May 29, 2017

If we can’t rely on the US (and Trump), what then?

Australians policymakers need to begin thinking through the implications of the Trump presidency: what if we can no longer rely on the United States for our security?

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Donald Trump and US exceptionalism

Two recent events must give pause to Australia's foreign policy establishment and prompt some serious thinking about our alliance with the United States.

First is Donald Trump's behaviour at the NATO and G7 meetings last week, in which Trump not merely flagged the US might withdraw from the Paris climate accords, but refused to confirm the United States' commitment to mutual defence with its NATO allies. Forget the oafish body language and the sight of the slovenly president -- who may be struggling with the early stages of dementia -- needing a golf cart to transport him in the wake of other G7 leaders walking to a photo op. His words -- and more particularly their lack -- were far more significant.

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28 thoughts on “If we can’t rely on the US (and Trump), what then?

  1. Charlie Chaplin

    Colour me red, BK, but I’ve never felt particularly defended by the USA. Perhaps it was my Dad’s experiences in Vietnam. He was 19 – just like the song. Regular army – went from a clerk’s job behind a desk to a SAS unit with men twice his age under him. Hopelessly out of his depth, frightened in the jungle dark. Bottled it all up for decades, thought he was fine, until he decided to “scam” a TPI pension and discovered he wasn’t scamming at all. He broke in the psychiatrist’s office and struggled with PTSD right up until it turned into dementia at the ripe old age of 65- a common outcome, apparently. Of course, we knew he wasn’t fine long before PTSD was diagnosed : the compulsive gambling; the sudden waking in terror at night, grabbing his car keys and taking off. He said he was just a light sleeper and liked night driving.

    Or maybe it was my son’s experiences in East Timor. He loved the East Timorese. Not too fond of its history or our, the US or Indonesia’s role in it. Or perhaps his experiences in Afghanistan. He lost friends. He tried to put broken children back together and couldn’t. He marvelled that analgesics were so rare there, the aspirin he gave a little girl who had half her foot blown off took most of the pain away and she was smiling afterwards. He was 23. He couldn’t understand why the Afghani’s hated him and the other Australian soldiers so much. He had no idea of Afghanistan’s history. He still doesn’t- doesn’t want to. He hates Muslims and calls them “rag heads”.

    Who, exactly, have the US defended us from, BK? Who, exactly, is threatening us? I’m 52. I can remember being told I must be terrified of the Chinese and the Russians, the Indonesians and Vietnamese, yet I can’t for the life of me remember anyone bombing, droning or invading us. Now I’m supposed to be terrified of Muslims, because not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims.

    Who, exactly, is threatening us, BK? Which nation other than my own put my father and son in harm’s way?

    1. Saugoof

      A good point. And while it can be said that maybe our alliance with the US (and NZ) as well as having our own military has meant that we are not on the radar for other nations trying to attack us, it could quite equally be validly said that for many other countries, that very alliance as well as our willingness to jump into any armed conflict that the US desires has many other countries seeing us as a threat and a hostile nation and thus makes us a target.

      I suspect it’s a bit of both.

    2. Bill Hilliger

      +10 from me.

    3. John Robertson

      Totally agree and I’d be interested in BK’s answer.

  2. old greybearded one

    We have never been able to rely on the US Bernard, though there was some chance a while back. But the Timor thing proved that. We certainly need better defence setups. Start by getting rid of the piece of crap that is the f-35. I can scarcely fly to Broken Hill from Williamtown with out a tanker. Defence has been a profligate waster of money and must be called to account, starting with these lemon coloured foreign built ships. But the US has never defended us, and it only came this far in 1942 because it needed the airbases and supplies.

  3. Desmond Carroll

    Murderous Putin regime?
    Proof, please.

    1. Bob Hatton

      Agreed. This stuff from BK sounds increasingly like a leader from the NYT. The US premier neolib mouthpiece.

    2. Richard

      Was going to say exact same thing..
      I think we can count ourselves very very lucky that Putin and his circle are so very circumspect in dealing with the aggressive provocation of Western countries.

      Considering the huge amounts of time and treasure the West, particularly the US have spent on undermining numerous elected governments (perhaps BK should look up Nuland of the Neo-Neocons and her evil acolytes re Ukraine putsch), it is little wonder that President Putin comes down very hard on the 5th column inside Russia. So what?
      Those who would accept payment from outsiders, betray their own country for personal gain (rather than the benefit of others) deserve little sympathy.
      The West/US/Israel kill thousands every year for much much less.

      Personally have not believed the Russians wish any in the West ill for a very very long time. The amazing stories of Stanislav Petrov and Vasili Arkhipov should give any Russophobe cause to pause. They want peace and security.
      The Neo Neocons and other (dual national) traitors are who the 4th estate should be writing about.

  4. John Newton

    Really don’t think we need to worry…he won’t be around for much longer. but then, of course, we’ll have to deal with Pence. Very scary

  5. Peter Wileman

    What really bothers me is the manner in which the ‘leaders’ at G7 appear to accept the bullying antics of Trump with as little dignity as our glorious leader did after being kept waiting for three hours. He will, of course, be impeached, but our ‘leaders’ have shown themselves to be spineless. Tony whatsisname should shirtfront him.

    1. John Hall

      Just like he said about Purin – then shared a Koala moment. We are a government of co-dependants in an increasingly parlous state. It’s time to grow up and be s mature world player. New Zealand puts us to shame most of the time.

      1. John Hall

        Putin I meant.

  6. klewso

    “G7”? I thought that was Augustus Gloop at Willie Wonka’s.

    1. Tony Foot

      Try this one on for fit.
      An Asian country, it has a vast population and is getting more and more overcrowded. It is starting to suffer from loss of food productivity due population pressure and climate change. It has a big industrial base and a large well equipped military with aircraft carriers and long range bombers. Also a large merchant fleet.
      Imagine the leader of this country has a chat with Don the Chump along the following lines; ” Your Exalted Holiness and Majestic Mr. President Chump. My country is overcrowded the people are hungry and poor, they are starting to make noises about communism, trouble is brewing. I believe we can solve the problem by invading the North Western part of Australia. The Australians are not using the area but My people could make a good living there. We can easily handle the Australian military and all we ask is that the USA does not interfere. You must make all the right sounding noises but take no military action. In return we will guarantee American oil and other Companies drilling rights and tax exemptions and so on. In addition we will be your friend for life”.
      Now which way will the pudenda pawer jump?
      Remember also they have a much bigger military than us and are not over friendly with China.

      1. Dog's Breakfast

        And try this. If the country you are talking about isn’t China, then they aren’t really equipped to take over the north west of Australia. Also, that if preventing a long and drawn out war meant giving up Broome, well, who wants a war.

        And if the said country isn’t China, I’d bet that China would intervene to show that it was the super-power in Asia and wouldn’t allow any upstarts to invade another country without their say-so.

        In any case, pure conjecture.

        1. Tony Foot

          Country involved not China, more to the West.
          Often referred to as a subcontinent.
          Personally not very large on Broome myself.

          1. Richard

            The scenario you posit is not so very unlikely in the medium to distant future, especially considering what rising sea levels will do to low lying land. The Western Antarctic ice shelf is splitting off.

  7. lykurgus

    The short answer to your question Bernard is, “so what?”
    Truth is, we’ve never relied on the US, the UK or even Australian forces for security. The Japanese found out decades ago that we’re all but unthreatenable… and not for want of trying. They cancelled plans for an invasion because its prospects were nil; now, Curtin couldn’t give us a press conference beaming, “Good news – the Japanese are NOT coming!” because Tokyo would’ve said, “how did he know that?” (it was a decrypt that he couldn’t risk outing). So he had to tell us it was still on.

    Speaking of INTERFET, the US contribution in its entirety was… 5 Marine officers providing (get this) intelligence support; the only significant non-Aussie presence was Canada (about a third of INTERFET from memory)

    Which is for the best… most of the US troops I’ve worked with, would’ve made me feel safer if they shot AT me.
    So are we adult enough to finally admit that Keating was right… that we found prosperity in Asia, and we can find security there – plus the fact that we won’t be dealing with a psychotic man-baby who might actually be retarded (it can’t be dementia, as he’s never been otherwise)

  8. graybul

    No matter how one views the current American presidency . . . the overwhelming conclusion is the inevitability that it will all end in tears. As for Australia . . . despite allies rapidly wiping sleep from eyes; shall we persist and go down within the President’s ship?

    Or, as we have for two or three decades, project Australia’s future as being part of Asia? For SE Asians who regularly point out their confusion as to which hat we might wear when push comes to shove, maybe (as Hugh White leads) now is a good time to swap the deputy sheriff hat, square off the arkhubra, and truly begin transition. A proud regional member/ally/ partner.

  9. Justin Harding

    “More extreme, but still plausible, scenarios present themselves. What if Trump attempts some sort of extra-legal strike, or even a coup or state of emergency, to forestall the threat posed by the investigation into his Russian connections?”
    Plausible, Mr Keane? Mmm … What might you mean by “extra-legal strike”? Sounds like bollocks to me. Could you elucidate? Or a “coup”, eh? Isn’t a coup where the existing executive and/or parliamentary branches of government are overthrown from without, usually by the nation’s military? That don’t seem to fit when the putative perpetrator of the coup is the head of the executive branch. Or do you mean that Trump somehow unilaterally abolishes the congress? Be fucked if I know how he could short of some extreme – and almost certainly legally unsustainable – use of his prerogatives as commander-in-chief. State of emergency? My understanding is that emergency presidential powers cannot be retrospectively legitimised by the courts, but must necessarily flow from an existing legal authority conferred by the congress. None of which is to say I don’t consider Trump to be an abomination: he is. But I retain sufficient faith in the Washington establishment’s belief in the constitution as the bedrock of the American polity, and in the rule of law and adherence to due process as fundamental to civilisation, as to render those scenarios you posit utterly implausible.

  10. Dog's Breakfast

    There is certainly substantial reason to think we could be doing much better with the bang-for-buck equation from the Defence Materiel Org. Seems to me they can’t buy anything that isn’t a dud, and most probably because of intervention for political reasons (by both politicians and senior defence personnel). The JSF has to be the deepest sunk costs in the history of Australian warfare.

    As a fiat economy Bernard, spending the money in Australia actually makes sense, even if it does cost us so much more to build subs and ships. If the money stays in Australia it actually goes around and comes around. If it pays off a French-built supplier, the money goes there. Anything built locally is effectively reduced in price by the amount that stays in the country. Exporting dollars is dumb.

    As for foreign policy, we should be arming up, with as much locally built as possible, while quietly and loudly assuming that we remain under the umbrella of US protection, and reneging on any comment to join hostile activities dreamed up in that mad world of US politics.

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