The abusive relationship between Australia and the US

Jan 17, 2022
US flag military afghanistan
Despite the US's many war crimes, Australia continues to stand by its ally. (Image: Flickr/The US Army/Jessi Ann McCormick)

Australia’s uncritical and unstinting support of American hegemony makes it complicit in the Pentagon’s many war crimes.

A recent New York Times investigation has again revealed shocking examples of human rights abuse, war crimes and overall humane negligence that the United States military, its intelligence services and its government routinely undertake in order to propagate a worldwide hegemony – one that is completely condoned by the Australian government.

Titled “The Civilian Casualty Files”, the investigation reveals more than 1300 civilian deaths and scant regard for human safety in America’s drone and air strikes over Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. These human rights abuses came about with Barack Obama’s fundamental transformation in the later part of his presidency, altering a “boots on the ground” version of warfare to one that Harvard historian Samuel Moyn labelled “humane”. In trading serving soldiers for a war from above, Obama labelled the attacks as “the most precise air campaign in history”.

Instead, the attacks resulted in the Pentagon ceasing to observe accountability, obfuscating at every turn in order to shield evidence. Any pretext for opacity or rectitude was dissolved into a mendacious assault on the truth.

The Pentagon often circulates no more than bare-bones accounts of any situation that results in death or otherwise. Where there are civilian casualties, it often maintains an indefatigable proclivity to eschew truth for obscurantist statements, ranging from fallacious terms such as “unfortunate” and “unavoidable” to downright lies in “uncommon”.

Journalist Craig Whitlock recently published The Afghanistan Papers: A secret history of the war, which outlines the failings of the American military, the intelligence services and, most importantly, successive governments in a 20-year assault on the impoverished nation.

In one section of his book, Whitlock, who works for The Washington Post, highlights a particularly immoral and egregious attack in 2015. Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian group working in hospitals throughout Afghanistan, signalled to the US military that it was operating a small hospital in Kunduz. It did this in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. Nevertheless, on October 3, a gunship strafed the hospital repeatedly, killing 42 civilians. The military blamed the “fog of war” but of the 16 servicemen who faced administrative charges, not one faced criminal proceedings.

Another incident occurred on July 19, 2016, when American special forces launched an assault on an area outside Tokhar, Syria. They reported to the media that 85 fighters had been eliminated. In reality, they attacked houses – far from any front line – where farmers and their families lived and hid at night, ironically from the fighting between American and ISIS forces. At least 120 civilians were killed.

Other revelations are equally disturbing. One drone strike in Kabul was said to have destroyed a bomb-laden vehicle. Instead it killed 10 members of one family. The Biden administration recently announced that no charges would be laid.

Of all these murders, the Australian government, as well as hawkish publications such as The Australian and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, has continued to brandish the US as a beacon of justice and democracy. They push for a larger American influence in the region to counter China, which they deem to be seeking an illegitimate hegemony.

The irony is palpable. The US has a swathe of bases throughout the Indo-Pacific region, let alone in the rest of the world. China has one – in Djibouti. The US has directly overthrown at least a dozen democratically elected governments through subversion, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths. It routinely runs aggressive military games in the South China Sea, close to the Chinese mainland, and has nuclear bombers stationed in Diego Garcia and Guam. If China were to do the same thing near the coast of Hawaii, the response from many hawks would be for a declaration of war.

America’s lackey

The war crimes mentioned above mirror the now infamous events that were filmed in July 2007 and have cemented the US standing as a corrupt and immoral force in world politics. A video released by WikiLeaks showed helicopter pilots laughing at 12 dead civilians they had just massacred, including two working for Reuters. They initially claimed the civilians were enemy combatants, then blamed various other reasons before finally admitting fault. Reuters was blocked from accessing the video by the Pentagon and it was only released by Wikileaks after it hacked into the files. For this act of service to society in revealing US war-mongering, Julian Assange is currently behind bars in Britain and set to be extradited to the US.

The Australian government has stood by for years whilst Assange, an Australian citizen, has been mendaciously attacked as a criminal. Ironically, this is for revealing war crimes that no one has been prosecuted for. Disappointingly, both sides of politics have continued to deride Assange as a troublemaker. Even if they demand he is brought home, they preface it by noting that they disagreed with his actions –as if standing up for democracy is now immoral.

It is unsurprising Australia still maintains that the US is a beacon of democracy and that China is a war-mongering nation intent of conflict. Our relationship with America is one of an abusive couple. To pretend Australia has any say in what the US does is ludicrous. To criticise China’s human rights record while idly standing by as the US commits a raft of documented war crimes makes Australia complicit.

Historian Emma Shortis notes in her book Our Exceptional Friend that this abusive and one-sided relationship isn’t new: “No matter the context, no matter the president, no matter the country involved, the Australian government has always done that [sided with the US].”

Only the US has come close to starting a war in recent times. In January 2020, president Donald Trump authorised the assassination of Iranian major-general Qasem Soleimani. He was murdered in Baghdad by a Reaper drone in a flagrant attack on the military of a sovereign nation on the land of another sovereign nation.

Soleimani was no saint – he had been accused of orchestrating many of Iran’s proxy wars in the region. However, if an attack like this took place against an American military commander, no one would doubt the response, from Australia as much as the US. Instead, Australia sided heavily with the US despite the Americans providing no warning to their Indo-Pacific ally.

This is the relationship. One is a superpower that is happy to murder civilians in cold blood and cover it up. The other is a nation that is complicit in watching its own citizen be thrown to the wolves of a judicial system that prefers punishment over justice.

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