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Australia’s moral duty to slap down US aggression

The United States is guilty of war crimes, human rights violations and extreme violence. As its ally, Australia’ silence on morally reprehensible behaviour constitutes complicity, writes Dr Scott Burchill, senior lecturer in international relations at Deakin University.

Reflexive support for state power and violence by America’s cheerleaders in Australia takes many forms.

There are ad hominem attacks on those who disclose Washington’s nefarious secrets, such as its slaughter of journalists in Iraq or its illegal surveillance apparatus directed by the National Security Agency. There is a conspicuous silence when United States drones murder civilians in Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

There is confected outrage when a rival state cedes territory it considers to be a legitimate strategic asset, but convenient amnesia when questions about invasions and occupations by friends and allies are raised. Compare the reaction to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea, which has so far resulted in one fatality, with Saudi Arabia’s incursion into Bahrain in 2011, which killed many innocent Shiites but which Washington refused to even call an “invasion”. Coincidentally, just as Crimea houses the Russian Navy’s Black Sea fleet, Bahrain plays host to the US Fifth Fleet.

Consider Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank, which has killed thousands of Palestinians since 1948 and dispossessed many more, but would not have been possible without Washington’s connivance.

Perhaps there is a closer parallel. We are approaching the 40th anniversary of Turkey’s illegal invasion and occupation of northern Cyprus. Mass expulsions of Greek Cypriots, property theft and egregious human violations, including killings and unexplained disappearances, followed the initial attack in July 1974. But Ankara remains a valued NATO ally, and there are no suggestions in Washington or Canberra that economic sanctions be imposed on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his business cronies or predecessors. Some invasions and land grabs, such as Indonesia’s 24-year occupation of East Timor, which Canberra and Washington enabled, are just fine with us.

Hypocrisy, double standards and selective outrage dominates foreign affairs commentary. Among the current avalanche of hysterical Putin bashing in the Western media one fact is always omitted: the US is the most promiscuous interventionary state in the world, with mass slaughters in Afghanistan and Iraq being only the most recent examples of its addiction to military violence. In both these cases Australia was an enthusiastic accomplice.

To those infatuated by power, however, these actions — for which apologies are never issued nor reparations paid — are not crimes, merely “wrong-headed and foolhardy” because Washington’s impact on the world is “benign” (Michael Fullilove) and it remains an “overwhelming force for good in the world” (Greg Sheridan). Just ask the Vietnamese.

Perhaps the strangest claim by American boosters in Australia is that Washington is unfairly singled out for criticism by “the Left” and thugs like Putin get off lightly. Despite its own significant responsibility for what has happened in Ukraine, it is difficult to find an obsession with Washington’s crimes in the Australian media. But there should be one.

There is no alliance between Australia and Russia. We don’t have intelligence-sharing agreements with Moscow. There are no technology transfers and no Russian troops rotating through Darwin. We don’t play host to “joint facilities” with Russia, have routine ministerial meetings with officials in Moscow or regular bilateral summits between our heads of government. We have no influence on Moscow’s political elite.

We do, however, have limited leverage in Washington. The alliance gives us access to US decision-makers, regardless of whether our opinions are welcome. With that opportunity comes a responsibility to exert influence where we can, especially to curb America’s propensity to meet its global political challenges with extreme violence. This does not constitute a disproportionate preoccupation with US foreign policy, as the local Washington lobby would have us believe. As our major ally that is precisely where our focus should be.

It is also our ethical duty. In democratic societies, responsibility for the consequences of our actions extends to the decisions taken by  governments on our behalf because we can participate in the process of formulating policy. The US alliance is a policy choice for Australia, and there is no evading the moral consequences of that relationship, including the international behaviour of “our great and powerful friend”.

Our leaders closely align themselves with their counterparts in Washington, and they claim to share both common values and a similar view of the world. In Iraq and Afghanistan, as in several wars before, we have been willingly complicit in acts of aggression and breaches of international law. Drawing attention to these crimes, as opposed to those committed by others we have no influence upon, does not constitute anti-Americanism. It is our moral and political responsibility. Like charity, analysis and criticism should begin at home.

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  • 1
    Grumpy Old Sod
    Posted Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    For Australia to criticise the US would mean that we would have to grow a pair. That hasn’t happened to date and I sure can’t see it happening in the future, unless of course we are forced by circumstance to cozy up to another power.

  • 2
    Tamas Calderwood
    Posted Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    In Iraq and Afghanistan, as in several wars before, we have been willingly complicit in acts of aggression and breaches of international law”

    Ahh… yeah… leaving Iraq and the rest aside, Afghanistan started that war by murdering 3,000 people in downtown New York City and Washington DC.

    It’s commonly referred to as “September 11”, remember?

  • 3
    Graeski
    Posted Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Afghanistan started the war with September 11? You’re joking, surely? That was the Taliban - a multinational terrorist organisation. Osama Bin Laden was a Saudi national. It wasn’t an act of war, it was an act of terrorism. The US simply chose to define it as an act of war in order to satisfy the agenda of their miltary/industrial complex.

    And not to put too fine a point on it, the US never declared war on Afghanistan. In fact they were supposedly in the country at the request of the Afghani government - as ALLIES.

    Where do you even start with this level of ignorance?

  • 4
    stuart richardson
    Posted Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Afganistan” murdered 3000 in New York?? Seriously, the ignorance of the facts of the matter displayed in this statement is breathtaking.

  • 5
    Stuart Coyle
    Posted Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    @Tamas I think your memory is deficient. If you check the facts the Sept 11 attacks were done by a group of 15 Saudi’s and various others (2 from UAE, 1 Lebanese, 1 Egyptian). Not an Afghan amongst them. Nor were any of the major planners Afghans, nor was the Afghan government involved.

  • 6
    Tamas Calderwood
    Posted Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Oh dear guys - the government of Afghanistan at the time was run by the Taliban.

    The Taliban refused US requests to hand over Bin Laden and shut down Al qaeda terror training camps, so the US and allies invaded and turfed out the Taliban government.

    Afghanistan was Al Qaeda’s home base. That’s where the Sept 11 raids were planned and funded from.

    You guys should read up about it.

  • 7
    Liamj
    Posted Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Good onya Scott, its great to read someone in this spineless excuse for a sovereign democracy speaking the truth. But if it were the PM saying it, we’d probably have another course-correction ala Whitlam-Kerr, and the same yank billionaire runs more of our media than did then.

    @ Tamas - you’re wrong again re Taliban refusing to hand over the saudi Bin Laden, but we both know that your diversions don’t need to be true to be effective.

  • 8
    Kevin Herbert
    Posted Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Nice work Scott Burchill. I’d reckon 80% of informed Aussie wouod agree with you.

    However, for as long as Australia is a cleint State of the US, the situation will not change. With the US Oz’s biggest foreign investor at $600 billion, and the UK at $500 billion (with China at just $20 billion), and more than 30% of Oz’s exports going to the US, it will take the election to the US Presidency of a non-interventionist such as Rand Paul or Alan Grayson, to see the changes we all so avidly await. I tell my 17 year old son that he’ll see that change..probably by the time he’s 40 years old.

  • 9
    Zeke
    Posted Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    @Tamas. I think you’ll find that the Afghanistan government offered to turn over Osama Bin Laden to a third party. They wouldn’t turn him over to the USA where he obviously wouldn’t get a fair trial.

  • 10
    David Crosswell
    Posted Friday, 28 March 2014 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    Tanas, the U.S. government funded the Taliban and one or two other allied groups to the tune of $US4.5 billion of tax payer’s money, then thought they could get a better deal through the Northern Alliance, so turned on them like a bunch of mongrel dogs.

    9/11 was the excuse that Bush used to go into Iraq, not Afghanistan, claiming that Al Qaeda was all over the place there, when Saddam’s the Baathist party hated them and their representation there was almost non-existent.

    Now, the U.S. have started resupplying the Taliban with arms as an incentive to force Karzai to sign the peace accord so they can stay on in Afghanistan like the form of pollution they are.

    You appear to have a computer. Pull up Google maps. See where Iraq and Afghanistan are and what sits in the middle, and use your mind. Iran, at over 4.2 million barrels/day, is the world’s fourth largest oil producer.

    Their Supreme Ruler, some years ago, issued a Fatwa (holy directive) that no nuclear weapons were ever to be manufactured in Iran, because they were contrary to the ways of Allah. What this means is that if anybody did so, and I mean, *anybody*, they would immediately lose their head under Sharia law. Nuclear weaponry requires an enrichment degree of 90 %, while Iran has only ever enriched to just under 20%, that required for medical isotopes. The only reason the U.S. gets away with what it does is because of complacency and/or ignorance. Ignorance like yours. Of the two, I don’t know which is worse, because the ability to become well informed is there and available. I don’t have any advantage you don’t.

    Osama’s group was one of the ones that the U.S. financed, do you know that? To create disruption during the soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Bin Laden’s family are very wealthy, having become successful in the construction industry in Saudi Arabia, and are close friends with the Saudi royal family. The children go to the same schools together. But they originally come from Yemen, where a lot of the unrest is now, and where the Saudi/U.S. mercurial relationship is attempting to increase it’s footprint in the African continent. Sometimes I play around with the idea that Bin Laden is not dead. With me, it takes more than a photo or two. You have a nice night down at the pub, talking to the boys about cars and chicks and footy and stuff, you hear?

  • 11
    Tamas Calderwood
    Posted Friday, 28 March 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Zeke. I think you’ll find that the Taliban government supported Osama and his terrorist outfit for many years. This makes them complicit. The September 11 attacks essentially came from Afghanistan.

    Offering to hand him over to a “third party” is not really offering to hand him over at all. Not in the real world.

  • 12
    AR
    Posted Friday, 28 March 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I had thought that Tamas was merely a climate nutcase but I see now that It is a full spectrum necon Rightard.
    Hooda thunk? Any views on marriage equality? Contraception? Abortion?

  • 13
    Tamas Calderwood
    Posted Friday, 28 March 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    AR - don’t suppose you’ve got a relevant argument on the subject rather than a few cheap remarks?

  • 14
    AR
    Posted Friday, 28 March 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    umm.. Scotty, are you using DragonWriter or phoning it in?
    a rival state cedes territory it considers to be a legitimate strategic asset presumably you meant “seized”?
    Overall a good article, I am impressed by your rest

  • 15
    AR
    Posted Friday, 28 March 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Overall a good article, I am impressed by your restraint & moderation on such a vexed topic, the Hegemon & its Helots.
    umm.. Scotty, are you using DragonWriter or phoning it in?
    a rival state cedes territory it considers to be a legitimate strategic asset presumably you meant “seized”?

  • 16
    AR
    Posted Friday, 28 March 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Moderator - sorreee, can you remove the 1st, truncated draft of the above? New laptop, with an amerikan keyboard aagghhh

  • 17
    Vlad the Impala
    Posted Friday, 28 March 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Tamas, I think you’ll find that the U.S. supported Osama Bin Laden via the ISI during the Russian intervention. That makes the U.S. complicit, and the September 11 attacks a kind of long- range own goal. The decision to invade Afghanistan was made before the 11th of September 2001, the attacks being a convenient excuse to invade and occupy (kind of like the “surprise” attack on Pearl Harbour being a convenient excuse for the U.S. to join WW2). Your attempts at revisionism are amusing; although I’m trying to work out whether you’re being tongue-in-cheek or if you’re the Ralph Wiggum in the Crikey classroom.

  • 18
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 28 March 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Tamas Calderwood sceptics?

  • 19
    Tamas Calderwood
    Posted Friday, 28 March 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Vlad - you’re awesome! Pearl harbour was a conspiracy! The pacific fleet was sacrificed by the US warmongers!

    Not sure why they wanted to invade Afghanistan before sept 11 though. Can you explain?

  • 20
    Bob the builder
    Posted Friday, 28 March 2014 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Please don’t feed the troll, this article is too good to be wasted on name-calling.

    Back to the main game please fellow readers!

  • 21
    Bob the builder
    Posted Friday, 28 March 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    s

  • 22
    Kevin Herbert
    Posted Friday, 28 March 2014 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Tamas Calderwood:

    May I respectfully suggest that in future when you find yourself in a deep hole, that you stop digging.

  • 23
    Dan B
    Posted Friday, 28 March 2014 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    @ David Crosswell: The process of developing 20% enriched Uranium to 90% (weapons grade) is very short. The stockpiling of 20% Uranium by the Regime is what makes the US/West nervous and suspicious. Fatwa or not, Iran is chasing a nuclear weapon.

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