The US/Australia alliance

The Washington Post is currently experimenting with a new kind of online conversation called Post Global (discussed last week here.) It aims to bring various writers and thinkers from around the world to discuss the most discussed and ignored issues of the day. I will be an irregular contributor and my first, major piece is now published:

Debunking the US/Australia alliance

Sydney, Australia – Australia has traditionally been an English outpost, a nation with strong cultural and political similarities to the Mother Country. Although these ties remain deep – as evidenced during British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s visit to Australia – every Australian government since World War II has positioned the country closer to the world’s sole superpower, the United States. But Australian citizens are now resisting.

President George W. Bush invited Australian Prime Minister John Howard to the White House in May. The affair was infused with hyperbole. Howard praised Bush’s optimism about the future. “It is a friendship rooted not only in history”, he said, “but it’s a friendship and partnership rooted very firmly in common values.” Iraq’s civil war was conveniently ignored as was the Coalition’s role in motivating the insurgency.

He went on: “I value very much the personal friendship I have with you, Mr. President. You’re a staunch friend, you’re a faithful ally, you’re a strong leader, you have articulated the interests of your country and of the free world at a time of unique and different challenge.”

At a time when the Bush administration desperately seeks more allies in its “war on terror”, Australia has remained steadfast in its support. This week, Australia announced it would send more troops to Iraq. After visiting Iraq and meeting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Defence Minister Brendan Nelson stated, “He said to me, ‘You were there with us from the beginning’; I said, ‘We’ll be there with you til the end’.” No journalist asked Nelson what that end will be.

This position is not one supported by the majority of Australians. According to a poll published in March, 55% of Australians were opposed to Australia’s involvement in Iraq and many remained sceptical about the deployment in Afghanistan.

These results display the growing divide between the Australian political and media elite and the general public. The Bush administration is treated with contempt by large portions of the population.

A study released last year by a Sydney-based think-tank confirmed this view. More than two-thirds polled believed that Australia paid too attention to Washington’s foreign policy and should develop a more independent outlook. Furthermore, more than two-thirds held positive feelings towards China – ahead of the United Nations, France and the U.S.

The mainstream media rarely reflect this schism between perception and reality over the U.S./Australia alliance. Soon after the 2004 Federal Election, former Opposition Leader Mark Latham announced that he believed Australia should follow New Zealand’s lead and distance itself from Washington’s military path. Australia was becoming a U.S. colony, Latham said, and a greater terrorist target. The establishment roundly condemned his position.

The Rupert Murdoch-owned Australian newspaper’s foreign editor, Greg Sheridan, says that, “the military alliance between Australia and the U.S. is a force for good in the world. The history of the 20th century showed that allies of the U.S. did best”. Many citizens around the world, including in Australia, would strongly disagree.

Consequences? Questions? Discuss below.

Antony Loewenstein is an Australian-based journalist, author and blogger who writes on international relations and the Middle East and publishes in numerous media outlets in Australia and overseas. His website can be found here.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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