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Archive for the ‘Diplomacy’ Category

As predicted, ScoMo has rushed to sign us up for a US ‘mission’ in the Strait of Hormuz, by assigning two warships and 200 troops to help patrol the Persian Gulf, so-named because it’s literally in Iran’s backyard. Ostensibly, the purpose is to protect oil tankers operating through the 39 kms narrow strait. The announcement was slid out quietly under cover of a news cycle full of Pell’s Smell.

Foreign Minister Payne had the Orwellian effrontery to say that this commitment would ‘de-escalate tensions’ in the region. How does that work? Big Donald had unilaterally withdrawn the US from a successful multinational nuclear control agreement with Iran, thus triggering off some tit-for-tat shipping harassment by both sides.

Britain and France are not onboard yet, so we get maximum brownie points with our great ally and protector, Uncle Sam. As usual there is no parliamentary debate, and the Opposition fails to interrogate the objectives of another military adventure far from Australia’s shores. We-will-never-learn.

Folks, this has been going on since NSW sent troops to NZ to help quell rebellious Maoris in mid 19th century. Later, Australian colonies chose to defend the Empire in Sudan, South Africa, China and above all in WW1. Then we changed patrons and followed the US into Korea, Malaysia (just for old time’s sake), Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and others I’ve forgotten.

In Unnecessary Wars, Henry Reynolds traces the inglorious involvement of our colonial troops in the Boer War of 1899-1902. The fabled light horsemen were in fact up to their bloody elbows in cruel mistreatment and murder of Boer civilians, which was then covered up with fake news of heroic actions. 

The causes of Empire (‘one country, right or wrong’) and nation building, combined with a glorification of war and militarism were a heady mix and precursor of Anzac myth making. The states and new Federal parliament did debate the South Africa engagement, but the pervasive pro-war ethos prevailed, and set the scene for 120 years. We’ve since jettisoned the need for even a simulacra of parliamentary analysis. Gung ho!

 

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Oh no, here we go again – I have that sinking feeling in my stomach, or is it my blood boiling. ScoMo is already following that long tradition of erstwhile Liberal PMs sucking up to a US president by offering to support the USA in actions against Iran (following America’s withdrawal from a nuclear deterrent agreement!). All the way with Donald J, who didn’t even request our help. Just like Vietnam back in the day, where we asked to join in. Remember how well that went for Australia, not to mention the poor Vietnamese?

Ironically within days Professor Hugh White, noted academic military strategist, has launched a new book ‘How to Defend Australia’, where he apparently argues strongly that we should shed any further delusions about Australia sheltering under the safety of a US security umbrella. A fictitious treaty obligation used by successive Australian governments to justify going to war alongside Uncle Sam, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan? Another calamity for all sides involved!

As China rises and US dominance in Asia wanes, we are gunna be on our own, says the expert professor, who also suggests doubling our military expenditure and even discuss getting our own nuclear weapons. Tell him he’s dreaming, which he clearly is! But meanwhile he could drop by ScoMo’s Canberra office on his way to uni, and let him in on the latest strategic thinking. So that we don’t have to risk Australian troops on another needless military excursion into the Islamic world. With no guarantee of US protection insurance. 

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

https://johnmenadue.com/peter-ohara-my-lunch-with-french-secret-service-agents-who-sank-rainbow-warrior/

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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