Home > Australia, Politics, United States > >Australia’s left does not understand either the US or the world

>Australia’s left does not understand either the US or the world

>In one short opinion piece in Melbourne’s The Age newspaper Bruce Grant, author and former diplomat, demonstrates how out of touch with reality the left in Australia has become.

Grant’s proposition is that it is Australia that is now showing the United States the way rather than the other way around.

My own view is that the English-speaking-world shows the rest of the world the way forward.

IT’S a strange feeling, while watching the elections in the United States, to realise that the US is trailing Australia in important respects. America has been for so long the fountain of all that is “new” that to think of it being behind the times, especially as set on this side of the Pacific, requires a wrench of the imagination.

But Australia is out of Iraq and has signed the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, on both of which the US is still undecided. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The next president confronts a lengthy list of things to do to catch up with the contemporary world.

It is truly shameful that Australia has withdrawn any of its soldiers from Iraq at a time when the surge has undeniably worked, the government is getting its act together and the country is getting back on its feet. Australia actually signed the Kyoto Protocol when it was first drawn up – more than 10 years ago – but did not ratify it for two very good reasons: it seriously affected our economy; and it achieved absolutely no good outcome at a cost of trillions of dollars. Grant also fails to let his readers know that the United States Senate voted against ratification of the Kyoto Protocol while Bill Clinton was president by a whopping 95-0.

He will need to revisit US opposition to the International Criminal Court, a ban on anti-personnel landmines, a treaty on bio-diversity and a verification mechanism for the Biological Weapons Control Treaty. The US is also yet to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and persists with an anti-ballistic missile system.

The reason that the US opposes the International Criminal Court is simple; it would allow bad state actors to take action against the US even when it is using its armed forces in humanitarian roles (which actually comprises the majority of its overseas engagements). The US is the most powerful nation in the world and has a moral duty to ensure that people who can’t defend themselves are supported, an achievement completely unable to be achieved by Grant’s so-called “contemporary world” be it the EU, the UN or any individual nation.

It seems to be still imbued with the old-fashioned idea that unilateral military power is the way to get things done and that peace-keeping is for wimps. It spends as much on defence as the next 10 highest spending countries. It is rare for armed forces to be stationed in another country, yet the US has its forces in about 60 countries. Its air force and navy patrol the globe and it has the most advanced satellite technology for gathering intelligence. Moreover, it has more nuclear weapons than any one else.

No country spends more time and effort in trying to keep the peace than the United States. As JFK put it in his famous inaugural speech, “Let every nation know… that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty” and “For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed”.

I’m sure that US taxpayers would be thrilled that they could scale back their military and do what Western European nations did after World War II – reduce their military spending and build up their social programs secure in the knowledge that they had a protector in the United States keeping them safe.

The American way of life is not the beacon it once was for the rest of the world. The US economy is not coping well with rising fuel costs and home loan mortgages, let alone the more substantial challenges of climate change that the national political leadership has not yet tackled. The double deficits of government spending and import consumption have turned it into the world’s biggest debtor nation. While we struggle in Australia to improve social welfare and hospital services, the US, advanced in technology, has yet to reach our level of access. It was a novelty when Julia Gillard discovered recently in New York an innovation in education she would like to follow.

If the American way of life is not the beacon it once was then why the heck do so many millions of people want to move there? The economy is coping just fine with the current Wall St woes, which in a few years will be but a distant memory as the market posts record after record. Why anyone would use the decrepit New York education system, beautifully uncovered by John Stossel as completely dysfunctional, is beyond me.

Even in the category of trivial pursuit, the US has slipped a little. It came second to China in the Olympic Games. Bollywood is becoming as outrageous as Hollywood. The richest person in the world is an Indian. China and the Gulf states are building the most striking architectural creations since the Empire State became the tallest building in the world in the early 1930s.

Let me get this straight. Grant is saying that the United States is not the world leader but then compares other country’s achievements to the United States, which those countries have looked to for inspiration?

When the Cold War ended nearly 20 years ago, the US seemed to have the world at its feet. It chose to interpret its victory, however, in a way that recently has stressed the military component of the Cold War, not the ideological battle for “hearts and minds”.

From a military perspective, we can argue about when the Cold War ended — 1990 when the two sides declared themselves no longer to be enemies, or 1991, when the Warsaw Pact was formally disbanded. But for most people it was on 9 November, 1989, when the Berlin Wall was breached. The wall was not erected in 1961 in response to military pressure. It was built to stop East Germans from escaping to the good life in West Germany. Nor did it collapse in response to military pressure. It was breached when it failed to stop East Germans from getting to West Germany through Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

Jesus wept. For a diplomat he has an unbelievable knowledge of history…

From this perspective, Pope John Paul ll was a catalyst for the end of the Cold War, as were Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel and many others. It was arguably opposition to the system from within, armed with the authority of the Helsinki Accords and using human rights to erode state power, that brought the Soviet Union to an end, rather than cruise missiles and nuclear warheads.

The left simply cannot bring itself to say that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, along with Pope John Paul II, brought an end to the human travesty of the Soviet Union. No Reagan means no Welesa and no Havel. It’s pretty simple.

Globalisation, released by the collapse of the bipolar world of the Cold War, gave the twin pistons of American supremacy, democracy and capitalism, a clear run. But it also undermined the authority of the nation state, ushering in an interactive era of interdependence. American political leadership has not yet adjusted to this.

Elections still bring out the old rhetoric of American “exceptionalism”, which sets the US above and apart from the rest of us. The test of presidential character is not as global peacemaker but as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. So far in this election, there has been no discourse on the outstanding job of political leadership in the 21st century, which is to make the new global system work. Indeed, I can think of only one recent example, when former president Bill Clinton said the US should use its power to create a global security system, so that when it was no longer powerful it would still be safe.

If the United States ever chooses to “retreat” to within its borders then the rest of the world will become a much more bloody, violent place.

Here again Australia is ahead. Much is made of the fact that the Australian Prime Minister speaks Mandarin. Not enough is made of his liking for middle power diplomacy, which contrasts the “realist” view of power politics with an “idealist” view, as defined by Walter Lippmann: “Ideals are an imaginative understanding of that which is desirable in that which is possible.”

Australia’s attitude to its friends and neighbours is sometimes a mystery, even to ourselves. I happened to be at a football match in Melbourne a few weeks ago when international teams paraded at halftime. There were cheers for China, India, Denmark, Sweden, Tonga, the Peace team … everyone. Except Britain. The old enemy. A robust burst of booing. And New Zealand. Boo. Then came the United States, late in the parade. What would be the great Australian reaction. Boo!

Does that mean we have accepted the Americans into our own world, whatever that is? I think it does. The first task of the Australian Prime Minister when the Americans decide their next president will be to take him aside and give him the benefit of our new way of thinking.

When do Australian Prime Ministers not talk straight with their foreign counterparts including the United States?


What Grant is saying is that our Prime Minister must lecture the next President on what we expect from him.

In that regard, we have absolutely the right PM for the job.

(Nothing Follows)


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  1. September 23, 2008 at 9:38 am

    >Jack, when you said:”The economy is coping just fine with the current Wall St woes, which in a few years will be but a distant memory as the market posts record after record.”it occurred to me that perhaps you are drinking too much of the Grape Flavor-Aid.As a fiscal conservative, I am simply appalled by Bush II caving in to the demands of Hank Paulson (ex Goldman Sachs) to spend an unlimited amount bailing out Wall Street, Frannie, AIG, and every other organisation who collectively caused the economic disaster unfolding in the USA.I would be happy to debate your assertions in a friendly manner, as I do not believe that you have considered the cost (potentially worldwide) of these knee-jerk political responses.

  2. September 23, 2008 at 11:49 am

    >My own view is that the English-speaking-world shows the rest of the world the way forward – as you’ve consistently outlined here, here, here, and here

  3. September 24, 2008 at 7:57 am

    >Fudgie,The English speaking world does lead the rest of the world and that’s why it’s important that the cultural decline currently happening in the UK, which those posts highlight, is reversed.

  4. September 24, 2008 at 8:01 am

    >Kaboom,I agree that bailing out Wall St goes against the grain and would be happy to see them all collapse; it’s the least they deserve.However, bailing them out seems to be a necessary evil in order to restore confidence to the market.The best comment I have heard was a fella from the AEI (I think) who described the Freddy/Fannie situation as being like letting you go to Las Vegas with a guarantee that your losses will be covered but that you can keep your winnings. That would tend to modify behaviour significantly so in that regard it’s a failure of regulatory oversight as well as those companies acting responsibly.

  5. September 24, 2008 at 8:22 am

    >Yes, I firmly believe that the fault can be almost 100% attributed to the repeal of Glass-Steagall (The U.S. “Banking Act No. 2” of 1933)in November, 1999 – signed off by Bill Clinton, and magnificently lobbied for by his appointee, Alan Greenspan.I think the future history and economics texts will rightly castigate Greenspan, as being the “Maestro” behind serial endemic bubbles which served no purpose other than to rob the lumpen proletariat of their life’s savings, and bolster the bottom line of his Wall St comrades.Bush II championing this bailout so close to his departure from the world stage? What an ill-advised move, which will sully his reputation for years.

  6. September 24, 2008 at 8:29 am

    >To clarify, Greenspan was Reagan’s appointee, but was nominated by Clinton for his (Greenspan’s) third and fourth terms as Fed chairman.

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