorism, globally; and restrain the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Israel is an undeclared nuclear weapon state.

Astonishingly, it is precisely these two US policy decisions, precisely these two most divisive and criticized examples of “America First”, that Prime Minister Morrison wants Australia to embrace.

There is so much which could be said of this towering act of cynicism but suffice it to state that, were he to proceed, he would arrive at possibly the lowest ever point of Australian servitude to the US. Our coin as an independent actor would be spent.

Why would he have so squandered that coin, acted so ignorantly, surely against professional advice, including past advice from his own side of politics?

On the Israel issue Scott Morrison has reacted hotly to the suggestion that his musings in favor of Jerusalem reflect his own publicly declared religious inclinations. But, he said that talks on a two state solution  “haven’t been going that well” and that.. “Australia should be open minded to this and I am open minded to this and our government is open minded to this.” The “this” he seems to be referring to is to moving our Embassy to Jerusalem. There we would join the US and Guatemala.

On the Iran nuclear issue he has said he wants to investigate whether or not the agreement is still “fit for purpose”; whatever that cliché means. He can do that and, of course there are any number of talented officials who could assist, by reading the continuing reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the monitoring and verification authority under the Iran agreement. The IAEA has repeatedly assured the global community of Iran’s continuing compliance.

Donald Trump has chosen to ignore the IAEA’s findings. No one else has, except Benjamin Netanyahu. Scott Morrison is warming up to do so.

Why is Morrison doing this? He is, of course, targeting the Wentworth by-election. Clearly he believes he needs Jewish votes. The ease of his assumption that Jewish voters are homogeneous, single issue Zionists, without critical regard for the complex issues in the Middle East, in short can have their buttons pushed with ease and, do not have other concerns, such as climate change policy, on which his party is woefully failing; is deeply offensive and obviously wrong.

Is he channeling Trump in more ways than on the two policy areas discussed here?

Trump is a serial liar. The Washington Post’s list of plain lies/falsehoods spoken publicly by Trump now exceeds 5000. This has become so pervasive, that he has succeeded in placing into question, within US discourse, the very notion of the salience of truth itself: one could ask Pilate’s question: “what is truth”.

But, importantly, people simply have become bored with the idea that Trump is a serial liar; to the point where they accept it and feel compelled to work with it, at least for now.

The question for others, including in Australia is, has this infection spread?

For candidate David Sharma to argue that he thinks it might help break the log-jam on Israel/Palestine for Australia to move its Embassy to Jerusalem, thus destroying what was always going to be a final status issue in the negotiations, is an opinion to which he is entitled. Most people think its nonsense and point out, much more importantly, that it completely skewers the Palestinian’s. Maybe the latter is what Morrison liked about it.

But, for our Prime Minister to so carelessly put on Donald Trump’s clothing on both the Israel and Iran issues, claiming innocence about it betrays either a degree of willful ignorance no one in his job should have or, like his new mentor on these matters, plain lying. And, he’s doing this to win an election in Australia.

We’ll see what the people of Wentworth, of all kinds, think of this.

Richard Butler AC former Ambassador to the United Nations

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