Thursday, 18 December 2014

Malcolm Fraser: end the alliance

In the January-February 2015 edition of the American journal The National Interest, former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser sets out his arguments for ending the Australia-United States alliance. The introduction of the argument is below. It is a vision statement deserving attention, but at the present time it seems unlikely to draw much political support in Australia. More the pity. It is a sensible case.

My own argument has tended to be that within the alliance we can be a better ally by having a more independent-minded voice and arguing sense to the United States. This is an concern I have expressed for a long time, and which I believe is very feasible. But even that kind of mature adjustment within the alliance seems elusive in a situation where the present Australian government is lame-brained and capable at best of marching up and down whinging its own importance and shaking its fists ridiculously at too many other governments, while the alternative government seems dedicated to simpering sniffling anxiety to hide behind this Prime Minister whose capacity and judgement they should vigorously question.

The question with Malcolm Fraser's vision statement is how on earth do we get to consider it?

At the core is the seeming inability of younger generations (I am 71, it really isn't my job) to collaborate to find new Australian national political identity. There is a modicum of support for The Greens, who offer the only existing institutional base around which new perspectives might coalesce, but The Greens have a somewhat self-isolating purist approach which limits their prospects.

A great deal of the problem of the future, of the Australia of younger generations, must rest with Fraser's successor as conservative prime minister, John Howard, who so thoroughly endorsed and encouraged perspectives of self interest and led the way now being followed vigorously by Howard's successor on the conservative side, Abbott, in destruction of the infrastructure of community.

I think it's here, back in here, inside national affairs, that the change process must begin and have wider effect. And it seems to me that change has to come relatively from the conservative side of politics. Certainly Labor on the notional left has more progressive policies which benefit community, but they are shy of articulating strategy, stuck in the madness of hoping to slip into government on the basis of Abbott's hopelessness, perhaps also hamstrung because the union movement at the party's core serves not only those on modest incomes, but also those whose incomes have become massive. Things may change as more and more jobs are shed in the construction and manufacturing industries in the next several years. There will not however then arise a mass of working class passion, but a rage among displaced affluent middle class. There is a timidity in the electorate at large, a timidity born of obsession with consumption, high mortgages and working and private lifestyles that gives people a very narrow focus on self-interest and notions of economic management. (Along with a simplicity of American(Hollywood)-oriented cultural values.) Even young people seem unthinkingly to say "the Liberals are better at economic management" when there is so much evidence that they are making a muck of it.

What is needed is a coalition of younger people, if they exist, of the kind of persuasion of the old 'wet' side of the Liberal Party, the party of Baume and Chaney and McPhee and the like, to come out of hiding and start spanking the madness of the domestic policies of the present government. So long as the arguments of Fraser and Burnside and the like speak mainly to international and refugee issues, the battle is not even engaged; rather, they are placed on the outer. The main battle is over economics and the place of community. Whether we serve the economy or the economy serves community.

The next debate must also embrace other cultures in Australia, which must be encouraged to enter the mainstream. Another book there...I note that Moslem men who bring their families to my seaside town on summer holidays articulate passionate and reasoned hostility towards the United States and the Australian alliance in private conversation. These arguments need to get to them too, so they see that there are sensible thinkers in the Anglo community.

....So I don't think that the laudable arguments below will not get traction until the debate front goes domestic too.
This is the opening of Malcolm Fraser's essay in the January-February 2015 edition of The National Interest:
IT IS time for Australia to end its strategic dependence on the United States. The relationship with America, which has long been regarded as beneficial, has now become dangerous to Australia’s future. We have effectively ceded to America the ability to decide when Australia goes to war. Even if America were the most perfect and benign power, this posture would still be incompatible with the integrity of Australia as a sovereign nation. It entails not simply deference but submission to Washington, an intolerable state of affairs for a country whose power and prosperity are increasing and whose national interests dictate that it enjoy amicable, not hostile, relations with its neighbors, including China.
As painful as a reassessment of relations may be for intellectual and policy elites, there are four principal reasons why one is long overdue. First, despite much blather about a supposed unanimity of national purpose, the truth is that the United States and Australia have substantially different values systems. The idea of American exceptionalism is contrary to Australia’s sense of egalitarianism. Second, we have seen the United States act in an arbitrary, imprudent and capricious fashion. It has made a number of ill-advised and ill-informed decisions concerning Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East. Third, at the moment, because of U.S. military installations in Australia, if America goes to war in the Pacific, it will take us to war as well—without an independent decision by Australia. Finally, under current circumstances, in any major contest in the Pacific, our relationship with America would make us a strategic target for America’s enemies. It is not in Australia’s interest to be in that position.

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