Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Big Mac Lobby

A must-read in today's Age from senior lecturer in international relations in the school of international and political studies at Deakin University, Scott Burchill:

"The primary goal of the US lobby in Australia is to insulate the alliance from changes of government after elections and leadership movements within the major political parties. Bipartisan support for the US alliance cannot always be assumed, however, so strategies are devised to raise the strategic aspects of the relationship above the fray of domestic politics in both countries.

"During the Second Gulf War, Washington's boosters in the Australian media sought to quarantine the alliance from widespread public hostility to George Bush. So, Labor leader Mark Latham could get away with describing Bush as 'the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory'. But his questioning in his diaries of the value of the alliance confirmed for Australia's US lobby that he was unfit for office.*

"The Australian American Leadership Dialogue meets annually (alternately in the US and Australia). It's an invitation-only bipartisan group of politicians, journalists, academics and businessmen who work to preserve and protect the bilateral relationship from criticism and challenges. Its deliberations are not made public.

"One of the group's primary aims is to socialise contemporary and future leaders into accepting the incontrovertible importance of the alliance. In the past week, the group has had good reason to believe that its investment in Julia Gillard - who has been attending its meetings for several years - has paid off.

"In one of her first policy statements as Prime Minister, a remarkably obsequious Gillard told US President Barack Obama it was a 'great honour and privilege' just to talk to him. She then 'reassured' the President of her fidelity to the alliance, and gave him Australia's continuing support for the military campaign in Afghanistan. Kevin Rudd may be gone, but his approach to the longest war in Australia's history would not be changed by his successor.

"To say that the conversation Gillard had with Obama was a missed opportunity does not fully capture the folly of her first foreign policy utterance as Prime Minister.

"Three points stand out.

"First, popular support in Australia for the Afghan war has collapsed. Depending on which poll you read, either 54% (Lowy) or 61% (Essential Media) of the population oppose continuing military involvement in Afghanistan and want Australian troops withdrawn. These views have no representation in the lower house of the Federal Parliament. They are not even considered by the new Prime Minister to be a factor that qualifies Australia's participation in the war. Gillard's reflexive support may reassure Washington that she is 'sound' on national security - that the 'informal bar' on someone from the Left becoming Prime Minister could be lifted, to quote one lobbyist. However, it fundamentally betrays the wishes of the people she now represents. In response to findings that 55% of Australians are not confident that Australia has clear aims in Afghanistan (Lowy poll), former Labor senator Stephen Loosely reportedly said that 'as long as [there is] bipartisan support for [Australia's] Afghanistan contribution in Canberra, declining popular support for the Afghan conflict is not an issue'. This is a perfect illustration of elite disdain for public opinion. No wonder the same poll found that 69% believe the government pays too little attention to their views 'in comparison to the opinions of foreign policy experts'.

"Second, the vigorous discussion of the war now taking place in the US media and inside Washington is not mirrored here. This is largely the government's fault. For a war that seems unwinnable and futile to so many Australians, the absence of an equally vibrant debate in this country is an indictment of our democratic processes. What are our politicians so frightened of? The forensic examination of tactics, personalities, operations and the Taliban - which can be found across the US press every day - is almost entirely missing from the Australian media. It is only when tragedy strikes and casualties increase that analysis rises briefly above the superficial. Comparisons with the Vietnam War could not be more striking.

"Third, the humiliating departure of General Stanley McChrystal provided the opportunity to ask Obama critical questions - and leverage Canberra's support against more definitive criteria. We could be asking: What are your war aims? When will they be achieved? What are your criteria for 'success' in Afghanistan? What is the exit strategy? Instead, Gillard rushed to 'reassure' Obama (as if he needed it) that Australia would continue to be an uncritical ally in a war the public opposes. It's an inauspicious start in diplomacy for our new Prime Minister."

An inauspicious start indeed but what would you expect from La Guillotine who can't seem to get enough of USraeli lobby love-ins and whose preferred reading matter is 'airport trash'?

Former Labor leader Mark Latham, who referred to La Guillotine in his Diaries in 2004 as "our rising star," has since noted the transformative effects of the Australian American Leadership Dialogue on her: "Over the years I have received tender messages from Gillard saying how much she misses me in Canberra... One of them concerned her study tour of the US, sponsored by the American government in 2006 - or to use her moniker - 'a CIA re-education course'... She promised to 'catch up when I'm back from the US and I'll show you my CIA-issued ankle holster'. 'I never got to see her ankles or her holster, but I will say this: you have to hand it to those guys in Washington... Within the space of two years they converted her from a highly cynical critic of all matters American into yet another foreign policy sycophant'." (Latham turns on 'brainwashed' Gillard, Christian Kerr, The Australian, 20/8/09)

[*"I should say something publicly on this, questioning the need for the American Alliance. That's the worst thing about this job, the things that need to be said, but that would turn the Party upside down (the Big Mac faction would go ballistic). The Americans have made us a bigger target in the War against Terror - Australian lives are certain to be sacrificed on the altar of the US Alliance. Look at New Zealand: they have their foreign policy right, and it's the safest country on earth. Labor should be the anti-war party of Australian politics. Other than World War II, every war this country has fought was disconnected from our national interests. All those young Australian lives lost in faraway lands, the folly of imperialism and conservative jingoism. I detest war and the meatheads who volunteer to kill other human beings. The US Alliance is a funnel that draws us into unecessary wars; first Vietnam and then Iraq. With Bush and Howard there will be more to come. They wouldn't fight themselves, of course, but they readily send other people's children to fight in their name. The truth is, the Americans need us more than we need them. Pine Gap is vital to their international security network. Plus the Americans restrict our capacity to trade and integrate with Asia - one day their trouble with China will be our trouble. Politically, why does the Alliance survive? Because a significant number of Australians still think we need an insurance policy against invasion by Indonesia, that's why. Poor old Indonesia. They can barely govern themselves these days, let alone invade us. The Alliance is the last manifestation of the White Australia mentality. Sacrificing Australian pride and independence - and our national interests, properly defined - for the safety blanket of great and powerful friends. It's just another form of neocolonialism: a timid, insular nation at the bottom of the world, too frightened to embrace an independent foreign policy. And its politicians, more comfortable swanning around Washington with their Anglo masters than doing business in Asia." (The Latham Diaries, 1/12/04, 2005, p 393)]

Talk about on the mark.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bring back Latham, no wonder they shunted him.