One hundred years since the United States entered the Great War, some comments on foreign and defence options

Updated 18 April 2017: Gareth Evans at the National Press Club (podcast and summary).

Updated 17 April 2017: More from James O’Neill in Pearls and Irritations.

Updated 14 April 2017: Mike Head on the World Socialist Web Site.

Updated 13 April 2017: Richard Butler in Pearls and Irritations. Michael McKinley in Pearls and Irritations.

Updated 10-11 April 2017: three dissenting (but by no means mutually echoing) views about Syria: Ramesh Thakur in Pearls and Irritations; Patrick Lang, ex-DIA (US defence intelligence), in Gosint blog; Ray McGovern, ex-CIA, also in Gosint. Plus one of a number of reports on President Trump’s alleged holding of shares in Raytheon, makers of Tomahawk missiles. More dissent from James O’Neill on Pearls and Irritations.

One hundred years ago today, 7 April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. While not suggesting that today’s US action against Syria has any more than superficial resemblance to that action a century ago, the coincidence may well cause some people to mutter phrases like ‘plus ça change …’ or ‘history repeats …’. (Some other comparisons.) Rather than pursue that line further – let’s settle for the continuing relevance of chance, coincidence and serendipity in history – we link to three items from outside the mainstream media that are relevant to Australian dealings with the rest of the world. Together, they provide some angles that the MSM is unlikely to address, as we wait for what happens next. (A guess from a former Obama administration official. The World Socialist Web Site suggests that the US bombing marks the start of a new push for global hegemony.)

President_Wilson_1919-bw.tifPresident Wilson (Wikipedia)

Earlier this week, Tom Hyland, former senior writer on foreign affairs for Fairfax, had a piece in Inside Story noting how anal about secrecy was the Australian Defence Force during the 2003 Iraq involvement (and since), but also how assiduous about pursuing a pointless ‘humanitarian mission’ it became when there seemed to be a public relations pay-off. Hyland’s piece adds another layer to David Wroe’s worthy (but hardly noticed) article on Albert Palazzo’s evidence-based analysis of the Iraq fiasco, an analysis released in heavily redacted form, then bagged by the head of the ADF that commissioned it.

The current CDF’s predecessor but two in that post was centrally involved in the events analysed by Hyland. He is now Governor-General. Hyland’s piece also brings out, first, the care exercised by the Howard government to have the highest profile involvement possible with the least chance of politically damaging casualties and, secondly, the reluctance of the current CDF to talk to Senators about the strategic objectives of the Australian adventure in Iraq.

Today, barrister and foreign policy analyst James O’Neill claims on the Pearls and Irritations blog that the media has misrepresented events in Syria. A key sentence is this: ‘In all the fury mounted against the Assad government for their alleged conduct, no one has raised a single plausible reason why the Syrian government would risk such international condemnation for so little military benefit’. O’Neill goes on to complain that the geopolitical context of action against Syria, particularly to do with oil and gas interests, gets insufficient coverage in Australia.

Thirdly, also on Pearls and Irritations, is an article by Annette Brownlie of the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) on keeping Australia out of US wars.  Brownlie is seeking supporters for a statement directed towards this objective. Part of the statement reads as follows:

We demand the Australian government stop spending millions of dollars of people’s taxes on U.S. wars, buying their offensive military equipment (eg. F35 Joint Strike Fighters and killer drones) and hosting marines in Darwin. We call on the government to re-direct public funds to public health, education, community services, developing sustainable manufacturing industries and protection of the environment.

McYZqda-President Trump (Twitter)

If Syria hots up – which it may do, even before President Trump’s reputed short attention span cuts in – this statement will gain added resonance. One peripheral question remains: given the role of the current Governor-General in the Iraq machinations in 2003, will he have more of a say in any renewed Australian involvement in Syria than his hapless predecessor had regarding Iraq in 2003?

Pearls and Irritations is wrangled by former senior public servant, John Menadue, who is one of Honest History’s distinguished supporters. While visiting the P&I site, you might also like to look at the articles by Nick Bisley on whether we can live with a nuclear North Korea (previously in The Conversation), Mark Beeson on the inadvisability of nationalist tub-thumping in dangerous times, and Sue Wareham on how the ‘independent’ Australian Strategic Policy Institute (headed by regular TV talking head Peter Jennings) is sponsored by arms manufacturers.

While we are talking foreign policy, note that The Honest History Book includes a chapter by Alison Broinowski called ‘Australia’s tug of war: Militarism versus independence’. Broinowski concludes as follows:

In 2017 the Trump presidency presents an unprecedented opportunity for Australia to reassess its foreign and defence policies. No certainty exists – if it ever did – that the United States will defend Australia against attack. It therefore becomes more necessary than ever for Australia to pursue its own interests independently, to build closer interaction with our Asian neighbours, and to negotiate ways to diffuse tensions, particularly with China.

David Stephens

7 April 2017 updated

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