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Trump’s election in US: consequences for Australia

Eureka Dinner 2016

The article below was a speech given by Stephen Darley at the Adelaide Eureka Dinner, 26th November 2016

Eureka Dinner 2016The world just dodged a bullet folks – a nuclear bullet. The election of Hilary Clinton in the US (it was more an anti-Clinton than a pro-Trump election) would have brought us closer to nuclear war than at any time since the 1980’s, and possibly closer.  From well before the recent election, and all during it, she advocated a no-fly zone in Syria – which the US General Dunsford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, unequivocally stated would mean a war with Russia. The world’s second-biggest nuclear power – so how long from conventional to nuclear escalation? And a nuclear war with even a portion (perhaps 1/3) of current global arsenals would kill most people on the planet from starvation over a 1-2 year period. In a Wikileak of her paid speeches to Wall Street, Clinton said “To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of their air defenses, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we’re not putting our pilots at risk – you’re going to kill a lot of civilians.” (we can imagine a shrug at that stage).


This is the wider context for Australia’s foreign policy and the role of Pine Gap – the essential framework. We all know that the US is in decline as the world’s hegemonic power – and has been for some time. This is a remarkable fact, because it is less than 25 years since the collapse of Soviet Russia, the Project for a New American Century and the “end of history”, and only some 36 years since the neo-liberal agenda began. There are broadly two responses by the US ruling elites to this decline – retrenchment and consolidation, or revanchism – an aggressive reassertion of empire. Donald Trump represents the first grand strategy, Hilary Clinton the second. Neither are achievable, but the decline may be delayed or quickened.

Clinton never saw a smaller country not deferring to the US that she didn’t want to invade, bomb or subjugate – from Serbia in the 1990’s under Bill Clinton’s presidency, to Iraq in 2003, to Libya in 2011. And where she had policy influence, it happened. Remember her gloating, “We came, we saw, he died!”, after fundamentalist rebels sodomised Muamar Gaddafi to death with a knife. That’s the authentic Clinton.

Of course, we don’t want to present this as a matter of psychology – it is the policy options of key sections of the US ruling class that matters, and Clinton had the key ones backing her, from the military-industrial complex, to what author John le Carre called the “spy-industrial complex”, to the mass-media, and above all to that most aggressive and risk-taking of US elites – the financial sector, Wall Street. She also had the backing of the agenda-making servants of these elites, the neo-cons. Nearly every major advocate for the Project for a New American Century and the Iraq war backed Clinton, despite their long-time association with the Republican Party. The speculation about John Bolton and Trump serves to obscure this reality – not surprising with the media backing Clinton and howling down any voices that asserted that she was the greater evil over Trump.

We can’t spend too much time on the internal politics of the US, but since they obviously effect the rest of the world, they need some reference. The main charge against Trump is that he is openly racist, and for some a fascist. This last is nonsense – fascism requires a decisive fraction of the ruling class to ally with a mass-activated political party and an associated large-scale organised and violent militia, using left-wing and other scape-goats to bypass the democratic veneer of capitalist society and reveal the iron fist beneath the glove. This doesn’t exist in the US – the ultra-right has been estimated to be a few tens of thousands of people in a country of some 270 million, they couldn’t be less-organised and more divided, large parts of the Republican party disavowed Trump, and most of the US elite either supported Clinton or where indifferent.

As for racism, clearly he dog-whistled racism over illegal immigrants and muslims – a disgusting strategy. But those who castigate him as extreme in this regard avert their eyes from the already pervasive racism in US society, and particularly that championed by the Clintons. Under Bill Clinton’s presidency, when Hilary was probably his closest adviser,  a Crime Bill was passed that:

Renowned legal scholar Michelle Alexander said “decimat[ed] black America.”  “Bill Clinton presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history,” she has stressed, and his policies escalated the War on Drugs “beyond what many conservatives had imagined possible.”

Alexander noted that Clinton “supported the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice in sentencing and boosted funding for drug-law enforcement.” She also pointed out that, when President Clinton left office in 2001, the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

This measure also disenfranchised millions of black American males, and many women and poor whites also – felons unable to vote in most cases because of minor drug possession charges.

The same bill also boosted US police numbers by over 100,000, and intrusive and oppressive policing is what has led to the jailing and deaths Black Lives Matter is responding to. (By the way, over-stuffed privatised prisons are now one of the major sectors of extremely poorly-paid manufacturing assembly industry in the US – what some have called the new slavery.

In addition to this, under that great black progressive Barack Obama’s presidency, US police forces have been heavily militarised, and more illegal immigrants have been deported than by any previous US president in history. Trump’s Mexican wall is a rhetorical redundancy, as a massive fence already exists on that border, patrolled by trigger-happy private militias.

Part of what we are dealing with here is the failure of a whole spectrum of the ‘left’, what can be called the international liberal identity politics left, or lip, to analyse more than the surface of society and economy. I learnt many of my early political lessons in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, and back then we still talked about and identified structuralism. For instance, racist speech wasn’t as dangerous as racist actions, and racist actions were not as big a threat as structural, institutional racism – which was inextricably connected to class. Similarly with gender oppression. That hierarchy has been reversed by modern lips, the class connection has been rendered almost invisible, and ideology is seen as much more important than material reality.

So for instance, in this country, Julia Gillard is lauded as a great feminist because she made a glass-ceiling smashing speech attacking sexism used against her and women like her. The same day, her government savagely attacked the incomes of single parents, 80% of whom are of course women. Key national issues of debate are marriage equality, constitutional recognition of indigenous people, and defending clause 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Good ideas though they might be, if those campaigns were won tomorrow, do you really think they would make a great deal of difference to the lives of most LGBTI and indigenous people and non-caucasian migrants? These are predominantly managerial middle-class campaigns, consolidating the interests of those who en masse, really don’t want to upset the apple-cart of neo-liberalism since they’ve done alright by it. It’s not that the second-wave feminist, the black civil rights and the gay rights movements aren’t important, but they have been side-tracked and diminished.

And in the US, that class has gone into a paroxysm of fear with the election of Donald Trump, partly as a result of massive fear-mongering by the liberal media, the CNN’s, NYTimes and Guardians of this world. It’s not that increased instances of racism, homophobia or sexual harrassment won’t occur – but how would we know, since US society is so rife with them now and no clear statistical comparison is available? The election of Trump was predominantly about the economic revolt of a particular  section of the US working class, those whose rust-belt jobs, communities and lives have been devastated by the successive waves of deindustrialisation, privatisation, job losses and sheer bloody-minded neglect perpetrated by the establishment forces they saw epitomised by Hilary Clinton, what Naomi Klein calls the Davos class.

Yes, they knew the many flaws of Trump, how he too was a billionaire, an opportunist who might not do most of what he said he was going to do. But they saw him as a blunt instrument to smash the complacency of the political status-quo that had merrily turned their schools, towns and cities into disaster zones  – and that he has done. And though the voters who deserted the Democrats and elected Trump were predominantly white, almost as important were the millions of black and latino people who turned up for Obama but failed to vote for Clinton – particularly, if the exit polls are to be believed, black women.

To return to foreign policy, it is really too early to be definitive about Trump’s – he is still 2 months away from inauguration. But some themes are gradually becoming clearer. He is an isolationist, wanting to reduce the intervention of the US in the Middle East in particular. He wants to reduce the tension with Russia, and work with them to target ISIS/ISIL. He wants US allies to pay more of the burden of joint military costs – which effects NATO and Australia, amongst others. Since he plans massive investments to rebuild US infrastructure, to “Make America Great Again”, it is pertinent to ask where the capital is to come from. Only one possibility suggests itself – cutting back on military spending. He hasn’t made this link (says private enterprise will provide it), and it may not be achievable, but at least it suggests major new adventures abroad will be less likely. Perhaps cancellation of rorts like the ludicrously-expensive Lockheed Martin F-35 (which doesn’t even work!) might be a start.

This brings up a major contradiction however – his attitude to China. More than once, he has suggested a trade war with China, to recover the jobs they have “stolen”.  As we know from history, trade wars have a habit of turning into hot wars. And China is also a nuclear power – though a far smaller one than the US, but also an ally of Russia. Would Russia allow the US to devastate China and wait to be the next object of attack?

As always with Trump, there are mixed signals – and mixed options. If he really wants to rebuild infrastructure across the US, switching the balance of weaponry and troops from the Russian target to China would not save much at all. But since the signal is much more mixed, it certainly would be prudent to look at our own involvement.

China is our biggest trading partner, but we are a US ally, with key US bases on our soil – NW Cape to send the signal to fire nuclear weapons from submarines in our region, and also now, as a major space-warfare base (according to Professor Richard Tanter of the Nautilus Institute at Melbourne Uni, one of the main speakers at the recent National Conference of IPAN (explain)  at Alice Springs); Darwin Marine Base and Tindal  Airforce base near Darwin, both part of the US military ring of containment aimed at China; and of course Pine Gap,  whose functions and importance have developed, diversified and increased over the past 5 decades.

Interestingly though, Richard Tanter pointed out that while Pine Gap has become even more important to the US, it has also become less essential. To explain that paradox, we must recall that the most important book about Pine Gap and the US bases in Australia is Des Ball’s A Suitable Piece of Real Estate from 1980.  In that he indicated that the site of Pine Gap was chosen in the early 1960’s because Australia was a suitably complacent (or subservient) ally, and Pine Gap was far enough away from the coasts to make surveillance and interception of signals from small Soviet disguised trawling vessels impossible. Since then however, the signals back and forth have been able to be so heavily encrypted that reading them would be virtually impossible. This means Pine Gap doesn’t have to be were iut is – or even in Australia, though probably still in this region of the world.

So a reasonably more independent foreign policy could call for closure of Pine Gap over say a 5-year period (as suggested by Malcolm Fraser) without the Americans being able to claim it compromised their national security. But what does Pine Gap do nowadays? Richard Tanter lists the

Top Ten Reasons to Close Pine Gap as:

1. It facilitates a US nuclear war first strike  

2. it improves targeting for a US nuclear second strike

3. It is a priority Russian and Chinese nuclear target   

4. It contributes to US drone attack targeting

5. It destroys China’s ability to retaliate against a US missile attack causing China to modernise and expand its nuclear weaponry 

6. It is deeply involved in battlefield activities in US global military operations

7. Its situational Space Awareness role – the essential requirement for US space warfare

8. It’s a key part of the US global surveillance network

9. Australian uses of Pine Gap capabilities hard wire the ADF into US military systems

10. It limits Australian foreign policy autonomy – the default is the US position

By the way, Des Ball died only a few months ago – but from working with him for years Richard Tanter was able to tell us he no longer thought there were good enough reasons to keep Pine Gap that balanced the downsides just listed.

In addition to Richard, we heard from Alex Edney-Browne, a brilliant young Ph.D student at Melbourne Uni whose thesis was on drones and drone warfare. She was able to tell us how indiscriminate and lethal drone bombs and missiles were. Pine gap is key to drone targeting from western Africa to the Pacific. She stated:

“ Armed drones carry two types of munitions: GBU 12s and Hellfire missiles. GBU 12s are 500-pound bombs with a kill radius of 60-90 metres. Hellfire missiles are 35-pounds and their kill radius is between 15-20 metres. They are also purposefully built to incinerate their targets. So, if this podium here was a correctly identified terrorist suspect and if he was located and hit with surgical accuracy (a lot of “ifs”), he would die but so would everyone else in this room, and beyond, up to 20 or 90 metres away depending on which of these munitions is used. So, that’s got to be the worst surgery ever, right?”

She gave us an example of how inaccurate the ‘ terrorist ID’s were. Malik Jalal is a member of the North Waziristan Peace Committee, which is trying to act as a mediator between the Taliban and the Pakistani government. Because this work has involved meeting with Taliban members for peace negotiations, his signals intelligence or geolocation data has at some stage been aligned with their signals intelligence, and he is considered guilty by association on this basis. Malik Jalal is now on the CIA’s Kill List, and the US has tried to kill him with drones on 4 separate occasions.11 People trying to negotiate for peace become targets, as do many others who cross paths with terrorists suspects – taxi drivers are frequently killed, as are family members, friends and general acquaintances of suspects, even if they have no part in terrorist activities. For Malik Jalal this means sleeping outside, under a tree, away from his family home because he is scared his children will die in a drone strike intent on killing him.

She also pointed out that world’s biggest arms maker Lockheed Martin, the makers of both these munitions, has recently opened it’s first-ever research lab outside the US at Melbourne Uni. So she will be working in close proximity to other Ph.D students on Lockheed Martin funded scholarships trying to make drones more lethal. She also identified that by trawling through the 2016 Defence White Paper and the

2016 Defence Integrated Investment Program, she revealed that Australia was due to spend $6 billion on drones over the next few years, including $2 billion on killer drones. Makes you proud to be Australian, eh? This is in addition to renting Heron surveillance drones from the Israeli Aerospace Corporation on an hour-by-hour basis, to the tune of approximately $370 million, for use in Afghanistan to support the US from 2010-14. five Royal Australian Air Force pilots are currently embedded with the US Air Force, flying drones over Syria. So you see how closely Australia is tied in to aggressive US foreign and military policies – and identified as such by other nations.

Two other guests of great importance were Kosuzu Abe from Okinawa and Lisa Natividad from Guam, both places part of the US ring of containment against China, and as such for many years subject to the brutality and abuses of the US military – from soldier rapes gone unpunished to major environmental and health problems. One-third of Okinawa and 40% of the land area of Guam are now US bases or weapons testing grounds. We are also part of that ring –  and becoming more embedded in it every year.

To make it clear – I don’t argue that China is whiter-than-white when it comes to the South China Sea disputes. Some of their claims are absurdly anachronistic, and are much more about resource-hogging than historic rights. But the US position has been that China is totally recalcitrant, ultra-aggressive and hell-bent on total control of the region – and only they can stop them (off the coast of China, mind you, not off the US!). But this narrative has been massively compromised by the actions of the Malaysian government in negotiating with China over sharing rights and resources, and especially by the new Philippines government under President Duterte which has done this and more. He recently stated that “Both in military, ….. but economics also. America has lost…..I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to (President Vladimir) Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world – China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”

Now, a caution – this was said in Beijing, when cementing $US13 billion of trade deals. But that in itself is significant of US decline. Any Philippines President saying such things even 10 years ago would have been expecting the door bust in and a military coup quick smart. But it appears that there is no credible candidate for the US –  Duterte is very popular within his country and has close relations with his military, and is firming up a peace deal with the NDFP communist armed opposition – a real sign of the times.

Will such manifest US weakness actually trigger a more aggressive comeback? We have yet to see, but the realignments and greater independence being negotiated across the world both before and after Trump’s election have their (pale) echo in Australia.  Lo-and-behold, hints at such a thing have emerged from the ALP – or have they? Seemingly the election of Trump was the signal for this from Penny Wong (more on this later), but only a couple of months ago ALP Defence spokesperson Richard Marles was reiterrating former Senator Stephen Conroy’s calls last year for so-called “freedom of navigation” naval patrols in the South China Sea.        

Such war-mongering provocations fall very much into line with US containment policies. The notion of advancing “freedom of navigation” by such means is a nonsense – a large part of China’s overseas trade passes through the South China Sea, and will do so until the massive New Silk Road project is much more advanced. The last thing they would want is to interrupt such

“ freedom of navigation”. But faltering or not, the issues will not go away, and for the peace movement this provides an unprecedented opportunity to raise the relevant questions. IPAN (organiser of the Alice Springs Peace Conference) put out two important press releases in response to both the latest developments in the South China sea disputes and the election of Trump. I want to read some excerpts:

Statement on South-China Sea Disputed Territories

IPAN National Co-ordinating Committee members are concerned by the escalating hostilities in the South-China Sea that have the potential for an outbreak of a major military conflict in Asia-Pacific that will draw Australia into another foreign war.

1. We strongly urge all countries directly involved in these centuries old territorial disputes to genuinely co-operate in ensuring a peaceful resolution of this conflict through diplomacy and negotiations. We call on all countries and people whose national borders directly adjoin the South-China Sea to respect each other’s national sovereignty and work together to prevent the dispute escalating into an outbreak of armed hostilities and war.

2. We strongly urge the USA not to interfere and inflame these local disputes directly, or through its proxy countries in the region, especially Australia. We are of the view that the recent USA military build-up and manoeuvres (US Pivot into Asia-Pacific) and the presence of a large number of US bases around the South China Sea is aimed at China and is  the major source of current hostilities.  The USA views China’s economic growth as a challenge to its supremacy in the region. We are concerned that the large USA military build-up and its provocative manoeuvres in South China Sea are threatening peace in our region, and we call on the US to remove its military bases and troops from the Asia-Pacific region.

3. We also call on China to respect the integrity and national sovereignty of countries and people of the disputed territories and work co-operatively for diplomatic and peaceful resolution of the conflict.

5. We urge the Australian government, the Labor opposition, politicians of all parties and independents, to strongly promote a peaceful resolution and firmly uphold Australia’s sovereignty and independence by not following the USA, or any other big power’s plans and preparations for war in the South China Sea.  We are deeply concerned with the recent provocative statements made by some Australian parliamentarians threatening military action in the South-China Sea by Australia’s naval and air forces.  This sabre-rattling by Australian politicians endorses US militarism in the region and risks inflaming the conflict, bringing us closer to war.   Such statements are against the wishes and interests of the Australian people and countries of this region and make the Australian parliament complicit in provoking a major war at the bidding of the USA. The position taken by the 2 main Australian parliamentary parties only benefits the USA.

 6. We urge all parliamentary parties to advocate for Australia’s independence and sovereignty with an independent and peaceful foreign policy.  We welcome the support of the Greens, and several Independents, for an independent Australian foreign policy that reflects growing community sentiment.

7. We will work with anti-war and peace groups in other Asia-Pacific countries with a view to developing a regional people’s peace movement against the war. We want to live in peace with our neighbours and not be used as pawns in rivalries between big powers.

Australia needs an independent and peaceful foreign policy that promotes peace, not war, and is in Australia’s national interest.  September 2016

I think that’s a good statement of where we are at: amidst both great dangers,  and also great opportunities to break the stale and stultifying hold that “ big-brotherism” has had on this country for so long. This is expanded further by the 11 November Trump press release.

Trump’s election provides opportunity to re-assess  the fundamentals of Australia’s defence policies

US President-elect, Donald Trump, has served notice of a US withdrawal from a “protective” military role for allies in South East Asia and the Pacific. He has urged these allies to take responsibility for their own defences. He has claimed that he intends to pull American military forces back from its outposts in over 90 countries.

Mr Nick Deane, speaking for the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) said today, “Trump’s election has removed a major plank underlying the defence strategies of successive Australian governments, which have consistently relied on the US as our fundamental protector. They have led Australia into US-initiated wars which have caused the unnecessary deaths and suffering of millions of civilians, often in countries which have posed no threat to us.“

He continued: “These defence strategies; the structure of the ADF; spending on military infrastructure; acceptance of US military bases on Australian soil, and the integration of Australia’s ADF with the US military forces, have all been driven by a belief that our alliance with the US and the presumed merits of the ANZUS Treaty were the best option for Australia’s security.”

IPAN believes that Mr Trump’s foreign/defence policies “pull the rug from under the feet” of this belief.  Further, IPAN believes that Australia is more than capable of standing on its own feet and defending itself.

“A new, independent approach to defence has now become imperative – one that shakes off the idea of the need any foreign protector, once and for all”, stated Mr Deane.

Such an approach would put Australia in a position to pursue foreign policies in the best interests of its people. It would also provide a chance to establish peaceful and mutually beneficial relationships with our neighbours.

“Representing diverse community sentiment for an independent and peaceful Australian foreign policy, IPAN welcomes the opportunity that this election result provides for Australia to be a stronger, independent voice for peace in the world”, stated Mr Deane.

IPAN urges the Australian Government to now draw together the best military, defence and foreign policy experts to develop a comprehensive and independent Australian defence policy which includes military, civil and industry involvement.

Of course, we are a long way from achieving these objectives, but for the first time for many years, it feels like there is a real beginning of the journey.

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