Friday, July 20, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Trump disorder
Our foreign policy needs to catch up to these unstable times


Is the whole US-led international order unravelling? “Yes!”, or so the former US ambassador to Moscow, Jack Matlock, told ABC’s RN Breakfast in a fascinating segment this morning. It was a jolt, as Matlock was defending US President Donald Trump’s desire to re-establish a better relationship with Russia, and believes NATO divides Europe and is obsolete.

Matlock’s blunt observation underlines the speech given in London this week by Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, who said the international rules-based order put together after World War Two was facing its greatest test, bigger than the Cold War, and that a lot of it was down to Donald Trump’s “unorthodox”, “disruptive” diplomacy. Shadow foreign minister Penny Wong spoke midweek about the need for a “global rethink”. Although neither made a sharp critique of US foreign policy in terms that would get through to the president, it seems that Trump’s ability to offend allies, combined with his fawning over strongmen, is forcing the creeping realisation that Australia is already out on its own.

Matlock, who was ambassador at the end of the Cold War, questioned the very notion of a liberal international order, pointing out that in 1981, when the Russians were in Afghanistan, he was able to give a televised address saying that there was no American soldier in combat anywhere in the world. “We have more wars now than we had at height of cold war,” Matlock said. “This is what’s behind so much of the malaise in US politics; we seem to be fighting in the middle of everybody else’s wars, not winning any of them. True, Obama didn’t expand them, but he didn’t get us out.” The US had itself undermined the rules-based order, Matlock said, by bombing Serbia and invading Iraq without UN sanction, and Russia was only following the US precedent when it annexed Crimea.

Speaking at the Australia-United Kingdom ministerial talks in London, Bishop said Australia would have urged Russia to accept responsibility for MH17, urged America to settle its trade grievances before the World Trade Organisation, and was sceptical of any denuclearisation breakthrough in Trump’s hyped-up meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. “We have been down this road before,” she said.

Bishop cited the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear treaty, the Paris climate change agreement and the UN’s Human Rights Council as evidence of its changing international role. “Our closest ally and the world’s most powerful nation is being seen as less predictable and less committed to the international order it pioneered,” Bishop said. “[There is an] increasing tendency for nations to take a one-sided, unilateral approach to some of their international interests, including economic interests. The US is now favouring a more disruptive, often unilateral foreign trade policy that has hardened anxiety about its commitment to the rules-based order that it established, protected and guaranteed.” Would that kind of language register in Washington nowadays? Bishop said she would “make my views known” at next week’s annual AUSMIN talks in San Francisco.

At a speech to Sydney’s US Studies Centre on Wednesday, Penny Wong warned that the rise of China and the policies of the Trump administration meant there was “more competition and less cooperation” in our region. Having recently returned from Washington, Wong noted Trump’s “mixed messages” in Europe, and said the world was “rethinking how best to work with the US”. Unlike the US, Australia had to “prioritise trade and engagement with other markets”, Wong said, and wanted a system where “rules not power determine actions and outcomes” rather than “hegemony which neither safeguards sovereignty nor respects difference”. Australia and others in the region must ensure “the US recognises that it is integral to the region” because as “the world’s only current global power [it] has a stabilising role to play in Asia”. That was as sharp as it got.

Last year, defence expert Hugh White, author of Without America, warned that Australia had to “stop assuming that America is going to be dominating Asia forever and is going to keep on keeping us safe the way they have in the past. China’s power is now so great, and its resolve, its ambition to dominate Asia is now so strong, and America, particularly under Trump, is so much weaker than it used to be, that we have to start expecting that America will cease to be a significant player in Asia. This is the biggest shift in Australia’s international environment, probably in our history, certainly for many decades.”

There are important qualifications: as Australian Institute of International Affairs expert Melissa Conley Tyler told RN this morning, future historians will see much continuity between the Obama and Trump administrations; and, as Hugh White told Fairfax’s Peter Hartcher earlier this week, the US can preserve its edge over China if it maintains its Western allegiances. Yet, given events over the past week, White’s words in Without America have taken on new urgency, and our foreign policy does not seem to have caught up.

since this morning

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has hit back [$] at critics of his comments about African crime gangs in Melbourne. Dutton has identified politicians, including Greens MP Adam Bandt and Victorian premier Daniel Andrews, as being “the problem in Victoria”. Last night The Project’s Waleed Aly accused government politicians of “not being honest” about African youth crime.

A Turkish court has rejected Australia’s request to extradite Islamic State terrorist Neil Prakash in a shock ruling that could see him released from jail unless Turkey decides to prosecute him.

In Inside Story, Tim Colebatch writes that electricity prices have risen far more in the east coast cities, where the National Electricity Market operates, than in Perth and Darwin, where it doesn’t. And the more privatised a city’s electricity system, the more prices have risen.


In an exclusive, BuzzFeed has reported that NSW Labor has commissioned an investigation of federal Labor MP Emma Husar after a number of former staff made complaints against her. The Australian reports [$] that the accusations include claims that she told a male staff member to do her dishes so he could learn about “white male privilege”.

Labor is increasingly confident [$] of retaining the Queensland marginal seat of Longman, depriving Malcolm Turnbull of a by-election victory that would undermine Bill Shorten’s leadership.

Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge has warned that Australia is veering towards a “European separatist multicultural model”, signalling a rethink of immigration processes that could include a “values test” for those considering permanent residency.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called on the Pope to “sack” Adelaide’s Catholic Archbishop, Philip Wilson.

by Anwen Crawford
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This remake of the 1980 classic insists on the connections between musical traditions

by Kate Holden
Taking stock of #MeToo
How do we make sense of such a complex movement?

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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