“Sorry” Or Not, Trump Was Justified In Reaming Turnbull

AS YOU SOW, so shall you reap: these words should ring in Malcolm Turnbull’s ears like a klaxon siren after his entirely justified international humiliation by Donald Trump; having barracked for Hillary Clinton and made no secret of his disgust at her defeat, Turnbull’s refugee deal with Barack Obama, after that defeat, was tantamount to a poke in the eye of the new US President. “Sorry” he may now be, but Trump was within his rights to lash out.

There is one angle to the fracas over Malcolm Turnbull’s fraught telephone call with Donald Trump this week — over the equally contentious prospect of carting asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island off to the United States for resettlement — that every mainstream media commentator I’ve seen or read has missed, and it is an instructive one.

I should apologise to readers for my disappearance over the past few days; three days interstate and a heavy day yesterday back in Melbourne conspired to disrupt the renewed conversation we have been having here, and whilst I have stayed abreast of political goings-on, it has been a little frustrating to be unable to find the time to comment.

But I have followed, with interest, the increasingly embarrassing debacle that was Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s first telephone conversation with the new US President; to say Turnbull has come off second best is something of an understatement, and whilst some — like Daily Telegraph columnist Laurie Oakes — are trying to pump up Turnbull’s tyres, suggesting the PM “stood up” to the President and showed him his “mettle” — the reality is that being made to look a fool to a global audience by willing media is something Turnbull could (and should) have avoided.

First, a little history.

Back in 1992, the Conservative government of UK Prime Minister John Major — itself freshly re-elected in a result that probably owed more to the thumping majority won by Margaret Thatcher in 1987 it was defending, and to the fact its Labour opponent was Neil Kinnock, than it did to any great enthusiasm within the British electorate — leapt into the fray during that year’s presidential election in the US, making no secret of the fact it wanted George H. Bush re-elected, and going to great lengths to ensure that that message received extensive coverage by the US press.

The outcome, as everyone knows, was nothing of the sort; Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton beat the elder President Bush handsomely (thanks, in part, to the votes drained off by billionaire Independent candidate Ross Perot). Clinton went on to serve eight years as President — in a reign many credit his wife, Hillary, as the “real brain” behind — and during which controversy and scandal were never far from the surface.

(It is during this period that my own deep contempt and dislike for the Clintons developed; not because they were from the Left, but because they gave every appearance of being a law unto themselves: an entitled mentality that remained evident up to and beyond Hillary Clinton’s own failed presidential bid last year).

Even so, in 1997 — as Major again faced British voters, this time against a resurgent “New” Labour Party led by the telegenic but vapid Tony Blair — the Clinton administration, always happy to hold a grudge and to act on it, returned fire at the Conservative Party in a concerted endeavour to make sure it got the British government it wanted to work with. Labour would have convincingly won the 1997 election in Britain even without the endorsement and star power Clinton showered upon its campaign, but it hardly takes a rocket scientist to deduce that Clinton’s opinion counted for more in the UK than Major’s did in the US, and Major and the Tories were trounced.

This story is instructive, for it contains a sentiment that I think has changed very little in decades, if not centuries: nobody tells Uncle Sam what to do, or not do; from the War of Independence to the two World Wars — the second of which America was dragged into by the ambush attack at Pearl Harbour in 1941 — and to the Cuban Missile Crisis and more recently, its domestic politics, the bottom line always ends up being the same. America makes up its own mind.

What many people forget, too, is that prior to 1941, the US was quite content to dwell in splendid isolation, and leave the rest of the world largely to itself: this could offer a clue to why, after decades of global military activity over the past 75 years and being co-opted by most of the free world to act as its guarantor, the independent, isolationist message of the Trump platform resonated as strongly as it did. In short, it was a pitch for America to return to a more traditional view of itself.

The reason I relate both the Major-Clinton anecdote and the nature of pre-1941 America is because I think Malcolm Turnbull has probably emulated the former, and been complicit in an attempt to disrupt the latter.

Before last year’s US elections, Turnbull made it clear — crystal clear — whose side he was on; Hillary Clinton was “an old, personal friend” who “Lucy and I” looked forward to welcoming to Australia “as President.” Turnbull anticipated that “President Clinton” would be “a very good friend for Australia.” He was less vocal than some about his distaste for Trump before the election, but as the result became clear, the saccharine acknowledgement Turnbull gave of Trump’s victory failed to mask his obvious and real disgust that his “friend” had lost.

In an age of ceaseless, instant media coverage (and in a time political bunkers across the world receive news in real time, analysing and studying it to determine precise intelligence conclusions) Turnbull’s unabashed rah-rah antics on Clinton’s behalf were never going to escape the attention of the Trump team.

And in turn, the deal for 1,250 processed refugees to be resettled in the United States — formalised with Barack Obama, after the result of the election was beyond doubt — was only ever going to be interpreted by the Trump machine as a poke in the eye: an arrogantly mischievous attempt to lob a grenade into the incoming administrations’s plans that would explode in the new President’s face.

Turnbull himself might not have thought of the deal in such terms, but it beggars belief that Obama (and the Clinton team, which was reportedly involved with planning it) would have regarded it as anything else.

It was, to use the vernacular, the action of a smartarse.

There has of course been a tremendous amount of reportage over what was said and what was not said in the course of the conversation on Thursday between Trump and Turnbull.

What has not been contradicted by either side, despite wild accusations of “fake news” informing some of this coverage, is that a) Trump regarded the refugee settlement arrangements as a “dumb deal;” b) that Trump claimed that countries across the world were “taking advantage” of the USA, and that this had to stop; c) that Trump berated Turnbull, saying (among other things) that the call was the “worst” of his four calls with world leaders that day, including Russian leader Vladimir Putin; and d) that the call abruptly ended 35 minutes short of hour scheduled for it almost immediately after the refugee deal had been discussed.

As an incidental observation, characteristically fatuous remarks by opposition “leader” Bill Shorten — that Trump should have shown Turnbull more “respect,” and that he shared Australians’ sentiments that “petty playground bickering” and political point scoring must stop — deserve to be contemptuously dismissed as the hypocritical and opportunistic blather that they are.

And some readers of this column (and others who follow me on Twitter) may accuse me of hypocrisy in going down this track, too, for I was trenchantly critical of Hillary Clinton during the election campaign, and whilst not a Trump supporter, was resolute that the only result her candidacy merited was defeat. To those people I simply note that this is an opinion column, not a news service; the bulk of the opinions here are guided by my knowledge of and instinct for electoral behaviour. My sense was that beyond the Democratic Party’s citadels of California and New York, there was little appetite for Clinton among Americans. Once the votes were counted, that judgement proved correct.

But Turnbull is the elected head of government in a country very closely allied to the United States, and — like Major in 1992 — had drawn attention to himself for making it very clear to the Americans who he wanted to work with, and who he didn’t.

In this sense, what happened on that phone call should surprise nobody, but if ever there was a time one of Trump’s increasingly famous outbursts of belligerence was justified, this was it.

I tend to think that if it plays its cards correctly, the Turnbull government will find “better weather” in henceforth dealing with Trump: the President has vented, as they say these days, and there is a sense that having blown off a head of steam, the heat in the issue has been dissipated — whatever the eventual fate of the refugee resettlement deal turns out to be.

Indeed, there are some conciliatory overtures emanating from the Trump camp now the dust has settled a little. If Turnbull seriously wants to work Trump, now would be the time to draw a line under the refugee deal once and for all, for it never looked like anything more than a cynical stunt cooked up with a lame duck in Obama that was more about causing trouble for Trump than with achieving anything particularly noble or constructive.

But the fallout from the Thursday telephone call closes the circle on yet another in a long line of spectacularly inept political judgements on Turnbull’s part: having campaigned for Trump’s nemesis relentlessly and given every appearance of deeming her defeat despicable, the Obama refugee deal episode simply meant that the reaming he got from Trump by telephone was inevitable, entirely to be expected, and completely justified.

The real damage to Turnbull will be in the eyes of the Australian public, which already holds the PM in dim regard and will interpret what they have seen and heard of his discussion with Trump as weak, subservient, and a failure.

In this sense, I think Denis Atkins from the Courier Mail has it about right, saying that the Trump call will prove to be the curtain-raiser on a very, very difficult year for Turnbull.

That sentiment, however accurate, is probably the understatement of the year, although we canvassed the same point here last week.

I’ve heard whispers from different places (places, plural) that Turnbull’s papers are stamped, and that the push is on to get rid of him by Easter, or before the budget in May at the latest. The sticking point seems to be who to replace him with. If Turnbull even wants to see the year out, the time it takes the forces lining up against him to coalesce around a candidate represents the amount of sand that remains in the hourglass.

The first Newspoll for the year is imminent. It will find the Turnbull government faring badly, registering the seventh of “30 losing Newspolls” Turnbull used to justify knifing Tony Abbott. I don’t think Turnbull will last the year, or anything approaching it. But more fiascos like the Trump call will simply hasten what is now almost inevitable.

USA: Trump Wins The Election Hillary Clinton Was Born To Lose

AMERICA has delivered a vicious rebuke to Hillary Clinton and the Washington establishment, voting Republican firebrand Donald Trump the 45th President of the United States; despite early uncertainty, the sky will not fall in, and Trump’s task is to make good his vow to “make America great again.” For Clinton, the repudiation is a brutal, thorough, deserved humiliation. For her party, it remains to be seen whether it can recover by 2020 — if at all.

First things first: congratulations must be minuted to President-elect Trump, his family, their supporters, and the 60 million Americans who voted for them; Donald Trump has been elected to the most powerful political office in the free world — and will become its 45th occupant on 20 January — and it is to be hoped, for the common global good, that the eloquent vision he articulated during his victory speech last night (Melbourne time) is one he delivers upon.

I am not a supporter of Trump, nor am I hostile toward him; I am however (as regular readers well know) flatly opposed to the Clintons ever again holding public office and in this sense, the United States and the world have been spared four gruelling and traumatic years of legal machinations, a probable impeachment, and quite possibly armed conflict with Russia. And this is before we even contemplate the divisive, insiderish, illiberal junta that would have comprised a second Clinton administration.

Donald Trump, to be sure, is far from an ideal candidate for the presidency of the United States.

But his alleged misdemeanours — real, imagined, or laid bare by Wikileaks as campaign plots by a morally bankrupt and repugnant Democratic Party — pale into insignificance alongside any contemplation of decades of shady legal and business manoeuvres, questionable (and possibly criminal) behaviour during four years as Secretary of State, or the arrant and abhorrent sense of entitlement with which Hillary Clinton pursued the position of President.

This is not to say that dirty talk about women and other insulting and/or demeaning conduct should be sanctioned or condoned; far from it, although there are those leftist zealots who will accuse me of doing precisely that irrespective of any declamations to the contrary. For those people, reality is a jaundiced concept.

But a woman whose conduct may yet be found to have been brazenly and wantonly criminal — and who, in “supporting” her husband has repeatedly silenced women who levelled accusations of rape and sexual assault against Bill Clinton — is in no position to wail about “misogyny” or the mistreatment of her gender; in any case, she has singularly failed to satisfactorily answer the charge that her flagrant misuse of email systems as Secretary of State at best divulged highly classified material, and at worst compromised the national security of both the United States of America and its allies.

Hillary Clinton is, to be sure, the most unsuitable candidate to ever seek to be President. Whilst the alleged misdeeds of Trump are nothing to recommend, they do not outweigh any reasonable or reasoned assessment of her claim to that office. On that score, one of the best deconstructions of that campaign I have seen can (and should) be viewed below.

At the time of publication, it appears Trump and Clinton are level pegging with 47.6% of the popular vote apiece, with the balance claimed by a raft of minor party candidates, although as counting concludes in the Democratic fortress of California, Clinton will likely edge Trump on this measure by about half a percentage point overall.

In the Electoral College — where it really matters — this translates into 310 of 538 votes for Trump to 228 for Clinton, as the Republican carried EC votes from 31 of the 50 states to Clinton’s 19 plus the District of Columbia.

It is, in EC terms, a convincing win that falls short of a landslide. The only real surprise is that the margin isn’t greater.

One of the points of interest I have noted is that of the seven extra states Trump won, six — Ohio, New Hampshire, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — are clustered in the north-east in and around the area variously described as “Hillary’s firewall” and the home of America’s liberal Left “elites.”

In other words, the Trump victory has been primarily fuelled by a rebellion against Clinton and the Democrats on what is to all intents and purposes their home turf: the only extra state he picked up elsewhere was Florida, whose 29 EC votes ultimately proved surplus to the required 270-vote threshold.

The notion Trump’s win was driven by a backlash against the Democrats in their heartland is further underlined by the fact almost every state the Democrats nevertheless carried in the immediate vicinity of those they lost — New York, Maine, Connecticut, to mention a few — were carried with significantly reduced margins.

There is a very clear message to politicians of the liberal Left — in and beyond the United States — and one that transcends the populist claptrap that at times characterised Trump’s campaign tactics: people are fed up with being told how to think, and act, and behave, or that someone else knows better than they do how to run their lives or spend their money, or that their country is the plaything for profit of a cabal of mostly unelected spivs legitimised by the fig leaf of an electoral endorsement obtained by gross deception.

This message (and its impact) has now been felt twice in Britain, once with the majority victory by the Conservative Party last year and subsequently in the Brexit referendum in June; it was a key reason for yesterday’s victory by Trump in the USA; and the prospect of sitting governments being turfed out in western Europe in favour of nationalist and/or conservative libertarian outfits is high, with the Front National in France a real chance to push the ruling Socialists out of contention in next year’s elections.

It is one that is quickly generating a backlash here in Australia, as people fed up with the finger-shaking agendas of an insiderish few profiting from the public purse, aimed at enshrining political correctness and hard socialism, find their voices in (for now) minor fringe parties.

If the Liberal Party rediscovers its proper role as the steward of the individual, freedom and respect for traditional institutions and values, it will prosper; but if it does not, the risk a new conservative force rooted in the mainstream rather than the far Right may usurp it is very real.

In other words, the forces that have led to the ascension of Trump are on the march across the Western world, as people react against the scam of “climate change,” the spectre of unlimited mass immigration, the prescriptive regulation of speech and thought, and the consequent destruction of everything that made their countries great to begin with.

Contrary to nightmare scenarios bandied about by Clinton and her cheer squad in global media — in increasingly shrill tones as election day drew nigh — the world will not end under President Trump, and the sky will not fall in; it is an obscene intellectual dishonesty to suggest otherwise, but in the US, Australia, Canada, Britain and elsewhere, it is fashionable for the Left to frame any conservative electoral mandate as the precursor to unmitigated social, economic (and in this case, military) destruction.

Ironically, the prospects for global conflict will recede after yesterday’s win by Trump; far from the a candidate with “inappropriate links” to Russia, Trump has demonstrated that he understands the need to ratchet tensions with the re-emergent superpower down.

In this sense, the so-called “bromance” he enjoys with Vladimir Putin appears likely to provide a circuit-breaker in US-Russia relations that would not have materialised under Clinton, who spent four years as Secretary of State giving every appearance of being as provocative toward Putin as possible, and whose campaign articulated a series of positions on Syria and the Middle East that seem contrived only to goad Russia into armed confrontation.

Global financial markets — which initially reeled on discovering compliant media reports assuring a Clinton victory were incorrect — will soon enough stabilise, as they did in the UK in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum.

And whilst some of America’s trading partners may be entitled to feel nervous about changes Trump says he will make — backed by majorities in both Houses of Congress, no less — the truth is that US interests have been badly damaged during eight years of spectacularly incompetent Democratic rule. Whilst the Trump prescription might not be perfect, the prospect the American economy can be revived under this new approach is at worst no less probable than anything Clinton might have attempted.

Significantly, Trump has made it clear that the relationship with Australia is a key priority for his incoming administration: to safeguard our own interests, Australian officials have been building bridges to the Trump camp for months, and media reports yesterday featuring senior US figures suggested these prove fruitful.

But in the end, yesterday’s election result — a vindication of the Trump message, however unorthodox — was really a judgement on the illiberalism and socialism and failed international and domestic strategies of a moribund Democratic Party.

After two eight-year administrations in less than 25 years, it is easy to forget that America’s Democrats have lost six of the past ten US elections and that a seventh — Bill Clinton’s first win in 1992 — might have ended very differently had Ross Perot not drained off 19% of the vote as a third-party candidate: a development widely acknowledged at the time as having cost the senior George Bush a second term in the White House.

And in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, the euphoria of initial victory was quickly displaced by deep unpopularity and electoral mauling as soon as mid-term elections fell due; in Clinton’s case, a second term was made a certainty only by exceedingly poor candidate selection by the Republicans.

In short, the US Democratic Party of the past 40 years isn’t the most successful outfit on the planet.

I was shocked to learn, flicking through Wikipedia at the weekend, that many prominent names at Democratic presidential selection contests 30 years ago have remained prominent for most of the time since; the current Vice-President, for example, initially sought the presidency in the 1980s.

And with an eye to the future, it seems a tall ask for the Democrats to be competitive in four years’ time, let alone be in any position to win.

Hillary Clinton’s candidacy was, in some respects, the last lunge by a patronage-addled, insiderish junta at an undeserved return to power in Washington; it has rightly been punished with defeat, and there are few credible names coming through that party’s ranks who might make plausible claims to the White House even after a further four years.

By contrast, the Republicans are blessed with fresh blood, with the likes of Scott Walker and Marco Rubio seemingly on the cusp of acting as standard bearers for a new era of American conservative politics.

I would be surprised if Trump seeks a second term in 2020, at the age of 74; whether he does or not, I suspect the axis of American politics is very much tilting away from the Democrats.

Either way — and whether he does or not — the onus is now on Trump to deliver on his rhetoric, and to make good his promise to “make America great again;” this project doesn’t start for another ten weeks, and until it does, I will reserve my judgement.

For Hillary Clinton, yesterday represented a brutal and thoroughly deserved humiliation, and a savage repudiation of everything she and her insidious cabal stands for; as I publish, Clinton has had neither the grace to publicly concede the election to Trump, nor the basic decency to address the American public or her long-suffering supporters. In defeat, Hillary Clinton has shown just how poor a champion she really is for the groups she claims to represent, and her actions remove any final vestiges of doubt that her only real agenda was power at literally any price.

America — and the world — are the poorer for the bruising and at times tasteless election campaign that concluded yesterday. It is Trump’s responsibility to now restore some decorum and prestige to institutions and processes that have been considerably tarnished.

But this election was destined to be lost by Hillary Clinton, who was born to lose any contest for the highest office in the United States at which she may have sought to slake her thirst for power and the imbecilic delusions of entitlement and public adulation that may have fed it.

In the end, this had nothing to do with oppressed women, or male dominance of spheres of influence, or the inherent “sexism” of the electorate, or any other bullshit with which the Left seeks to justify the failure of undesirable and contemptible candidates for high office.

Hillary Clinton has failed because the US public — weary of her after 40 years in public life, and contemptuous of her litany of scandals, fixes and other embarrassments — has finally decided to simply say “no.”

There is nobody else to blame. The result perfectly reflects her unfitness for office. Hillary Clinton emerges from this contest with precisely what she deserves, and that — literally — is absolutely nothing.


Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: A Spark To A Powderkeg

THE CRASH OF A MALAYSIA AIRLINES Boeing 777 over Ukraine — with all 295 passengers and crew killed — could very well be the spark that ignites the smouldering powderkeg in the uneasy confrontation between Russia and Ukraine; already, accusations and counter-accusations are flying, with both sides denying involvement. Depending on who shot the plane down, and whence the missile was launched, World War 3 may have started this morning.

For now, what we know has transpired overnight (Melbourne time) is that a Boeing 777, owned by Malaysia Airlines and operating flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, has crashed in Ukraine airspace, 56km east of Donetsk and 40km from the Ukraine-Russian border.

All 280 passengers and 15 crew aboard the 777 — their identities and nationalities presently unknown — are believed to have been killed. It goes without saying that I minute my deepest sympathies and condolences to the families, colleagues and friends of those who have perished. The crash of a commercial aircraft is an horrific event and can entail a terrible loss of life, and this event, clearly, is very much that.

But it seems clear these people have been murdered; at the time of writing (just after 3am in Melbourne, about an hour after the crash) the consensus of analysts and commentators is that the aircraft was shot down, most likely with a surface-to-air missile, and the ominously chilly situation between Ukraine and Russia lies at the heart of the disaster.

It is too early to draw any conclusions as to who may have been responsible, or even the type of weaponry used, although this incident follows the shooting down of a Ukrainian cargo plane some days ago — allegedly by pro-Russian separatists operating on Ukrainian soil — and the shooting down of a Ukrainian fighter plane the day before, allegedly by a missile fired from the Russian side of the Ukraine-Russia border.

The Boeing 777 was being tracked by air traffic control radar and was flying at 33,000 feet before the incident; the consensus among government and military analysts being featured in the overnight news feeds is that any missile capable of shooting down an aircraft at that altitude would need to be “a very sophisticated system;” The Telegraph in the UK is reporting the missile was a Soviet-era BUK surface-to-air missile, and if this is confirmed it raises questions as to who supplied it, where it was fired from, and by whom.

A shoulder-launched missile has been ruled out: such a weapon would have neither the range nor the accuracy to hit a target at such a high altitude.

Already, the Russians are blaming the Ukraine government in Kiev for the string of aviation incidents; the Ukraine government is blaming Moscow; and the role of the pro-Russian separatists remains unclear, although I have just seen US Senator John McCain on CNN pointing out that the head of the “separatists” in Ukraine is, in fact, a prominent Russian figure with links to the FSB.

The accusations and counter-accusations, finger-pointing, and apportioning of blame and denial that will now ensue is a fraught stage of what is a deadly escalation of an already dangerous situation — and a period in which any miscalculation or inflammatory gesture could provoke even more lethal consequences.

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke earlier in the day in relation to the first two planes shot down; at the time of writing it is not known what the two Presidents discussed. It is, however, widely speculated that Obama chided Putin over the vast quantity of Russian-made armaments that continue to flow across the border into Ukraine, and into the hands of the pro-Russian insurgents.

It was also made public at the weekend that some kind of terrorist attack in the region was being anticipated “imminently.”

But it is known that the West has been close to announcing a far tighter sanctions regime against Moscow in retaliation for its support for the pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine, and it had been widely speculated that even before this latest incident with the Malaysia Airlines plane, the situation between Ukraine and Russia has degenerated in recent weeks to now border on all-out war between the two countries.

Questions are being asked about why civilian airlines were continuing to operate passenger flights through a region so clearly at risk of posing dangers to the integrity of their aircraft; in the post-Soviet era many airlines have operated through Ukrainian airspace to cut some time off the journey to Europe and the UK, and one can only presume a misplaced sense of the risk factors involved is the explanation. Since the demise of MH17 Lufthansa has announced it will no longer fly through Ukrainian airspace and is set to be followed by similar announcements from a slew of other Western airlines, but I would make the observation that the horse has very clearly bolted on this issue.

The fact foreign civilians have now been murdered adds a new dimension to the Ukraine-Russia standoff, and adds a more ominous and sinister consideration to any military repercussions that might follow.

As I have noted, the nationalities of those on board MH17 is presently unknown; if there were Americans or Britons aboard the development would further strain already fraught relations between Russia and the West, and add to calls for the US and its allies to intervene despite Ukraine not being a member of the NATO bloc.

And whilst I am being deliberately circumspect as to who might have been responsible for this latest atrocity, or who I might believe to be so — it is too soon to make such pronouncements — if the investigations that have already started tie the Russian government to either the commission of the act of shooting down MH17 or supplying the weaponry and/or support to insurgents to enable them to do so, those fraught relations between the West and Russia will potentially escalate to boiling point.

Certainly, current reports are that the US military is already looking at the evidence available in relation to the shooting down of the Boeing 777 to ascertain whether responsibility for the act can be sheeted home to Russia in any way.

I will watch this over the next couple of days, and post again if and when I think it appropriate; I suggest readers keep an eye on my favourite mainline UK news sites here and here, both of which are providing a number of rolling, updating feeds on the plane crash and the political situation in Eastern Europe more broadly. There are, of course, plenty of other available resources, and I’m flipping between CNN and Sky UK on Foxtel as I write this as well.

It is to be hoped that whatever the washout from this disaster, that cool heads prevail; readers should make no mistake that the Ukraine/Russia flashpoint is one of the most dangerous military standoffs in the world today, and how this plays out very much has the potential to spiral out of control and into something very, very nasty indeed.

Simply stated, World War 3 might have started this morning; and whilst we are fervent in our hope that things never progress to something like that, it does now seem inevitable that at the very minimum, the situation between Ukraine and Russia is set to escalate into conflict. Any involvement of the USA in such a conflict just became a hell of a lot more probable.



China vs Japan, And Australia: Independence And Isolation Not The Same Thing

PRIME MINISTER Tony Abbott has enjoyed favourable press this week, with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe visiting to sign off on the free trade agreement between Australia and Japan; the visit has been interpreted by some through the prism of potential confrontation with China, and what consequent course of action would best serve this country. Independence and isolation are not the same thing; if Japan and China come to blows, a choice will have to be made.

I’ve been reading an article from yesterday’s Fairfax press by its resident international affairs columnist (and prominent academic) Hugh White; his basic premise is that in striking free trade agreements with Japan and signalling increased co-operation with the Japanese in a range of areas including trade, defence and investment Australia risks damaging its relations with China, and needless to say this is presented with a distinct undertone of suggestion that these developments are a very bad thing indeed.

Perhaps unsurprisingly (we are talking about Fairfax, after all) it is also presented with a distinct “Tony Abbott is stupid” flavour to it, too. I’m not criticising White for his views, mind; we’ve certainly discussed his material here in the past and whilst I disagree with him from time to time I also do concur just as frequently. On this occasion, however, I beg to differ.

My remarks will be somewhat more cursory than I would usually devote to such a complex issue; I’m writing this piece after 3am (Melbourne time) and for a raft of reasons haven’t had as much time for posting content in the past week, as readers will already know. So do forgive me if some of my points are a little simplified — the thrust of my case will remain clear enough.

I have long believed that at some stage, China and Japan will come to blows and that when they do, that conflict will pose a very real risk of escalating into a global war — possibly involving the use of nuclear weapons — rather than, say, a regionally contained naval spat over the disputed Senkaku/Diayou Islands. Such a conflict is the last thing I would wish for, and any escalation is the last thing I (or anyone else with their sanity intact) would ever want to see.

Much has been made recently of the centennial anniversary of the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and purported similarities between the political climate that existed across Eurasia at that time and the climate that exists there now, with the ongoing spat between Russia and Ukraine portrayed in some quarters as a potential ignition point for a conflict that could spiral out of control and drag the world to war again; I think that whilst anything is possible (and I’m not being flippant about it), those who concern themselves with such worries would be better advised to refocus their attention onto the situation that is unfolding in north-east Asia.

The parallels between the anniversary of the first World War and the current situation in the Pacific are striking, and not least because they involve a peace that has existed since the end of the second World War that, to be candid, has grown to appear a little wobbly, to put it diplomatically. Hugh White is absolutely correct in his assessment of the situation: China in recent years has started to throw its weight around in the region, and Japan — understandably, and perhaps predictably — has begun to move away from its post-war pacifism toward a military and security posture that allows for the active use of force in its own defence.

The Japanese occupation of parts of China between 1895 and 1945 — and the atrocities the occupying forces committed — continue to burn in the Chinese national psyche; on the Japanese side of the equation (as elsewhere in the world) the generation with direct memory of the second World War is ageing and literally dying. Even so, these two countries continue to regard each other with mutual suspicion and distrust, and whilst they will remain powerhouses economically for the foreseeable future, the military rise of China is unquestionable and that, too, will continue indefinitely.

Where I disagree with White — and remember, I’m an opinion writer on these matters, not an academic — is the unspoken but nonetheless undeniable suggestion he makes that somehow, Australia’s best interests would be served by not building closer ties to Japan, and remaining independent in the event of any conflict between Japan and China, as well as some of the other overt contentions he makes that conspire to show his position as a dangerous one indeed where considerations of the national interest are concerned.

And I’m not going to dignify his inference that Abbott is either too stupid or too incompetent to have “thought through” the implications of deeper ties with Tokyo with a rebuttal; such a cheap and baseless jab from a reputable figure doesn’t merit a response.

It is true that our country has almost limitless opportunities for trade with China. Almost every country does; China accounts for one-sixth of the world’s 7 billion people, and the sheer weight of numbers dictates that it has a large appetite for everything it can’t produce itself (which is most of what its people actually need to survive). This extends far beyond mineral ores to food, oil, motor vehicles, services like education, and beyond.

Even so, in peacetime I think it’s dangerous to “safeguard” opportunities with one country — irrespective of how lucrative the opportunities it appears to present might be — by limiting those with others. In the trade and bilateral relations sense, Japan is no different to other countries in the region with which Australia has burgeoning opportunities, such as Vietnam, Malaysia, South Korea and the Philippines.

Coincidentally or otherwise, these are also countries with which China is engaged in a series of dangerous territorial spats as it lays claim to most of the South China and East China Seas, and specifically to disputed lands, speculated oil fields and other resources these areas are believed to contain.

I don’t think Japan — in building stronger ties with Australia — is looking, as White contends, to gather allies to Japan’s side to join it in any future conflict with China; it doesn’t have to, for the United States is obliged to defend Japan should it ever come under military attack, just as it is to defend Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines and (let’s be blunt about it) Australia.

This leads to his other contention — that America appears reluctant to confront China on Japan’s behalf — which is true in the sense that America has no incentive, as at today’s date, to do anything of the kind.

America is faced with the same endless opportunities for trade and bilateral ties with China that most countries are: there is no point in Uncle Sam cutting his nose off to spite his face in the name of a pre-emptive warning over military mischief and sabre rattling that has amounted, in precise terms, to absolutely nothing to date.

China can indulge itself with belligerent gestures and bellicose rhetoric, vague threats of this or that, or even ridiculous gestures of passive aggression (such as its attempt to enforce an air exclusion zone over parts of the territory it disputes with Japan) to its heart’s content. America, and other interested countries, will rightly monitor these activities and develop contingencies against a range of potential escalations or outcomes. But until a nuclear-armed country with more than a billion people actually commits an act of aggression against a US protectorate like Japan, the Americans aren’t going to lift a finger. And, to be clear, nor should they.

White bemoans the “division of Asia into hostile blocs” and rhetorically asks whether it is in Australia’s interests to contribute to that. The fact is, however, that Asia is already divided into hostile blocs — basically, China in one bloc and the rest of the region, with a few exceptions, in the other — and nothing Australia does will alter or influence that. We need to remember that whilst Australia is respected on the world stage as a “middle power,” others will make their own strategic decisions in their own interests . China is the clearest example of this the world has seen for a very long time.

Whilst I have commented on these matters before I am generally reluctant to do so, because the last thing I want to be is either alarmist or to sound like a conspiracy theorist: I am neither. But when discussions such as this arise, they do warrant a hypothetical consideration of what the course of events might look like if the worst case scenario were to materialise.

None of this matters, in a literal sense, for as long as the security balance that currently exists remains unchanged. But for the sake of the conversation, what would happen if China were to occupy the Senkaku Islands?

This would, in fact, constitute an act of war and an attempt to seize the territory of Japan; it may or may not in itself lead to an outbreak of hostilities, but to make the point I wish to make, let’s assume it does.

In this eventuality, the US’ “reluctance” to confront China will immediately move from “perceived” to non-existent. As the US becomes entwined in the conflagration it will be dependent on facilities it shares with Australia that are based on our own soil for its military machine to operate effectively, accurately, and to minimise US and Japanese battle casualties.

And — as I have pointed out in the past — Russia is likely to come to China’s aid militarily, especially if the latter is faced with the prospect of nuclear conflict: China may possess nuclear weapons but their use is largely limited to its own neighbourhood, meaning in this case, Japan. Its capacity to hit US targets is limited to its submarine forces. But the involvement of the Russian strategic forces changes the equation completely.

And in that event, the importance of facilities such as Pine Gap to the US military would be absolutely critical — not that they wouldn’t be so at a far lower level of military engagement.

Yes, this is a doomsday scenario and a nightmare prospect, but the point is that a conflict over a few lumps of rock could easily escalate into exactly this situation. World War I was ignited by a peasant assassinating an aristocrat in Serbia. To dismiss the Senkaku/Diayous as worthless specks of granite that are too insignificant to start a war over is to ignore that a single political assassination 100 years ago provided the spark that set Germany at war with the rest of the world. And the generation of Japanese who directly remember what such a conflict (and its consequences) was like to endure is decrepit and dwindling in number.

If this scenario were to materialise, who would care about trade relationships with China? There would be no point worrying about offending China because we would be at war with it anyway — unless misguided pacifism and misplaced ideas about “independence” manage to stop Australia honouring its treaty commitments to the US.

Independence and isolation are not the same thing; it is one thing to desire that wars do not happen — I think we all hope for that — but another matter altogether to think that when they do, it is appropriate to run out on our mates and hide in the toilet while all hell breaks loose outside the bathroom.

If such a conflict were to erupt, we would need the Americans to defend us; this is a fact dictated by our small, conventional military forces weighed against the might of the Chinese and Russian goliaths. The presence of US military forces on Australian soil makes any pretence of neutrality or “independence” moot. We would be a target.

And provided there was actually a world left once the shooting had stopped, we’d need the US to guarantee our safety — for the same reasons. Proclaiming our “independence” and doing nothing is a recipe for post-war isolation, and if it ever came to pass would leave Australia vulnerable to invasion and conquest.

As unpalatable as it might sound, if China and Japan come to blows, this country will have to choose: China or America. This is what it boils down to. And if the choice (God forbid) ever has to be made, then the only logical side to take is the side of the USA, Japan, and like-minded partners and allies across the free world — irrespective of the riches that otherwise beckon as fruits of trade relations with a China that we remain mute to avoid offending.

And in turn, this is why what Abbott and his government have been working towards on trade with Japan — irrespective, but cognisant, of the peripheral issues and their attendant risks — is not only the right thing to do, but it should be encouraged, not chastised.




Chinese Military Mischief: One Slip Can Trigger Conflict

A DISTURBING ISSUE that we have intermittently watched in this column concerns the belligerent military aspirations of China, and its potential to spark a conflict that could spiral out of control; recent developments make that threat greater than ever, and it is imperative China not be appeased.

The last time we checked in on what was going on in China was almost a year ago; far from being deserving of ridicule to at least keep an eyebrow raised toward the region, it seems the latest developments from China validate the concern this issue has elicited.

At the very least, it makes the assessments and analysis featured both in my article at the time and through the material I linked to pertinent now.

As China watchers and others with an interest in foreign affairs know, China’s recent unilateral declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) — whereby all planes passing through must notify China in advance, file a flight plan, state the purpose of the flight and use a transponder for the duration of the period flown in the zone — has been ignored by the US military and by other countries which have followed suit.

And China has not been backward in issuing official rebukes and reprimands wherever and whenever it believes compliance and/or support should be forthcoming.

This article, from Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, outlines how China has scrambled fighter jets to “investigate” movements through the airspace in question by aircraft refusing to comply with its demands; chief among them have been those from the US and Japan.

Australia, officially, has backed the right of the USA and Japan to ignore China’s new ADIZ; I believe this is exactly the proper stance to take, given our support of traditional key allies and considering that the airspace in question is otherwise universally regarded (except, perhaps, by the Russians, whose position is not known) as open international airspace.

The airspace also covers an area which is the subject of territorial claims by a number of countries in the region: China and Japan aside, the Taiwanese and South Koreans also have claims over parts of the area, as do — further afield — Vietnam and the Philippines.

It seems clear that given the intransigence of many of these territorial claims, the most sensible course of action is to maintain the status quo in the interests of regional balance, peace, and security.

But Australia has been on the receiving end of one of China’s rebukes for the position it has adopted: this country has made “an error” which must be “corrected,” according to Beijing; the spectre of downgraded trade relations between the two countries has also been dangled by China as a menacing additional layer of threat, lest it gets what it wants.

A rather wan justification for China’s actions in declaring an ADIZ at all is that other countries — it cites Europe as an example — have them, so why should China be treated any differently?

The big difference, of course, is that European countries are not at present eyeing off each other’s territory, nor taking even elementary steps to claim or annex it.

China, on the other hand, claims Taiwan; it has already reclaimed Macau and Hong Kong; and it lays claim to vast tracts of land and sea (and now air) across south-east Asia, around the East China Sea, the South China Sea and beyond.

It is known — as readers will see from the article I linked to and the links contained therein — that many of the countries affected by China’s claims are deeply concerned at both Beijing’s motives and the prospect of China attempting to seize any or all of the territory it claims by force.

All of the components of a powderkeg have been assembled; one spark will detonate it.

Already, the US government has passed a number of resolutions condemning China’s territorial ambitions, and pledging to support the Philippines and Vietnam in particular in the face of hostile action by China in relation to disputed lands.

This is additional to the much closer alliances that already exist between the USA and Japan and South Korea and, indeed, Australia.

The rhetoric from Beijing over its territorial ambitions has grown increasingly strident and bellicose in recent years; developments such as the ADIZ around islands disputed by China and Japan — and the belligerent noise to go with it — increases that stridency further.

A rising tide of Chinese nationalism — perhaps the greatest threat to the ruling Communist Party — is pushing Beijing to take a far harder line than it has to date; at some point, tough words may well be backed by tough action simply to protect the regime on its home flank.

And — as readers will see from the Telegraph article provided — China has already stated it will be “escorting” aircraft through the ADIZ it has decreed, without co-operation or consent from its neighbours; even if its promise not to shoot at these aircraft is genuine, the fact such a prospect has been mentioned at all is worrying — to say the least.

It really boils down to two key points — and neither of them is particularly satisfactory.

One, that to comply with China’s demands and edicts over a sector of international airspace is, to be brutal about it, appeasement; to cave in to such demands now, in an area subject to territorial claims, is to invite further such adventures from China until it demands something the West can’t or won’t concede.

The management of Hitler and his demands by the Allies in the 1930s is an excellent template of where such an exercise in appeasement might end.

And two — appeasement or not — China’s actions, and its malevolent lecturing of those countries ignoring its baseless demands, has ratcheted up an already high temperature in the region; it generates a risk of military confrontation between the USA and China that is potentially one stray shot at a US or allied aircraft from reality.

So much for the scary hypothetical I was accused of canvassing previously. It could happen deliberately, or in a misunderstanding, but it could happen — and escalate — very quickly.

The consequences, in the true sense of the word, would be dire.

And for those who laughed when I posed the question about which side of the fence Australia would land on if conflict between the USA and China ever occurred, perhaps a little more sober thought about such questions is due now China is, undeniably, throwing its weight around — with an obvious intention to do some damage in the process.

Should it ever eventuate, then trying to walk with one foot on either side of the proverbial barbed wire fence — as Joh Bjelke-Petersen once famously said — would be extremely uncomfortable indeed.


Deadly Joke: Rudd Postures On Syria And G20

IF KEVIN RUDD — on the sham pretext of mock concern over the spiralling situation in Syria — goes to the G20 summit in Russia next week, it deserves to drive the final nail into his government’s coffin; grandstanding by Rudd will achieve nothing, and there is more at stake than his ego-obsessed image.

The problem with a pompous, egomaniacal, self-obsessed and narcissistic cretin is that he or she will typically turn up to the opening of an envelope; when that cretin is Kevin Rudd, there is no limit — or safeguard — on exactly what he might do.

Rudd has for months hankered after attending the G20 summit in St Petersburg on 5 September, ostensibly to accept the rotating presidency of the forum on Australia’s behalf: a jaunt he indicated, reluctantly, had been ruled out by the date of the imminent election.

However, word is circulating — in the aftermath of the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons on its citizens, and ahead of what seems a likely retaliatory military strike by the United States — that Rudd is again contemplating making the eleventh-hour trip.

And why? To avail the G20 of his particular talents and wisdom in the field of international diplomacy. Seriously.

(Those who haven’t been following the situation can get some background here and here).

I simply point out that at some point Rudd has got to either abandon this ridiculous pursuit of slaking of his ego, or have someone — the electorate on 7 September — do it for him.

One of the more fortuitous consequences of Labor’s increasingly likely defeat in nine days’ time is that this lunatic, with his penchant for traipsing around the world making a fool of both himself and this country, will be involuntarily restrained from ever doing so again in the name of the Commonwealth of Australia and/or its citizens.

Which is just as well, because what is going on in Syria at present is no joke.

Far from it.

For the first time in decades, the West (in the classic sense) — the US and its allies, such as the UK, France, and others — appear certain to militarily strike a country with close ties to and a deep alliance with Russia.

It is inarguable that any use of chemical weapons (or any other weapons of mass destruction, for that matter) represents a moral outrage and an absolute expression of human barbarism that cannot and should not go unpunished.

The problem is that Russia is sticking close to the besieged al-Assad regime in Syria; publicly, it denies that any use of chemical weapons has even taken place, and has given every indication thus far that it is prepared to defend its ally.

Ominously, Syria — along with Iran — was nominated by Russian Prime Minister Dimity Medvedev last year, when he was President, as a global flashpoint from which any military conflict could escalate into a nuclear war. We talked about this at the time.

This isn’t kid glove stuff, or a game; it’s real, earnest, and potentially lethal.

If there is any substance to the rumours that Rudd is considering using it as the pretext to attend at G20, I think fundamental questions must be asked of his suitability for office.

I don’t seriously think there is much likelihood of Russia responding to a Western attack on Syria with the use of nuclear weapons, just to be clear on the point.

But it has persistently and consistently warned of unspecified “catastrophic consequences” that would follow any US-led military strike on Syria; and over the past few years generally — and especially since the return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin last year — the general tone of Russia’s communications with the West has grown decidedly more bellicose.

It is also well known that relations between Putin and Barack Obama are frosty, to say the least, and have been for some time.

None of this, of course, should dissuade the West from intervening; reliance on the United Nations Security Council — a forum long used by Russia and China to flex their muscles and frustrate the US — for authorisation to act would seem an abject waste of time.

Some would interpret my remark on the UNSC as tantamount to the advocacy of a flagrant disregard for international law, and they are entitled to their view.

But the fact remains that in an increasingly multipolar world, the United Nations has to a large degree passed its use-by date, and any body of “law” that would shield a regime that uses chemical weapons on its own people — if only by virtue of a vote of veto by one of its members, acting in its vested interests — is morally obsolete anyway.

Whether the US launches a strike on Syria or not, and what (if any) retaliatory measures the Russians undertake, will occur irrespective of anything Australia says or does.

Which brings me back to Kevin Rudd.

Anyone whose only possible path to re-election seems to be to lie (and lie blatantly) about his opponent’s policies can hardly be deemed a fit or proper person to engage in diplomacy on Australia’s behalf and on such a delicate issue; there goes one justification.

Rudd’s foreign minister, Bob Carr, has in any case ruled out any possibility of committing Australian troops to a US-led military effort; there goes another.

And there is no case to justify Rudd’s attendance in St Petersburg on account of Australia’s recent elevation to a temporary seat on the UN Security Council: the G20 has nothing to do with the United Nations, and in any case, even if it did, Australia would play an insignificant role indeed in any proceedings of real consequence.

The simple fact is that Rudd — if he goes to Russia — will have decided to use the dreadful events of the past week in Syria, and the attendant prospective consequences of their aftermath, to justify one more ride in the VIP RAAF jet, and for no better reason than to get some footage into the evening news in Australia a few hours before polling booths open.

Frankly, in those circumstances, Rudd would prove once and for all what a contemptible specimen he is; at a time of international crisis and the real danger of a wider conflagration, that such a cheap stunt would motivate simpering expressions of concern and talk of “helping” to justify the field trip would be reprehensible, to say the least.

Perhaps Rudd might reason that if he’s in Russia, he’d be spared the ignominy of having to make an embarrassing concession speech when — as seems increasingly certain — the ALP loses on 7 September, and loses very badly indeed.

Even so, this is an abominable idea of the lowest conceivable order, and — should he pursue it — then Rudd deserves, politically at least, to be absolutely crucified.

A Word On The Boston Bombings

The Red And The Blue wishes to minute its  sympathy and condolences to the families of those killed, and to those injured, in the disgusting and cowardly attack on runners in the Boston marathon; it is to be hoped the FBI and other federal authorities in the US locate — and punish — the perpetrators.

I simply want to say that any terrorist attack is an outrage, and especially when innocent civilians are wantonly maimed or killed.

But to target a civilian sporting event — and one traditionally involving heavy participation by families and children — is particularly appalling.

At the time of writing, the identity of the individuals/group/country that might be responsible is unknown; indeed, local Police and other authorities will continue their pursuit of the culprit/s, and we will no doubt know who they are soon enough.

But this short post is unconcerned with the filth who committed this heinous attack; we pray for the victims and their families and hope — God willing — that the truth of the matter is uncovered in due course, and that some sense is able to be made of today’s tragic events for everybody involved and affected.