by Greg Maybury
‘[For us] it is one thing to remain a good friend, but too close an embrace will lead Americans and others to resurrect the “deputy sheriff” tag. The Americans have always put their own interests first and will continue to do so; we should follow their example. American interests will not always be the same as Australian and vice versa. The bottom line, however, is the domestic political one. Australians are afraid of the outside world and convinced of their inability to cope with it. Any Australian government which suggested that we do without a great and powerful friend to look after us would have to consider the electoral implications.’ Source: Cavan Hogue — fmr. Ambassador and Dep. Permanent Representative when Australia was last on the UN Security Council. He has also served as head of mission in Mexico, Kuala Lumpur, Moscow and Bangkok, along with other posts. He is an Adjunct Professor in International Communication at Macquarie University, Sydney.
The Brief: By and large, the Australian-U.S. alliance is considered by the majority of political, policy, and media elites on both sides of the Pacific Pond to be mutually beneficial, indeed essential. But behind this pact, like as with so many countries with economic, strategic and/or military ties to the empire du jour, there is a downside, one rarely acknowledged — and when it is, often rejected — in public discourse. More Australians though are beginning to express considerable concern (a reality borne out by recent PEW research findings). This mindset is precipitated in no small measure by the increasingly heavy-handed influence the U.S. seeks to exert globally. This is exemplified as much by its well-documented interference in the affairs of other countries and its propensity for imposing its frequently self-serving economic and strategic agenda on the international community. Along with examining why Australia might benefit from re-assessing the oft-presumed benefits of this partnership, and from there, seeking a more independent pathway, we will also reveal some of the past history of this complex, and for the U.S. in the ongoing pursuit of its hegemonic (global) ambition, sure to be a increasingly vital, geopolitical partnership.
— High Dudgeon in Low Latitudes —
When it comes to my country Australia, to the extent that less worldly Americans might think about it, amongst the first things likely to come to mind are kangaroos, convicts, koala bears, and Crocodile Dundee. Far beyond just broadening folks’ geographical awareness and cultural horizons, the following should provide a deeper appreciation of how our past history has fatefully intertwined with that of their own country. In so many cases this shared past has been to our detriment, our involvement in Korea, Vietnam for example, with Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemenbeing more recent notable examples.
As we’ll see such “detriment” includes one momentous and consequential CIA-inspired gambit in 1975 that culminated in the ousting of our then duly elected prime minister (PM). In short, it was a coup d’état, the hammer in the U.S. foreign policy toolbox, the resort to which being a recurring theme in the Washington playbook. In a recent interview with the Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill, renowned author and historian Alfred McCoy touched on this very subject. McCoy was speaking with Scahill to promote his forthcoming book In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power, the title itself suggesting that it’s this “playbook” which has contributed significantly to the titular “decline”. Citing numerous examples, McCoy went on to say that,
‘all around the globe…any time that there was a serious electoral contest in which the outcome was critical to our geopolitical interests, the U.S. was intervening.’ [Emphasis added.]
With the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election now a self-replicating meme, the profound irony of McCoy’s statement should not be lost on anyone! In a recent piece I also examined Uncle Sam’s decades-long penchant for coups and colour revolutions. Perhaps the least known ‘beneficiaries’ though of America’s well-documented regime renovation gambits involves Australia. As with the Iranian coup of 1953, ably backed up on this occasion by British intelligence in the form of MI6, the CIA had their not always plausibly deniable prints all over the 1975 Constitutional Crisis that triggered the dismissal – the firing in effect — by the then Governor-General Sir John Kerr, of PM Gough Whitlam and his government. As it turns out, the history of the CIA’s clandestine involvement in Australian politics is a story that is well documented. But like so many of these things often are, it is a history that is far from familiar even to most Australians, let alone Americans. And insofar as the dismissal of Whitlam went, this was one of these situations where the indelible Henry Kissingermaxim prevailed:
‘I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the [Ed. Note: insert name of offending country here] voters to be left to decide for themselves.’
Few would argue that Australia was experiencing a “serious electoral contest” at the time of this crisis, and it was one that certainly qualified as “critical” to U.S. “geopolitical interests”. In succumbing to its interventionist impulses however, whether America was justified in the covert actions it took is an entirely different matter. The track record in so many other countries would lead most to suggest it wasn’t. As Australia’s own dissident elder statesman and renowned filmmaker and investigative journalist John Pilger noted in a piece he wrote in 2014 eulogising on the death of Whitlam at age 94, Kerr was not just the “Queen’s man” in Australia; prior to being appointed as Australia’s head of state, he had “long standing ties” to both Britain’s MI6 and the CIA. Whitlam, who assumed power in 1972 after twenty-three years of conservative rule by a coalition of the Liberal and then Country (now National) parties, tellingly a ruling clique increasingly viewed by many as too subservient to Washington, believed that a foreign power shouldn’t control his country’s resources or dictate its economic, military and foreign policies.
Even though he’d visited China the previous year in his capacity as opposition leader, the eventual aim to both recognize that country and open up diplomatic relations once in office, Whitlam was hardly a card-carrying, left-wing radical. Yet the freshly minted Aussie PM was treated at first by many in and across the Washington establishment with no small measure of suspicion, paranoia, and later, by outright contempt and animosity. This tellingly extended to the palace intriguer nonpareil and then resident coup-meister du jour Henry Kissinger, along with his boss the estimable U.S. president Richard Milhous Nixon, a man with “suspicion”, “paranoia”, “contempt”, and “animosity” to spare.
Yet in seeking an entente of sorts with China, the political visionary Whitlam wasn’t just ahead of his time; he was way ahead of both of these folks in playing the Great Game as it was beginning to unfold then in Asia. As history tells it, less than twelve months later both Kissinger and “Tricky” were making a beeline to Beijing to do same, the media breathlessly announcing Nixon’s impending trip during Whitlam’s visit. To the best of this writer’s knowledge, there’s no record of either Nixon or his Grand Vizier publicly acknowledging Whitlam’s history-making diplomatic initiative and geopolitical meister stroke. It seems safe to say then that these much-touted masters of international diplomacy and consummate practitioners of realpolitik would’ve been less than happy that a political neophyte from Down Under of all places – not even yet in high office — had shown them both a clean pair of heels on both counts!
Described by Pilger as a ‘maverick social democrat of principle, pride and propriety’ (he wasn’t even of the left of his party, let alone communist), amongst other things Whitlam pledged to pull Australia out of Vietnam, provide universal health care, abolish university fees, and tellingly, proposed to “buy back the farm”, a term which would’ve come loaded with all manner of hidden meaning for many from Wall Street to Washington. Suffice it to say this was akin to Tonto telling the Lone Ranger he was moving on and that he could no longer count on him to have his back once the silver bullets ran out and the Native Americans began closing in on them. ‘Kemo Sabe’ it’s fair to say was not in the least bit pleased!
Whitlam had positioned himself then as an Antipodean version of Guatemala’s Jacobo Arbenz Guzman or his contemporary Chile’s Salvador Allende, (Chile incidentally, being the country Kissinger was referring to earlier) although one should add our politically ill-fated PM got off very light compared to Allende. Above else, he subscribed to basic principles of national sovereignty and self-determination in the management of our political economy, with any notion of empire or hegemony, much less any outward manifestation of it, being utterly anathema to him.
To say Australia – arguably America’s most steadfast to a fault vassal state — had not experienced anything quite it before or since is an understatement of heroic proportions. And the reason why it has not happened since that time is simple: Our politicians, especially those from the nominally left side of politics, to their credit (dubious as such “credit” might be for many) learned their lesson well. They have behaved themselves for the duration, with now little sign any of Whitlam’s political heirs in the Labor Party will ever try and repeat history anytime soon. In what many Americans I suspect will view then as a not dissimilar state of play on their own turf, there is little daylight between the foreign policy positions of both our major parties. This is especially so when it comes to Australian-U.S. relations (much like one suspects that of the U.S-Israeli relationship where each party tries to top each other in its demonstrations of fealty to Tel Aviv, the key distinction being that the roles of David and Goliath are reversed), and that of ANZUS, the formal foreign policy and military-intelligence-security alliance that underpins these relations.
— Screwing Around & Bouncing Up & Down (Spies Amongst the Pines) —
For our purposes herein it is instructive to look at at least part of the backstory of this prototype colour revolution. Space herein precludes a blow-by-blow of the skulduggery and ‘hugger-muggery’ that brought about Whitlam’s downfall, and we’ll revisit this regime renovation project in a future narrative in more detail. Suffice to say that a number of ‘household’ “Deep State” names either played key roles in the removal of Whitlam or made not insignificant cameo appearances in the long, drawn out saga. Admittedly they did so ever so discreetly whereby it wasn’t until sometime later the true, if still incomplete, nature of their roles were revealed, an all too familiar leitmotif in the annals of CIA-inspired regime change management.*
(*This was especially applicable in relation to the notorious Nugan-Hand Bank (NHB) scandal, an epic John le Carre meets Warren Zevon ‘[Bring] Lawyers, Guns, Drugs, ‘n Money’-like saga that prologued early in the Whitlam era and which is ‘up there’ with the best ‘entertainment’ that the CIA’s “Family Jewels” chronicle has to offer. Along with recounting the deeper narrative of Whitlam’s career demise, we will look into the NHB Thing in a future article.)
At this point, it’s enough to know the main catalysts for the coup. This requires an overview of some of the history and strategic nature of the U.S.-Australian relationship itself, if for no other reason than most Americans (and doubtless more than a few of my fellow Aussies) would probably not appreciate the importance to the U.S. – indeed, to the Anglo-American alliance overall – of this long-standing, albeit one-sided, marriage of convenience. As always with these things, context and perspective matters. If it indeed was a “marriage”, then it was one made less in heaven than in Washington, unless America’s capital might, in an as yet unimagined alternative universe, qualify as some idyllic empyrean equivalent thereof, a ‘meditation’ of sorts even its most deluded, deranged denizens might have difficulty undertaking.
As one of the Five Eyes, Australia for this reason alone, was not then – nor now — just another tin-pot, “Third World” backwater on the butt-end of the Big Blue Ball. For one thing our location, to say nothing of our sheer size, our modern economic and industrial infrastructure, our political stability, our continental island nation status and its very isolation, provided then as now the near perfect locus point from which the U.S. could project into the Asian region its all-encompassing hegemonic ambition via the charter explicit in its ‘full-spectrum dominance’ strategy. As in real estate, in geopolitics we might argue it’s also about “location, location, and location!” These considerations are even more critical now, some might opine existentially so. This is especially so with the ascendancy of China both strategically and economically, along with more broadly that of the East Asian, and increasingly Southand Central Asian, nations.
It might surprise most Americans (and again, no doubt a few Aussies as well), that one of the most vital components of the U.S. imperial communications network is located at Pine Gap in the middle of the continent. This controversial, state-of-the-art facility forms the centrepiece of our Five Eyes infrastructure, and has done going back well before Whitlam’s heyday. So important is this facility, it’s arguable that without Pine Gap, the Apollo program – including the 1969 moon landing — would nothave been possible. But Pine Gap was never just about getting a man on the moon and back: Of even greater relevance for our purposes, the facility serves as the linchpin satellite reconnaissance station for spying and surveillance of friend and foe alike. Its principal task throughout the Cold War was keeping a keen eye on those decidedly untrustworthy Soviets, essentially monitoring how diligently they were adhering to arms control treaties and nuclear testing agreements. The Pine Gap facility remains still an integral component of the central nervous system of the imperial panopticon.
For this reason alone, it is worth explaining a little more about its current raison d’etre. Along with affirming Pine Gap as the most important communications facility outside [the U.S.], performing a vital role in the collection of a wide range of ‘signals-intelligence’, Richard Tanter of The Nautilus Institute of Security and Sustainability(NISS) notes also that it functions in,’ providing early warning ballistic missile launches; targeting of nuclear weapons; providing battlefield intelligence data for U.S. armed forces operating in Afghanistan; and elsewhere….critically supporting…. missile defence, supporting arms control verification, and contributing targeting data to drone attacks.’
As Aussie based geopolitical analyst Binoy Kampmark notes drily in a recent piece on the 50th anniversary of Pine Gap and the controversy such milestones inevitably give rise to,
‘…all this cut, dried and smoked material [in the NISS Report] conveys the relevance of Australia’s continued geographical role as a dry goods merchant for Washington. It supplies the isolation and the means for the U.S. imperium, as officials in Canberra keep mum about the sheer extent [to which] Pine Gap operates. It also supplies the bloodied hand that assists U.S.-directed drone strikes in theatres where neither Washington nor Canberra are [sic] officially at war. Australia remains America’s glorified manservant.’ [Emphasis added.]
As Pilger again has noted, from the off Whitlam didn’t exactly go out of his way to endear himself to Washington’s elites or the U.S. security establishment, akin to waving a red flag in a wounded bull’s face. Soon after his euphoric, Obama-like election triumph in 1972, he ordered that his staff should not be “vetted or harassed” by the Australian Security & Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) — then, as now, effectively a wholly owned subsidiary of The Company. Moreover, when his ministers publicly condemned the U.S. bombing of Vietnam as “corrupt and barbaric”, according to Pilger, an unnamed CIA station officer in Saigon said: ‘We were told the Australians might as well be regarded as North Vietnamese collaborators.’
Whitlam stretched Washington’s friendship further by demanding to know if the CIA was running a spy base at Pine Gap. Notwithstanding its official, somewhat anodyne function as described by NISS, Pine Gap was a giant vacuum cleaner, one which, as Edward Snowden revealed, allows the U.S. to spy on everyone everywhere. ‘Try to screw us or bounce us’, the prime minister warned the then US ambassador Marshall Green – himself a Kissinger hatchet-man, and a key architect of the 1965 Indonesian coup ushering in the decades long rule of ‘klepto-brutocrat’ and U.S. client dictator President Suharto, resulting in the wholesale massacre of upwards of 1m people – ‘[and Pine Gap] will become a matter of contention’. Widely seen himself as no slouch in the ‘coup-master’ stakes, Green was, in Pilger’s summation, ‘an imperious, sinister figure who worked in the shadows of America’s “deep state”’. Indeed, an alarmed audience member hearing his first speech to the Australian Institute of Directors described its as, ‘an incitement to the country’s business leaders to rise [up] against the government’.
As for Whitlam’s implied threats regarding Pine Gap, to say such utterances ruffled a few feathers in Washington would be an understatement, and it’s probably safe to say [that] from that day onwards, Whitlam’s political career – and Australia’s short-lived independence — entered its fateful downward trajectory. According to Pilger, Victor Marchetti, the legendary CIA officer who later went ‘rogue’ by writing a ‘kiss ‘n tell’ expose on The Company and who was actually involved in setting up the facility, told him that, ‘This threat to close Pine Gap caused apoplexy in the White House…[after which] a kind of Chilean [coup] was set in motion.’
— The Wicked Witch is Dead —
It’s worth noting that the highly classified intelligence that Pine Gap gathered was deciphered and later revealed publicly by Christopher Boyce, who worked for a company called TRW, at the time a CIA contractor. Boyce was troubled by the ‘deception and betrayal of an ally’ and this was apparently what motivated him to do what he did. This espionage narrative was later turned into a film called The Falcon and the Snowman (from a book of the same name), and amongst other revelations Boyce disclosed that the CIA had infiltrated Australia’s political and trade union elite and they actually referred to the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, as “our man Kerr”.
Boyce, who eventually did twenty-five years in prison for treason for selling secrets to the Soviets, in a wide-ranging 2014 interview, again confirmed his belief that the CIA was behind Kerr’s decision to oust Whitlam, by using a little known Constitutional provision that enabled the head of state (Kerr) to revoke Whitlam’s commission, and appoint a caretaker government. In CIA circles at the time he said, ‘you couldn’t say Whitlam’s name without the spooks…looking nauseated. He was viewed as a threat to the [Pine Gap] project…’ On the day of Whitlam’s dismissal he recalled the reaction of the CIA folks whom he liaised with:
‘[There] was a party, it was jubilation. The wicked witch was dead, you know. He was gone, nothing more to worry about. And it was just a sense of relief because they really did think he was going to close [Pine Gap] down. He was going to turn off our eyes, and they were worried, you know.’
At this point also we require an appreciation of some additional history of our country, in particular how we morphed from being at the beck and call of the British Empire to playing a similar role vis a visthe U.S. imperium. Again the man who provides us a most illuminating insight into the events of 1975 is our own John Pilger. In seeking to break free from the confines of U.S. imperial power, Whitlam was up against as much opposition internally as he inevitably came up against externally, a not uncommon scenario in such instances where a new ruling party in an ostensible independent nation decides to take it up to Washington. And although his removal from office in such an unprecedented, unceremonious manner doubtless never figured into his trail-blazing reform calculus, in Pilger’s summation, Whitlam had few illusions about what might lie ahead of him, in either the domestic or foreign policy front.
In the post-World War Two era, having by then weaned ourselves off the attachments to imperial Britain that attended our former colonial status, the legacy of which had remained intact despite the country becoming an independent Federation in 1901, Australia’s political establishment was nonetheless wedded to the notion of dependence on a Great Power alliance for its national security. After all, to this end we’d dutifully served perfidious Albion from the Boer War to the Boxer Rebellion, from the Great War on up to the “Good War” (WWII), with interestingly little or nothing to show for such fealty to an empire which by then had morphed into the ancien régime. If this sounds like Britain got the better part of the deal then so be it, and it also begs another question as to whether anything has changed, a theme to which we shall return.
After WWII, that new Great Imperial Power of course was the United States, although admittedly in the immediate post-war years this incipient status was not immediately apparent. Less than five years after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ending the war in the Pacific, Australia once again found itself sucking up to empire in Korea, and fifteen years after that, in Vietnam, a war in which, as befitting our vassal status, we virtually begged to become involved. Put another way, it was “same deputy, different sheriff!”
For his part investigative journalist Jonathan Kwitny, in his seminal 1987 classic expose The Crimes of Patriots: A True Tale of Dope, Dirty Money, and the CIA noted that Kerr was a fully paid up subscriber to the long-since defunct Australian Association for Cultural Freedom (AACF), effectively the Antipodean ‘franchise’ of the Congress for Cultural Freedom. The CCF was a U.S. based entity established by the CIA in 1950 whose mission ostensibly was to combat Communism and Soviet propaganda, and by extrapolation, to promote global democratic principles, at least as they were defined (then as now in a moving feast kinda way) by Uncle Sam. If this sounds awfully familiar for some, it is meant to be. Which is to say, clearly the Washington regime change playbook has been around so long now it’s no longer subject to copyright!
Founding secretary of the AACF was a man called Richard Krygier, who also founded, and became the first editor of, Quadrant, a conservative Aussie periodical (still ‘Johnnie Walker’), also originally funded by AACF and the CIA. Put another way, the AACF was an early forerunner to the types of front organisationssuch as Freedom House and the infamous, democracy-defying National Endowment for Democracy (NED). These NGOs as we now know are much favored by the Langley crowd and their neo-conservative confreres the Beltway Bedlamites, their titular nomenclature in true Orwellian tradition masking a raison d’être somewhat at odds with their real mission. Indeed, it was organizations such as these to which the CIA outsourced its regime renovation activities in 1983 under then CIA director William Casey. As noted geopolitical analyst William Engdahl has said, ‘the NED has been at the center of all major US State Department-financed “color revolutions” in the world since 2000 [including toppling]…Milosevic in Serbia.’
— A Matter of Contention No More —
In order to view the U.S.-Australia relationship in a more contemporary context, it is important to consider the opinions of some prominent Australian public figures about the ever-evolving geopolitical landscape, and from there showcase a more detached, less insular appraisal of U.S. economic, foreign, and national security policy as it has been unfolding in recent years. The aim here is to portray how the continued maintenance of this relationship – a strategically lopsided affiliation which remains all but a bedrock principle of our own foreign policy, one embraced with equal, unerring enthusiasm by both our major political parties and which is likely to assume even greater importance to the U.S. over the coming years and decades – potentially places our political economy, our national security, our self-determination and sovereignty, and that of our future place in the increasingly Asian-centric geopolitical and geo-economic order, at even greater risk.
In an article earlier this year distinguished Australian public figure John Menadue posted an article on his blog Pearls and Irritations, which suggested that the “increasing influence” of the military and defence establishment in shaping Australia’s foreign policy is such that it has effectively undermined the authority of our Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and that of her Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT). In what should amount to a familiar refrain for many in Washington, Menadue noted the following:
‘Our ‘foreign policy’ (sic) has been taken over by the defence, security and military clique led by the Department of Defence, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute which is financed by DoD and defence contractors, ASIO, Border Protection and the Office of National Assessments…’
Although active players in contemporary political, diplomatic, and mainstream media circles might refute the tenets of his article, the most telling of Menadue’s observation was the following: For him it is patently obvious that our military and defence clique in Australia is in turn ‘heavily dependent on the US Departments of Defense, State, [the] CIA and FBI for advice.’ [Emphasis Added].
To underscore both the legitimacy and credibility of Menadue’s views, some understanding of his place in the political firmament and his background of achievement over six decades in both the public and private sectors is useful. From 1960 to 1967 he was private secretary to then deputy opposition leader Gough Whitlam. Menadue then moved into the private sector for seven years as General Manager of Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited, and from 1974 to 1976 was head of the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet. Interestingly, he was “closely involved’ in the events of 1975 that led to Whitlam’s dismissal, and then served in the same position under Malcolm Fraser (of whom, more soon), the man who controversially succeeded Whitlam as PM. After a stretch as Japanese Ambassador from 1976 to 1980, Menadue returned to head the Department of Immigration & Ethnic Affairs, and later in 1983, the Department of Trade. From there he was appointed CEO of Qantas (1986-1989), became a Director of Telstra (our biggest telco; 1994-996), and was also Chairman of the Australia Japan Foundation (1991-1998). So all up, Menadue was not a man whose opinions might be dismissed easily. At 82, he’s still ‘Johnnie Walker’ and as his blog attests, remains a respected, robust voice in national and business affairs, and in public policy.
Whether academic, politician or public servant, as a prominent public figure, Menadue, of course is not on his Pat Malone in highlighting issues vis a vis maintaining our relationship with the U.S. in its current form. The failure or unwillingness of successive governments’ to grasp and respond to the new realities that are almost daily presenting themselves as the balance of the geopolitical and geo-economic order tips irrevocably eastward are of particular concern. Of equal concern is that of our reigning political and policy elites – and again our mainstream media ‘opinionocracy’ as well — continued insistence that the bedrock precepts of our foreign, national security, and even our trade policies — should remain aligned with, even in service thereof, the interests of Washington and Wall Street.
As he noted in an article last year, long time defence and intelligence analyst, Professor Hugh White of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University (ANU), criticised the most recent Aussie Defence White Paper (DWP) in its presumption of America’s enduring global primacy. In White’s view, whether in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, or especially in Asia, said “primacy” is no longer a given, even if Washington is struggling to come to terms with such realities. As he observes, the DWP promotes a vision of the ‘rules-based global order’ as a ‘seamless and indivisible whole that must be either preserved unaltered or surrendered in its entirety’. It sends he says,
‘a clear message Australia should be willing to join a war against China to preserve [the rules-based global order] unaltered.’ White doesn’t mince words here, ‘This is plainly wrong’. [Emphasis added.]
The implications for this should not be lost on Australians, and are increasingly seen that way, especially by younger folks. As to whether we might say the same for Americans is an entirely different matter. It most certainly will not be lost on the Chinese themselves – or for that matter other rising Asian powers such as India, South Korea, or indeed, even an economically resurgent Japan. All this, to say little of other potentially quiet achievers like Indonesia and to a lesser extent, Vietnam.
To add to all of this – and to underscore the reality that it isn’t just always about geopolitical considerations — for the first time in Australia’s history, we are facing a geopolitical and national security dilemma of considerable magnitude: Our long-time major business and trading (or economic) partner China – an alliance kick-started by Whitlam, and which has contributed enormously to our country’s stellar economic performance over the past two decades or more and which played no small part in enabling us in ways the U.S. itself wasn’t able to, [to] weather the fallout from the Global Financial Crisis (itself largely the consequence of the monumental recklessness of America’s multi-national corporate and financial behemoths, fortified by the enduring subservience and acquiescence of its political, legislative and regulatory elites), is now being challenged directly and no less recklessly and provocatively by our long-time military and security (or strategic) partner the U.S., in the words of a former Prime Minister “Our great and powerful friend”‘.
Here again, the implications are stark indeed. It would not be unreasonable to suggest this “dilemma”, this challenge and the existential risk that attends it, far surpasses certainly anything we were presented in the First World War, and arguably even that presented to us in the Second World War, when Japanese planes were bombing Darwin and their Navy’s submarines were mischief-making in Sydney Harbour.
In an assessment in last year prior to our Federal election, renowned former diplomat and senior public servant Richard Woolcott also shared views not dissimilar to both O’Neill and Menadue. As a highly regarded commentator on international affairs with a special expertise on the Asian region (he was at varying points Aussie Ambassador to Indonesia, the Philippines, and the United Nations, along with at one point, president of the UN Security Council), his views cannot, indeed should not, be lightly dismissed.
For the now 90-year-old Woolcott — whose diplomatic pedigree, as impressive as that of Menadue’s in the nation’s public service, saw him in Australia’s embassy in Moscow at the time of Stalin’s death in 1953, and much later as the most senior diplomat at the DFAT — it is imperative for any future Australian government to be ever mindful of geo-economic factors as much the mutable geopolitical ones. Woolcott seems to appreciate in ways other commentators and analysts possibly don’t – including those on either side of the Pacific Pond and on both sides of the political divide Down Under — the indisputable historical reality that it’s (geo)economic factors that drive geopolitical developments (from relatively minor border skirmishes to world wars) and not so much the other way around. As he observes, the
‘unprecedented transfer of wealth from the West to the East, from the Atlantic to the Pacific…will continue into the foreseeable future.’ This seismic shift he says, ‘constitute(s) an historic global turning point to which Australia must respond if we are not to find ourselves left behind.’ [Emphasis added.]
For his part in 2016, former PM Paul Keating (1991-1996) also threw his hat into the ring questioning the alliance. Keating said it was time to ‘cut the tag’, and that ‘focusing less on the alliance between the two countries and concentrating more on relationships within Asia’ was the way forward. He added, ‘We’ve got to this almost sort of crazy position now where the American alliance, instead of simply being a treaty where the U.S. is obliged to consult with us in the event of adverse strategic circumstances, it has taken on a reverential, sacramental quality….I’m not talking about simply the [present Liberal] Government, I’m talking about people on the Labor [opposition] side as well.’
— Going Forward Down Under (With or Without the Empire) —
And if that might not have been enough to unsettle the Beltway Bedlamites, in 2014, another of our former prime ministers Malcolm Fraser (1975-1983), gave an eyebrow raising interview. Fraser was at the time promoting his book Dangerous Ally, the “ally” in this case being the Empire du jour the U.S. Here was a former Liberal (read: “conservative”) PM of America’s most faithful geopolitical sidekick not simply emerging from the political closet and declaring our ANZUS alliance with the U.S. in need of a major strategic review – such opinions being anathema in political circles on both sides of the divide no matter how cautiously one advances them – but proclaiming it “dangerous” to adhere to this treaty.
In referencing our history of “strategic dependence” – firstly on Britain, then on the U.S. after WWII — he recommended a more independent stance, free of the diktats of Washington’s war-meisters. Fraser went even further by noting that not only is conflict between China and Japan ‘possible’, but that the U.S. have ‘made it plain that they would side with Japan’ if there is such a conflict. As things stand he said,
‘[We’d] get dragged in to that conflict, when our interest would be to stay well clear of it. Now, if you’ve got those troops in Darwin being used in relation to such a conflict, and Pine Gap was being used to give direction to a variety of weapons systems, the prime minister could [not] get up and say “Oh, look, we’re not involved, we’re not complicit”. [But] we would be complicit [and] the world would know [we were]. And that means that [America] has the power to take Australia to war [just] as Britain a hundred years ago had the power to take Australia to war because we were part of the Empire.’
What made such declarations both fascinating and anomalous at the same time was because it was Fraser – the man succeeding Whitlam after his unceremonious ouster – who was the primary political agitator for Whitlam’s demise, and a man who thereafter became reviled by the left and more liberal/progressive elements for his efforts in creating the Constitutional crisis. (There is no evidence of which I’m aware that Fraser knew of any CIA involvement in initiating the Crisis, either before, during, or after. For his part, and for reasons best known to himself, Whitlam always played the CIA factor down. One wonders as to what they might have talked about privately though in their years of dotage and many discussions.)
Fraser was also a Defence Minister for a period at the height of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, a military commitment on our part entered into by his own party, and one he later came to regret. For this writer, the fact that these men later became friends remains one of the most glaringly ironic and unpredictable developments in our own (and possibly anyone’s) political history.
And for Fraser to come out albeit many years later to declare that Australia should seek more independence from the U.S. – the very stance upon Whitlam’s part which upset Washington so much at the time and which contributed so emphatically to his political demise – is the stuff you simply couldn’t make up! Few politicians of which I’m aware have undergone such an extraordinary Damascene conversion on so many policy levels, and left so many folks including some of our sharpest political analysts and commentators scratching their heads, many as much in bewilderment and in wonderment,with unsurprisingly, more than a few less than impressed..
It has to be said then that much of this soul-searching about our relationship with Uncle Sam can be attributed to the feelings generated by America’s ill-fated and ill-judged response to the attacks of 9/11; in particular the invasion of Iraq and the consequential blowback from that disastrous decision, and from the so-called War on Terror in general that has been raging seemingly without end since 2001. Like all countries, Australia has not been immune to the immense economic and strategic transformations that have taken place as a result of America’s relentless and ruthless campaign to achieve full spectrum dominance in all spheres of geopolitical influence – one triggered by 9/11 and on which said “campaign” continues to be justified, without any serious protest thus far from its Western partners and allies — whilst countering, even aggressively pre-empting, with every resource at its disposal any real or imagined challenge from other upstart power players. Until and unless the Bedlamites who seem to be running the Beltway circus begin to appreciate how catastrophically their actions and provocations are impacting on global peace, security, and stability, we are unlikely to see any change.
The argument here in Australia for those who unequivocally support this alliance will be that this is not a good time to be second guessing it, given the increasingly precarious situation in global affairs. These same folks though confuse cause and effect, and it is a specious argument. The reality is that in the pursuit of full spectrum dominance, that “peace, security, and stability” has been consistently and deliberately undermined by the U.S. ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, a project that went into hyperdrive after 9/11, with no sign of slowing down anytime soon. The irony here is as inescapable as it is profound. We could well end up embroiled in a cataclysmic confrontation not of our own making — yet as Fraser observed rightly, one in which we’ve allowed ourselves to become “complicit” — not unlike that of the one in 1914 with the ancien regime.
And although an aspect of the relationship that will be discussed another time, it’s worth noting the following. Given the largely bipartisan embrace of the now defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership, much the same could now be said of the economic relationship between the two countries. Again, that is unlikely to change anytime soon, if and when some future variation of the TPP is presented for consideration, which we can all expect that it will be at some point. Further evidence of this acquiescence and fealty in economic and financial matters can be found in both parties who for decades have until recently dragged the chain on calling major multi-nationals to account – predominantly U.S. incorporated companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Chevron, Pfizer, ExxonMobil, News Corp, and AMEX to name a few of the usual suspects — on their well-documented tax dodging sleights of hand. Even though the present Liberal/National coalition government has been signalling plans to halt these practices which are short changing Aussie taxpayers by tens of billions of dollars if not more in lost revenue, they are at the same time (wait for it!) planning to reduce corporate tax rates, with the companies presumably on a recruitment drive to employ more tax accountants, lawyers and lobbyists to minimise the negative impact of any new legislation designed to curtail their current avoidance scams and maximise the benefits of the lowered tax rate when both come into effect.
The result: At best, a two-steps forward legislative — and revenue — outcome; at worst: the opposite! Though Australia fared relatively well in the wake of the 2008 GFC, in the view of many we will not fare anywhere near as well the next time around. In the absence of a Glass-Steagall-type legislative initiative imposed on our biggest banks, their current practices are beginning to emulate those of the Wall Street banks, which have themselves done little to curb their criminal ways, forever seeking to prevent any and all attempts to address the structural deficiencies in the U.S. financial system that brought the system to the precipice almost a decade ago.
For a lot of folks, it’s only a matter of time before the “precipice” comes to us. Whether on a geo-economic level or a geopolitical level, our continued alliance with the Empire du jour under the present arrangement is a zero-sum game for us. Those countries with similar alliances and attachments would do well to be also similarly concerned.