The Obama administration’s determination to unnecessarily damage America’s relations with its best friends and allies apparently continues unabated.
Britain has been infuriated by America’s “neutrality” over the Falklands or Malvinas, relations with Israel have reached the lowest point in 50 years over new buildings in Jerusalem, many see as a betrayal the cancelling missile bases in Eastern Europe, and there has been the pointless and destructive interference in Honduras.
As well as damaging relations with old friends, there is not the slightest indication that any of this has won a single new friend. It has not resulted in Hugo Chavez or President Ahmadinejad emitting one flake of spittle less when raving against the U.S. Planning permits for new churches or cathedrals in Mecca have remained thin on the ground.
Now Australia looks like being added to the list of insulted allies. President Barack Obama has dropped plans to visit Australia. Twice in the past year, a visit to Australia and Indonesia has been proposed, then canceled. On Friday Obama announced that he will visit Indonesia later this fall, but not Australia.
This does not mean huge damage to the Pacific alliance. It is far too strong for that. But Australia has troops fighting at America’s side in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is the only country that has fought beside the U.S. in every major war the U.S. has been involved in for the last hundred years, losing about 300 men dead in Korea and 500 dead in Vietnam. It has also possibly been the most consistent of all countries in supporting the U.S. in the United Nations. U.S. Navy ships are frequent visitors to Australian ports.
Having the U.S. as a strong protector has been the cornerstone of Australian foreign policy, the beginnings of which can be traced back to the visit of the Great White fleet in 1908.
Talk of Australia looking to a new protector in China can be dismissed as sensational fantasy, although of course there is always an adversary-culture Left ready to exploit reasons for anti-Americanism, real or manufactured. Already these are commentators wondering loudly why Australia is sacrificing soldiers’ lives in Afghanistan on behalf of an ally who evidently doesn’t take it seriously. It is a small but real gift to America’s enemies and a small but real blow to its friends. The media play a part in creating political opinion. So do speeches by politicians. So does talk in pubs. In all these spheres Obama has made defending the American alliance just that little bit more difficult. And for what? For nothing.
Given that Obama is visiting Indonesia (which to the best of my knowledge has never fought as an ally of America’s), it would be perfectly easy for him to make a stop-over in Australia (the cynical might suggest that his schedule of activity is such that no one would miss him taking the few hours’ time out which this would entail).
The real point is not any possible damage to Australia-U.S. relations. The real point is that it is a further indication that the Obama administration doesn’t care about allies and is apparently incapable of joined-up thinking.
The situation recalls the old saw about the battle and the kingdom being lost for the want of a horseshoe nail. Slighting Australia might be a small and passing thing in itself, but it could have large consequences.
If Australia feels slighted enough to pull troops out of Afghanistan ahead of the U.S. (and given the fact it has a left-of-center government, though an unstable one, this is possible), other countries could easily follow.
Britain has a much bigger commitment than Australia (and has lost more than 300 dead in Afghanistan so far) and is desperate to save money. The British Navy, which wants to keep its promised aircraft carriers, and the Royal Air Force, which wants more fighters and new transports, could both be powerful lobbies to pull the Army out of Afghanistan to save their pet projects.
Australia pulling out could give them the leverage they need, and with Britain gone as well the other allies would quickly follow, leaving the entire burden to the U.S., both in terms of lives and treasure. Churchill once said something to the effect that having allies in a war can be frustrating, but not having them is worse. My personal opinion is that for the U.S. to pull out of Afghanistan need not be a disaster, and it will have to happen sooner or later anyway, but it should not be done simply as the result of a snowballing of unintended consequences.
All this ties in with another point: the snub to Australia can only tend to reinforce the notion that the Obama administration simply doesn’t know or care about foreign policy, or who its friends are.