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Letters from Downunder

Giving the Green Light

Submitted by Lindsay
Melbourne Australia!

I question the right of national sovereignty to burn its children to save its pride, Anthony Meyer, September 27, 1990

(3/2017) You may never have heard of Talisman Sabre, but it is, in fact, one of the biggest ongoing military training exercises for American troops. Held in semi-tropical Queensland, Australia, it involves most arms of your military, along many of ours. It has proved to be invaluable - and not just for the training it gives, but because it has become one of the reasons for our alliance. There are many reasons for this, the chief being our respective needs; Ours for protection, yours for strategy, with the links thus formed proving strong and appreciated.

Australia and America have had an increasingly close relationship since 1948, ever since we felt we had been abandoned by the British. We have long known that our location in the South Pacific is of significant strategic importance, but our population of 23 million was insufficient to enable us to stand alone. So alliance with you became the goal, and successive administrations have sought to strengthen that, especially as China grew into a major player in the region. Various trade deals have been entered into, (never with the real benefits flowing to us), but that was a price we were prepared to pay, even as we felt cheated.

Then there are the arms deals. We bought your fighters as an assurance of our status as ally (and all the benefits we believed that gave) as well as submarines, even when we could not really afford them. Then, as we exported our actors and imported your culture, we were encouraged to ramp up other commitments which finally resulted in this wonderfully named Talisman.

America’s financial contribution to our economy was never publicised, but remains significant. We were reassured you would defend us with all your big guns if needed, we would support you in pretty much anything you did, including the debacle in the middle east. However something started to change about two years ago. As China began its island building in brinksmanship mode, America seemed to be at a loss in how to respond. A degree of panic spread throughout this country; would we be caught between you and them? Our cash cow is China, our security is you. Long suppressed beliefs that we needed to be more independent surfaced, leading to assessments of our ability to take the lead in our defensive capabilities.

Then we experienced the wild and almost incomprehensible rhetoric of your new president. Build walls, repel asylum seekers, put up the shutters, suggest Japan rearms, make nuclear a possibility.

Those alarm bells grew louder, producing a sudden rethink of our foreign policy.

Plans to expand the area used for Talisman Sabre had been vehemently opposed by the farmers who own the land required, but had been told it would be compulsorily acquired. Now, our PM, Malcolm Turnbull, has thrown his hands in the air and declared that farmers who presently own the land may sell to the ADF (Australian Defence Force) if they choose. Compulsory acquisition will be not be enforced.

This and other things – the sale of the port of Darwin to the Chinese, for instance – have led your leaders to try to repair any damage by reaffirming their high regard for us. Mr. Trump has gone so far as to say we are your number one ally, even though he’d told our PM where to go over the deal to resettle asylum seekers in America, agreed to by President Obama, calling it ‘the dumbest deal ever done’. This, together with the many other irrational pronouncements he’s made, have produced in a quiet state of dismay. We’re so used to good manners and diplomatic discussion that the descent into alternative facts, altered truth, and arbitrary rejoinders is, frankly, making us sick.

But it has made us take a much harder look at where we stand. Many of us have been saying that it’s high time that we took a ‘grown up’ approach to you, one where we do not roll over and say, ‘Yes please, thank you sir’, one that while we acknowledge our vulnerability, we also have the diplomatic skills to deal with threats, the ability to take our own far more inclusive and tolerant line, and to say no to dodgy trade deals.

Australia is small by any standard except in area and resources, yet it nears the front of tolerance, human values, health care, endeavour, and the practice of true democracy. We were settled by convicts, meaning authority has always been resisted. We looked out for our neighbours, welcomed outcasts, and introduced some of the basic human rights – enfranchisement, forty hour working week, federal healthcare, liveable pensions rates, and many other things that have made us the preferred place to live. Just like you used to be.

Mr. Trump may believe we are your chief ally, but appears to have no idea of the reach China is forging. They are currently pumping billions of dollars into Papua-New Guinea, immediately to our north and immediately to the south of Indonesia. They are out-gunning Australia, whose investment and assistance to that country has fallen year by year. China is not doing this out of the goodness of their heart, but are establishing a southern perimeter in the south Pacific.

Indonesia is very worried. The Philippines have already told your forces to get out, even though you have a number of naval bases there. China is also setting up much of Africa to be Chinese territory. Their enormous wealth is buying them the emerging world, and you appear to not care. We are trying to forge a trade deal like the TPP without you.

Fortress America, which seems to the new reality, is a green light to China. It will not be long before they control the region, and Australia will either have to learn Mandarin or adopt a fighting stance.

America, once the most powerful and influential peacekeeper in the world, appears to be so frightened by terrorists that fighting that shadowy menace is taking up all your time and money. Xenophobia is not foreign policy.

Lindsay, baring arms, in Melbourne, Australia.

Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker