PLEASE DON’T UPSET DONALD TRUMP
Many nations like to believe that they have some form of special relationship with the United States, but two that have a reasonable basis for that supposition are the United Kingdom and Australia. We share a deep historical connection, being at some point part of the British Empire, have very close security cooperation arrangements having fought in a number of wars together – and supposedly have similar principles of democratic government based on concepts such as the rule of law and separation of powers.
So when the U.S. President makes the position of the U.K. Ambassador in Washington untenable, that’s actually no laughing matter. It goes to show just how sensitive the current administration is and how vindictive and petty it can be – led of course by Donald Trump. If this can happen to the British, it is evidence of how vulnerable other allies are, including Australia. Compare the circumstances of Sir Kim Darroch being compelled to resign against Trump’s “love” for Kim Jong-un, fawning treatment of Vladimir Putin – and his embrace of journalist murder conspirators in the Middle East.
One could hardly think of a more trivial reason for forcing a highly regarded Ambassador of a friendly nation out of the country: leaked diplomatic cables variously describing Trump as inept and his administration as chaotic. One hardly needs to break into Top Secret traffic for that: just listen to Congressional Democrats, read the Washington Post and watch any of half a dozen late night U.S. comedy shows. In any case – as far as it can be figured out – the leak occurred not to do damage to Trump, who appears beyond the ability to feel embarrassed about anything, but instead to sink the career of Darroch, who was perceived to be insufficiently zealous about Brexit.Of course any Government with a bit of spine would support their Ambassador – as Prime Ministerial contender Jeremy Hunt did.
However, when the front-runner and almost certain competition winner Boris Johnson refused to back the country’s man in Washington, that was the end of that. Essentially, Darroch has been forced out for doing his job. As a side note, it will be interesting to see whether Johnson appoints a professional career diplomat to take over, or whether he prefers a toady who will in both private and public lavish praise on the Trump administration – and in particular its head – no matter how appalling its behaviour.
For Australia this is far from a mere technicality because once again the war drums are being beaten in the Middle East regarding a potential conflict with Iran – and we are being sounded out about involvement. Some of the U.S. administration clearly want a fight, with that push being led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – and even more so by hawkish National Security Advisor, John Bolton. Bolton was once asked about his views regarding carrot and stick diplomacy to reply that he didn’t believe in the concept of carrot.A conflict with Iran has the potential to be a quagmire far worse than Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria combined.
Of course President Trump is being egged on by Israel – whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants the U.S. to do the military heavy lifting with a massive strike on one of the countries major enemies. Similarly, Saudi Arabia in the current form of Mohammed bin Salman, would very much like to see Iran greatly weakened by military means. Say what you like about Iran, but at least that country allows women to vote and drive cars – and doesn’t have regular public beheadings of people convicted of things such as sorcery.
It is very hard to see how it would be in the Australian national interest to become involved in a new war – except for the old argument that if the U.S. made the request, we would have to comply to save the alliance. At this point it is worth reminding ourselves of how we arrived here. The U.S. unilaterally pulled out of the agreement with Iran curtailing that country’s nuclear programme with Trump repeatedly declaring that it was “the worst deal, ever” – as if he would actually understand any of the specifics. Now, the Washington hawks are getting increasingly concerned that Iran is slowly but systematically breaching the agreement that the U.S. itself trashed.
A logical course of action would be for the Trump administration to re-commit to the original bargain – but of course present circumstances make any sort of admission that a mistake was made nigh on impossible. Seeing a way out of this looks difficult, because the chances of Iran changing direction are also slim. From the perspective of Tehran, the best that they can hope for is further belt-tightening in response to even tougher U.S. sanctions in the hope that they can outlast the current President until the end of 2020 – but the election of a Democrat is far from guaranteed.
In these uncertain times, it is noteworthy that one of Australia’s greatest strategic thinkers Professor Hugh White – who advised Prime Ministers Hawke, Keating and Howard – has suggested that we consider acquiring nuclear weapons. While the people of APDR are not ready to jump on that bandwagon just yet, the mere fact that this is becoming part of the public debate is revealing. All of a sudden the idea doesn’t look quite so alarmist. Trying to look a few years into the future is difficult – imagine trying to calculate what Australia’s strategic circumstances will be in 20 to 30 years from now? China is getting bigger and stronger – there has been more gasping and pearl necklace grabbing at the news that a Chinese spy ship will monitor Exercise Talisman Sabre – and the U.S. is far less reliable than it used to be. It’s time to look at our options.