Archive for the ‘Diplomacy’ Category

John Menadue (Qantas boss at the time) recently posted online a memoir vignette of my brush with infamous French agents in the South Pacific:


French agents

P.S. Latest news from Hao is a proposed Chinese project to build the largest fish farm in the South Pacific – Bon Appetit!


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The mind-bending Trumpian world, which operates in a bulletproof moral and factual vacuum, has made sarcasm and irony, my tools of trade, largely redundant there. So I’ve refrained from commentary on the Big Schlanger since his election.

However, his latest diplomatic sortie, meeting his mate Vladimir in Helsinki and his subsequent press conference is obviously redolent of Alice in Wonderland. The BS explained that when he said ‘would’ he meant ‘wouldn’t’ or v.v. This famous quote below from that literary masterpiece has probably come to mind for many of us.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”


Humpty Trumpty

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The sorry saga of Australia’s offshore asylum seeker gulag is not just about bringing suffering and hopelessness to those in detention. In fact for the government contractors who run the island camps it’s a lucrative business.

The eponymous G4S, a provider of ‘security solutions’, claims to be one of the world’s largest employers with 625,000 staff in 125 countries. It earned $244 million for managing Manus Island camp for 5 months. Australian-owned Transfield earned $302 million for looking after the Nauru camp over the last year, but will now take over both islands, under a non-tendered 20 month contract for the bargain basement price of $1.22 billion.

My trusty solar-powered calculator was put in bright sunlight for this calculation. With 1,332 Manus and 867 Nauru detainees it works out to $554,798 income per inmate for Transfield: KACHING! By the way, they are people like us, not hardened criminals – the detainees I mean! A good little earner for Transfield though, paid straight out of our squeezed taxpayer purse. It would certainly buy a helluva lot of incarceration in our regular prison system.

Interestingly objections to the morality of Transfield’s detainee operations are coming from artists in the Sydney & Melbourne biennales protesting against their sponsorship of them. A dilemma indeed for arts organisations and those purporting to critique society.

On a tangent from gulag service providers, but equally repugnant, is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop trying to stitch up the Cambodian government to take our asylum seekers. With Australian aid of $329 million over the last four years, we are one of its largest donors, so her bargaining chips are huge. Human rights abuse is rife in Cambodia, social welfare is non-existent, 20% of the population lives in poverty and 40% of children under five are malnourished. Our Julie is plumbing new depths of cynicism and hypocrisy on our behalf. But who cares, right? Out of sight and out of mind, at any price.

Barbed wire

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Australia’s military is finally pulling up stumps, so to speak, in this blighted land. Our longest war (12 years) has been declared over. New PM Abbott was on the ground there to wave the flag and send the troops home by Christmas. He admits that it did not end in victory, but will not admit defeat either. He hopes that Afghanistan is ‘better for our presence’.

Vain hope and dishonesty are bad enough, but it seems that the new Australian government will also drastically reduce future aid there. The contradiction is flagrant and so cynical. The logic is that warlords and Taliban will resume control and so disbursements of aid cannot be realistically overseen as our government would wish. Even the fate of Australian-built schools in Oruzgan is unknown and their futures problematic.

The plain, painful truth is that our ‘war’ in Afghanistan has achieved little of lasting value. In fact with the reversion of the country to traditional tribalism and Taliban control, it has to be considered a monumental defeat – an exorbitant foreign failure that cost 40 Australian lives, 260 wounded and $7.5 billion. The damage and cost in Afghan casualties of our operations has not been quantified.

So, it’s a wrap and retreat in the Land of the Afghans. And adieu! To god indeed! Shame on successive Australian governments for spinning the pretense of progress with their weasel words, and sacrificing Australian and Afghan lives. Lest nobody forgets!

And a pox on both major political parties for their fawning attitude to Uncle Sam. So, until he again rings the tocsin of terrorism and sends us off to war in another poor corner of the world, it’s probably more au revoir.

Digger & flag

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Terrible Tony Abbott’s assessment of our bumptious and erstwhile Foreign Affairs Minister was mostly spot-on. KRudd liked parading his intelligence and posturing on the world stage, way beyond Australia’s remit as a ‘middle’ (or middling, or indeed muddling) power, neglecting our vital interests in the Asia-Pacific region.

Ubiquitous and prolix, Rudd grandstanded on Libya, nuclear proliferation, climate change action (while dropping his own CPRS plans!) and did nothing on live cattle exports to Indonesia, instability in PNG (Australia’s biggest recipient of foreign aid at $482m), East Timor/Malaysia asylum seeker plans and other simmering regional matters, like West Papuan independence. Lots of blah and jet setting, but little useful action in our regional backyard of upset neighbours; and obsessed with getting a seat on the UN Security Council, lobbying all and sundry as he commuted round the world.

Even his vaunted Sinophile knowledge did not seem to help much with our oh-so-important China relationship. And as Abbott succinctly put it, both ‘the Rudd and Gillard governments managed to antagonise Japan over whaling without actually saving any whales’. We learn now that he had plans to open an Australian Embassy in Senegal, of all places. ‘Punching above our weight’ rolls nicely off Australian tongues and is akin to Anzac Spirit, but matched with an over-weening personality and super-ego (in a non-Freudian sense), we become a pain in others’ diplomatic derrieres.

My accord with Abbott on Australia’s interests stops abruptly at his conclusion that ‘the continued engagement and forward strategic presence of the USA is vital’. No sir, we say NO BASES here! Australia’s goal should be independence of thought and action within our US alliance, without kowtowing and joining US military adventures like obedient sheep. If NZ can think for itself so can OZ – and they have more sheep per capita too. Our strategic interests do not always align with our best friend LOFW (Leader of the Free World), and we should be prepared to tell them so.

This rant is now history as Kevin suddenly left the world stage for another tilt at the top job, but apparently without counting properly. Vale Kevin 07, as he exits stage (left or right?) with his fixed smile on that pudding dial; Therese and brood in tow; ego intact and devoid of self-reflection!

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As Julian Assange awaits the UK Supreme Court’s decision on his extradition to Sweden, to answer questions about dubious sexual assault charges, Australians should be questioning our own government’s lamentable conduct in this affair. European Arrest Warrants and Swedish law are fraught with numerous legal difficulties – outlined by Jennifer Robinson, one of Assange’s lawyers, to an Australian parliamentary group a year ago, to prompt some action in defence of his rights as an Australian citizen: http://wlcentral.org/node/1418. Nothing happened, and our government has studiously avoided taking any action. Worse, our PM and Attorney-General accused him of breaking the law and threatened to cancel his Australian passport. No charges of any kind have been laid against Assange over Wikileaks. Clearly these politicians had over-stepped the mark, and have since kept their mouths shut.

Our treatment of another Australian journalist, during the Vietnam War, comes to mind. Wilfred Burchett reported from North Vietnam, the only Westerner to do so, and was branded a traitor. Vilified as a ‘KGB agent, torturer, brainwasher and Stalinist hack’ by our government, he was refused a passport renewal for 17 years after 1955, and even denied entry to attend his father’s funeral. The Whitlam government issued him a passport in 1972. The 100th anniversary of Burchett’s birth was commemorated with an exhibition of his photographs at Hanoi’s Ho Chi Minh Museum last year, to honour his memory as a friend of Vietnam. In Australia it was ignored. Burchett had argued that the US could not win the war and was credited with, or blamed for, fuelling public opinion in the West against it. Like Assange, he paid a high price for truth-telling.

The depth of antagonism in US government and ‘right-wing’ circles towards Assange is exemplified by senior officials calling for him to be killed by the CIA or other means. Local Swedish politics and close US-Swedish relations (Sweden was used for ‘extraordinary rendition’ of Guantanamo-bound detainees from Afghanistan), will certainly prejudice any chance of fair treatment if Assange is deported there. Amazingly, he can be held incommunicado in solitary confinement without bail for several months, and given a secret trial (on sex offences!). The US government will no doubt also seek his extradition from Sweden. Once in the US, Julian will be abused, like Bradley Manning the US marine charged with leaking classified documents to Wikileaks, and who has been ‘interrogated’ over many months of solitary confinement. The US government even successfully put pressure on Visa, Mastercard, Paypal, and Bank of America to stop processing support payments to Wikleaks – this ban is still in effect, although the transactions are legal. The US government is very angry, and will stop at nothing to take revenge on someone challenging their power and misdealings.

Against this background, the supine and gutless attitude of our government is deplorable and brings shame on us all. After David Hicks’ abandonment by the Howard government to rot in Guantanamo for six years, we have hit a new low of duplicitous US-arse-licking. Julian’s rights as an Australian citizen should be paramount and staunchly defended by our highest public officials. Their complicit silence is disgraceful. Despite what anyone thinks about any damage done by leaked documents in the world of diplomacy, remember, no charges have been laid against Assange. The Australian government should already be taking legal steps to protect him from dubious treatment in Sweden and beyond. For the record, Wilfred died from cancer in Bulgaria in 1982 aged 72, in exile.

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NATO governments & allies (International Security Assistance Force), including us, are gathering momentum for a stampede to the Afghan exit, strategy or not. Or ‘faster beat in the retreat’, as the SMH put it before Xmas. The French have moved forward their departure (despite our clever Foreign Minister Rudd declaring only last week that this would not happen), following the recent killing of four of their troops by another rogue Afghan colleague and wounding 15 others. Like the French, everyone is now canvassing withdrawal by 2013, instead of 2014. By the end of this year ‘drawdown’ of foreign troops will total 40,000, including 33,000 Americans from their June total of 101,000. President Karzai wants foreign contractors, including security companies, out next month.

US Congress committee reports a total 70 allied troops killed and 110 wounded by Afghan government soldiers. Afghan civilian casualties are estimated at 10,000 in the last five years alone. US casualties total 1,800 killed and 150,000 wounded, France 82 killed, Australia 33 killed and 218 wounded.

The usual weasel words ‘going the distance’ or ‘doing the job’ or ‘completing the mission’ are no longer worth repeating. Now it’s about ‘transitioning’ or ‘handing over’ to Afghan security forces. Negotiations with the Taliban are well under way. We’re just not sure who’s negotiating. The bottom line is that we will not go the distance, or do any lasting job or complete any of those shifting mission objectives of the last ten years. Afghanistan faces an uncertain future, like Iraq, in the vacuum that we create by our presence and departure.

A reminder of US (and our) involvement in this latest foreign military adventure in Afghanistan may be helpful. Originally the Taliban were financed and supplied by the Americans to fight the Russian occupation. Following 9/11 and Taliban refusal to give up Bin Laden without some evidence, they became synonymous with Al-Qaeda and henceforth US mortal enemies too. First big mistake! Meantime the US also massively supplied Pakistan with arms and dollars, even while its notorious Inter-Services Intelligence was harbouring and abetting Taliban, and probably Al-Qaeda, safely across the border in bases in Pakistan. Go figure!

At the same time, the corrupt Karzai government and its recycled Taliban provincial governors and their cronies, were flourishing under the manna of US hand-outs and contracts, plus the thriving opium cropping and trade. Former commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, retired General Stanley McChrystal, confessed that the US held a ‘frighteningly simplistic’ view of the country and its history when it declared war on the Taliban in 2001, and that they didn’t even try to learn Afghan languages. Furthermore he said that ten years later the US lacks the know-how to bring the conflict to a satisfactory end.

Politics will determine ISAF exit strategies – first and foremost the looming US Presidential elections, where Obama needs to announce US withdrawal for 2013. US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta is even fudging to mid 2013. Australia will of course independently come to the same conclusion. Former US ambassador to Afghanistan retired lieutenant-general Karl Elkenberry estimated that the ‘sustainment cost’ of Afghan army and police forces will be $7 billion in 2014, three times Afghan government revenues. Somehow Elkenberry remains hopeful, and NATO is talking of ongoing support beyond 2014. Unfortunately without foreign military protection, civilian aid projects may be withdrawn too. There is no happy or snappy conclusion to this tragic saga. As the French would say, ‘quoi qu’il en soit’ (no matter what), the Taliban are well-placed.

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