Sydney Morning Herald’s International Editor: Australia Can’t Trust America with the ‘Mad King’ Trump in Power

Asia is on a precarious balancing act, sort of like a “Buffalo Stance” where everyone is ready to jump in and fight, but at the moment, just staring at each other.

Asia, with its economic power and vast market, is a key global participant. And Australia is right here, very close to Asia, with a great deal of inside Australia politics, on what this means.

So what is the situation in Asia and situation globally?

Alliance on the global level wise, BRICS and ASEAN fragmented and not much cohesion and joint efforts, and in fact, lots of infighting and competition. India and Japan are offering some joint efforts to counter-balance China in Asia. Europe is keeping a fairly low key on Asian politics and national security, but there are calls for more involvement, too promote Liberal Democracies and Free World values and also some military projections.

Trump has alienated Latin America greatly, leaving a vacuum for China and Europe to fill, with China having a bit of an edge on price competitiveness. Africa is seen as highly important to China and it has an edge over Europe, where many in Africa have a negative view of the West, and again, China offers more in price competitiveness.

Europe wise, again Trump has alienated many and now left is the realization that they need NATO, but wish everything else American politics left Europe. EU is, of course, starting to build an EU military and it will be about a decade before EU can deal with America as a truly independent region from America.

Russia entanglement with American internal politics carries a cost, and this cost will come over the medium to longer term. China and America relationship is a big unknown that depends on Trump’s mood and pressure he is feeling on a variety of issues. Trump wise, globally, very unpopular and much ridicule and so dragging America down with him.

The Middle East and greater and further out, as I mentioned before, hopeless and depressing, as global people just want oil and cares little about the rest, except a few such as Palestine, Yemen and Syria people, and some other like the Kurds. ISIS is on the retreat in its strong-holds, but the global reach is still great, as basically, there is no way of eliminating terrorism, and the only thing that can be done in minimizing it.


Sydney Morning Herald’s international editor:

Australia can’t trust America with the ‘mad king’ Donald Trump in power


By Peter Hartcher, the international editor

We have no excuse for overlooking the meaning of this anniversary. And its timing compels us to consider its lessons.

In last week marking the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore, Malcolm Turnbull called it “shattering”. Bill Shorten called it “unthinkable”. It was the bitterest strategic betrayal in Australia’s history since white conquest.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull discusses his relationship with President Donald Trump and weighs in on Australian and US ties.

The fall of Singapore was, according to Winston Churchill, “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history”. Britain has never recovered from the blow to its prestige. For Australia it was about much more than prestige. It was about national survival. The fall of the supposedly impregnable British fortress in Singapore opened Australia to Japanese invasion. With Singapore taken, Japan’s bombers opened their first attacks on Darwin just four days later.

Yet even as Parliament paused last week to reflect sombrely on that shocking event, officialdom showed troubling signs of utterly missing the point. Neither Turnbull nor Shorten drew any big conclusions about the fall of Singapore in their speeches. They paid tribute, rightly, to the troops and the civilians who were the immediate victims of Britain’s incompetence when they were killed or captured by the Japanese.

It was a British general, Woodburn Kirby, who later remarked that the commanding officers had “committed every conceivable blunder” so that the supposedly invincible fortress lasted just a week.

Shorten did note that the shock jolted the then prime minister, Labor’s John Curtin, into standing up to Churchill and ending Australian subservience to London. But that was about it from the two leaders.

The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Dan Tehan, ventured a larger lesson. He said that Singapore’s fall was the event that forced Australia to “stand on its own two feet”.

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This is precisely wrong. Betrayed by one great and powerful friend, Australia threw itself into the arms of another. Curtin’s expression of independence was to take Australia from one dependency to another. Of course, it was the right thing to do in the face of imminent invasion.

Which sane country would wager its national security on the sanity of the mad king?

Which sane country would wager its national security on the sanity of the mad king?  Photo: The New York Times

But the lesson of the fall of Singapore must surely be that Australia can not trust its survival wholly to a foreign power. Even a close ally. Yesterday Britain, today America.

The world has changed dramatically since the US enjoyed overwhelming strategic preponderance. It’s a strategic non sequitur to note the profound development of our time, the return of China, yet blithely assume it has no consequences for US power or US willpower.

Yet, as historically tectonic as China’s return may be, it is not the biggest source of uncertainty for regional security. Nor is it Russia’s aggression. As a Russia expert from America’s Georgetown University, Angela Stent, remarked at the Munich Security Conference on the weekend: “You come here and you realise that the biggest source of instability in the world right now is not Russia. It’s the US.”

There is no prize for guessing what, or whom, she could possibly be talking about. Some American patriots are trying hard to reassure US allies that the America remains reliable despite its President.

Fall of Singapore: Staff Officer Sugita conducts Lt. General Arthur Percival (right) and other British officers to the …

Fall of Singapore: Staff Officer Sugita conducts Lt. General Arthur Percival (right) and other British officers to the Ford factory at Bukit Timah where the surrender took place.

The Republican Senator John McCain told the Munich conference: “I know there is profound concern across Europe and the world that America is laying down the mantle of global leadership. I can only speak for myself, but I do not believe that that is the message you will hear from all of the American leaders who cared enough to travel here to Munich this weekend.”

They included the Vice-President, Mike Pence, who told the crowd to “be confident that the US is now and will always be your greatest ally”, yet received only a spatter of polite applause from a doubting audience.

And they included the man who reassured Australia’s Defence Minister, Marise Payne. She met Trump’s Defence Secretary, Jim Mattis, in Brussels on Friday. It was her first meeting with her new counterpart. Payne reports her meeting was “very good,” that Mattis “knows Australia and he knows Australians” and that he “acknowledges the value of the alliance”. Asked what she learnt about critical issues such as US strategy in the South China Sea, Payne replied that Mattis “is taking a very methodical approach to the issues on his desk … to review the way he wants to go.” Importantly, she said, Mattis invited Australia’s input on these big issues. She plans to take him up on the invitation, she said.

Did Payne or her US counterpart mention the biggest source of instability in the world, the man who overshadows every conversation, Donald Trump, I asked?

“Given the strength of the defence relationship,” Payne told me, “there was no need to venture further afield in that regard.”

In other words, the Australian and American defence ministers and their governments are trying to conduct relations pretending Donald Trump doesn’t exist. “Oh, who is the mad king shouting from the top of the castle?” we ask. “What mad king?” the officials reply, straight-faced, trying to be heard over the ruckus.

This approach might work. Bureaucracies and militaries are big machines that tick over day-to-day without the need for top-level oversight. But, in the event of a crisis where Australia actually needed real US help, ministers and secretaries would need to climb the stairs to the top of the castle to consult the mad king.

Which sane country would wager its national security on the sanity of the mad king? Would you catch him in a moment of lucidity, or would he be preoccupied with a non-existent terrorist attack on Sweden, perhaps?

When the commander of the British fortress on Singapore, General Arthur Percival, was asked why he refused to erect essential defences against the Japanese, he told his subordinates that it would be “bad for the morale of troops and civilians”.

Allan Gyngell, former head of the top intelligence body, the Office of National Assessments, writes in the Financial Review: “The natural tendency of Australian foreign policy advisers faced with change is to suggest going along for the ride [with America] and seeing where things end up … It is sometimes excellent advice. But not this time.”

We have no excuse for overlooking the meaning of the fall of Singapore. If the dead could shout, they would be shouting at us now.


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