Thursday, July 12, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

NATO Trumped
Australia, like Europe, should chart its own course


Donald Trump’s alarming wrecking-ball diplomacy in Europe overnight and the trade war escalation with China last Friday pose an increasingly urgent question for Australia: should we unhitch our wagon from the US and assert a more independent foreign policy? Trump is trashing institutions and allegiances that have underpinned Australia’s security and prosperity since World War Two, with no apparent plan for what comes next. From China and North Korea, to Iran and Israel–Palestine, to Europe and Russia, Trump seems willing to crash or crash through with reckless disregard for the consequences for his own country, much less close allies like the UK, Canada or Australia.

Former NATO policy chief Fabrice Pothier told the ABC there was nothing new in Trump’s demands that Europe double its defence spending, nor even his complaint that Germany is “captive to Russia”, which it depends on for energy (an accusation rejected firmly by Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in the former East Germany and knows about captivity). Trump was not totally wrong, Pothier said, but he refused to think beyond his criticisms, rendering them destructive, not constructive. “He is more comfortable with autocrats than with fellow democrats,” Pothier said. “It is very important to maintain that community of democracies which Australia, for example, but also Japan and South Korea are part of, and Trump is driving a wedge right in the middle of that community.” Pothier rejects the view that Trump is simply transactional, arguing that his views are deeply ideological and go back to the ’80s. “He doesn’t like multilateral organisations and he doesn’t like mainstream politics, and this is why he’s going after Europe and [especially] Germany, so I think this is a pretty difficult patch, and my only advice to the European leaders is you have to get closer to the other democracies like Australia and Japan to strengthen whatever is left of the democratic world order.”

In this interview with The Guardian to promote her book Fascism: A Warning, former US Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton Madeleine Albright stops short of using the F-word to describe Trump but does label him “evil-smart” and “the first anti-democratic president in modern US history”. Albright calls Trump’s attacks on the institutions of liberal society such as the judiciary and the media “Outrageous ... it was Stalin who talked about the press being the enemy of the people”. The president also acts, she told The Guardian, as though he’s above the law. She added that he lies without shame, threatens to jail political competitors, foments bigotry, lavishes admiration on autocrats like Putin and by doing so encourages the worldwide drift to authoritarianism. She warns that Trump is playing straight into the hands of Putin, who “has a larger agenda which is to separate us from our allies and it begins by separating central and eastern Europe from western Europe”.

Another former US secretary of state, onetime Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, similarly asked: “President Trump makes public adversaries out of our friends, and turns our adversary, who has been attacking America’s democracy, into his fawned-over ally. Why?”

The NATO alliance remains intact for now, issuing this communique aimed at Russia, but Trump’s signal achievement around the rest of the world so far appears to be chaos. New York Magazine writes that he has withdrawn America from the Paris climate accord (effective 2020), failed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (the parties are reportedly barely talking) and threatened to pull out of the World Trade Organization. He has also walked away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the seven-party Iran nuclear deal formerly blocking Tehran’s progress towards a nuclear weapon. (“What did those two agreements have in common?” asks New York Magazine. “They were brand-spanking-new Obama projects, not ensconced in years of policy-making tradition.”) Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem has provoked huge unrest, including the killing of hundreds of Palestinian protesters at the Gaza border. His much-hyped deal with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un appears to be already unravelling.

Then there’s trade, with the US imposing tariffs on US$34 billion worth of imports from China last week, after months of bluster. As former Trump adviser Steve Bannon told the SMH’s Peter Hartcher this week, “I can’t emphasise Friday night enough – it was the day that President Trump stood up for the American worker.”

In The Australian on Monday, Alan Kohler pointed out [$] that the implications for Australia could be dire: Trump wants to eliminate China’s trade surplus with the US, about a third of which comes our way via commodities trade, and about a third of which lands in our tax coffers. “[Trump] thinks trade deficit equals loss and surplus equals gain, and it seems no one wants to tell him he’s completely wrong, and that the only ‘theft’ going on is his, of rational thought … Trump, like Napoleon and Hitler, is fighting on several fronts at once, including against allies like Canada and Europe. And the last triumphant deal Trump announced – the one with Kim Jong-un in Singapore just a month ago – is already coming unstuck.”

How long will Australia continue to play the loyal and uncritical friend?

since this morning

The Australian reports [$] that after three-and-a-half years in the job John Fraser will resign as Treasury secretary at the end of this month. He will be replaced by Scott Morrison’s former chief of staff, Philip Gaetjens.

The independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority has cleared [$] former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce and his partner Vikki Campion of breaching the travel rules, because it has accepted their explanations for abnormal travel patterns.

Greg Jericho writes in The Guardian that new data from the ABS shows that the jobs surge is partly due to workers taking second jobs to make ends meet.

in case you missed it

Sixty thousand sheep destined for live export to Kuwait will remain in Australia indefinitely, Fairfax Media reports, after the suspension of a second licence belonging to the embattled Emanuel Exports. 

The ATO has flagged a crackdown on work expenses, cash payments in the black economy and property claims as millions of workers lodge their tax returns this month. The ATO estimates that about $8 billion in tax is lost every year through illegitimate claims on tax returns.

Interviewed about yesterday’s ACCC report into electricity prices, shadow energy minister Mark Butler told the ABC’s RN Breakfast this morning that “coal ideologues in the Coalition party room have effectively hijacked what is quite an important serious recommendation and pretended this is going to deliver new coal into the system”. He added: “They’re dreaming and they haven’t read the report properly.”

by Rachel Perkins
Songs to live by
The Arrernte Women’s Project is preserving vital songs and culture

by Richard Cooke
Tired of Winning
Political poison: EPA head Scott Pruitt leaves Washington
The agency chief was not the only person to equate luxury with security

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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