human behavior

Australia spurns America?

Posted in American Culture & Politics by humanb on December 8, 2006

The Australian leads today’s paper with an article entitled “We spurn US on new Iraq role”. The article reports:

Australia has turned down a request from the Bush administration to “embed” Australian army troops with Iraqi units as the US-led coalition moves to recast its military presence in the war-torn country….The Pentagon’s proposal would involve placing small numbers of Australian soldiers in Iraqi units in a training role to help lift their overall operational capability.

Australian Defense Secretary Brendan Nelson responded to the request made by Donald Rumsfeld, saying that Australia had significant military responsibilities in its own region of the South Pacific, as well as the domestic priority of growing its defence forces.

The article also claims that Australia has concerns for the safety of its troops in such a new role.

First, I don’t think this could be called “spurning” the United States. There is no ‘rejection with disdain or contempt’ here. And Australia’s response now, does not represent its definitive stance on the issue.

What Australia is doing in rejecting the request, is clearly asserting its foreign policy independence, and communicating to the United States that friendship does not equal acquiescence. This rejection will no doubt be welcome in many quarters of the Australian left and right.

I think this initial rejection a very healthy development for the US-Australia relationship, in so far as it may begin to restore a healthier balance of power in the relationship. Australia must speak its mind and use its leverage with confidence, for both countries’ benefit.

However, as party to the initial invasion of Iraq, and the inept strategy for that invasion, Australia needs better reasons than “it’s dangerous” and “we have other responsibilities” to disengage from Iraq, or to reduce its role and contribution in proportion to the increase in chaos on the ground (both Federal Opposition desires).

It also needs a better reason not to specifically embed troops. It needs to argue for it being an ineffectual strategy on its own, or a poor use of Australia’s limited defense forces in Iraq, or the right idea, but at too early a stage given the increase in sectarian violence.

“You broke it, you fix it” applies to Australia too. That’s what happens when you fail to voice your objections, use your leverage, and reject requests, until after the bodies start piling up.

I never liked the word “loyal” to describe Australia or Britain with regards to the United States. Dogs are loyal. It always suggests an imbalance of power – not in the world (which is the reality with the US being the only superpower) – but in the alliance, which need not be the case. I have used the word before to describe Australia’s relationship to the US, because it seemed an unfortunate accuracy.

But the nature of Australia’s friendship with the US is secondary at this stage. I am much more concerned with what kind of friend both countries decide to be to Iraq.


One Response

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  1. Leinad said, on December 9, 2006 at 3:11 pm

    What is this ‘we’? ‘We’ didn’t spurn nuffink – Nelson did. Thank God for the ‘Australian’, it’ll go to the bizarre length of trying to smear an entire nation with this crime of ‘spurning’ the US rather than acknowledge the Howard Govt. isn’t so keen on getting too involved in Iraq.

    The Oz article runs the risk of pointing out that our troops in Iraq are hardly playing a ‘crucial’ role in anything, let alone combatting the insurgency – a point essentially lost on the Aus pundit class and never enunciated to the Australian people. We have 450-odd guys in a relatively quiet Shi’ite province training the next wave of Shi’ite militia^H^H^H^H^H^the “Iraqi Army”, miles from the bloodbath in Baghdad or the “Sunni Triangle” (which is more like a rectangle and contains millions of Shi’ites) – they could pack up tomorrow and no one would know the difference. Far from being a crucial component of the Defining Struggle of the Modern Age (or whatever they’re calling it this week) our Iraq deployment has everything to do with domestic politics – anything they actually achieve in Iraq will be purely secondary.

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