What’s next for Mateship?

mateship-web-banner-5Representative Mike Gallagher (R-WI), one of the co-chairs of the Friends of Australia Caucus, joked during the Caucus’s commemoration of ANZAC day, that many Australians cringed when hearing him talk about Mateship. His comment captures similar sentiments expressed in public by the likes of Professor James Curran, for example. Gallagher, as with many Americans, likes the message. While some Australians might not care for the Mateship campaign, it has been tremendously successful in the US. Even with the campaign’s success, it leaves one big question unanswered.

Commemorating ANZAC day in Washington began in earnest under the Howard government. Today commemorations of April 25 include a dawn service at the Korean War memorial, as well as a midday service at Washington Cathedral where the Australian and New Zealand ambassadors take turns in remembering those who fell at Gallipoli. Later, the Australian and New Zealand embassies take turns to host a reception. These events draw hundreds of Australians and Kiwis from around Washington, not to mention a fair number of their American friends.

While the commemoration of the ANZAC tradition is certainly genuine, it also serves another purpose.

ANZAC day in Washington also provides an opportunity to tell the ANZAC story and make connections to the broader legislative and policymaking community. And in these days when virtually every politician in America unflinchingly uses the phrase, “thank you for your service”, when addressing veterans, it should not be surprising that the diplomatic community sees an opportunity.

Diplomats cannot be blamed for seeking advantage while operating in Washington. After all, it is a crowded playing field with 177 diplomatic missions, over 11,000 lobbyists, not to mention thousands of journalists as well. Everybody wants something and it creates a lot of noise. Standing out and being noticed takes careful planning and hard work.

The challenge for diplomats in Washington has long been figuring out how to get their message across. It should not be surprising that refining a public message with all the characteristics of product promotion ends up playing a large role. Quiet diplomacy only goes so far in Washington. Sometimes diplomacy gets nudged to the louder stage of public advocacy.

Enter Mateship. While many Australians might find the Mateship campaign cringeworthy, and some historians voice annoyance at the rather loose historical interpretation, the campaign nonetheless finds a receptive audience.  Australian diplomats should be pleased. After all American policymakers and politicians repeatedly pick up Australian talking points and use them as their own.

Just last month President Trump noted that the US and Australia were celebrating “100 years of Mateship”.   The then-Vice President, Joe Biden, during a speech at Sydney Town Hall, said:

“Over the course of 100 years spent fighting side by side, over 65 years of a formal alliance, although every testing — through every testing we have faced as a nation, Australians and Americans have built an unsurpassed partnership.  Our peoples joined in easy mateship [emphasis added].  The history that forged the foundations of our alliance in iron and baptized it in blood has long bound the fortunes of our two nations.”

James Mattis, the US Secretary of Defense, commented that mateship “underpins the ironclad Australia-U.S. alliance.” Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson commented, “The United States remains committed to our unbreakable alliance and our powerful bonds of friendship and mateship, based on shared values and shared aspirations for the future.”

All of this is to say that the Mateship campaign has been enormously successful political messaging. It demonstrates that in the US Australian diplomats have succeeded in shaping the public rhetoric around the alliance. Yet, the very success of the campaign does leave open the question of what next. Now that officials in the US government so warmly embrace the rhetoric of mateship, how can that be leveraged into something more? And, what is that something more to be?

April 24, 2018 – The Trump administration has yet to successfully appoint an ambassador to Canberra.  Admiral Harry Harris had been in line to take up the post, but the Trump White House has decided to appoint him to South Korea.  While one can certainly appreciate the need to appoint an ambassador to Seoul, Trump had ignored the most qualified appointee, Victor Cha, and clumsily opted for Harris.  In the meantime, Trump has left Australia in the lurch.  At this point, it would not be a stretch to argue that mateship seems to go in one direction.  A quick nomination of a replacement for Harris might help heal the wound, but such a nomination seems unlikely.

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Here Comes Santa Claus (for the 1%)

Check out John Lawrence’s take down of the newly passed tax legislation, or as he describes it a “sick joke”.


Well, well, here comes the tax bill, all tied up in a nice red bow for Christmas. That’s “red” for the deficits its authors admit it will create (not to mention the much larger ones every other economist predicts it will generate). Also “red” as in “red-faced” for the duplicitous behavior of those behind this irresponsible law.

Not that the outcome was ever in doubt. As I have written before, tax cuts – especially for the wealthy and corporations – are the sine qua non of Republican governance: the essential reason the circus that is the Trump-McConnell-Ryan Express rolled into town. Unlike efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the “affected industry” in this case was gung-ho for passage, a sentiment shared by something around 25% of the rest of the country.

There is a certain absurdist quality to the intensity and obsessiveness surrounding passage of the tax bill. After…

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Plan Now, Gain Later – Is Australia’s foreign policy machinery ready for uncertainty?


Alan Tidwell

Australia’s White Paper forecasts future threats, but falls short of addressing how to effectively manage them. Alan Tidwell takes a look at how Australia can better address its unknown future.

The 2017 foreign policy White Paper anticipates a range of changes and threats that will shape Australia’s international environment in the next 10 to 15 years. Most immediately of concern are the changes in power underway throughout the Indo-Pacific region, and chiefly the seemingly inexorable rise of China. Accompanying these changes are the threats to the international rules-based order – an order that very much works to small and middle powers’ advantage.

Globalisation, once thought of as an unstoppable force, has come under fire. Free trade is no longer so warmly welcomed in many western states. Nationalism, along with the chronic sickness of terrorism, is partly to blame for the attacks on globalisation. Trump’s catchcry of America First, the poster-child for these anti-globalisation forces, has left the hegemon’s capital in disarray.

The dynamism of world politics makes strategic planning difficult in the best of times, and the authors of White Papers cannot easily foresee the future. It is instructive to revisit Australia’s previous foreign policy White Paper in 2003 and consider the threat environment envisioned then.

“…[R]elations between the major powers are now more stable than they have been for many years. But the security of Australia and many other countries is threatened by other international developments, notably terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional disorder and transnational crimes such as people smuggling.”

Some threats persist, like terrorism, whereas other threats morphed into something quite different. In 2003 globalisation had its opponents and sometimes came with unanticipated consequences (like terrorism), but nativism was not considered a significant threat.

Other threats, like those emerging out of the Arab Spring (for example, the Syrian civil war) were for the most part unanticipated. Hindsight makes them seem predictable, but from the vantage point of 2003, the Arab Spring and the collapse of Syria were nothing more than theoretical musings at best.

All of this suggests that white papers, like most strategic planning documents, are middling at best in preparing for the future. Australia’s White Paper does an adequate job of forecasting the threat environment, but falls short of envisioning how to effectively manage those unforeseen threats. How can Australia better address its unknown future?

Writing in The Guardian, Hugh White warns against complacency in his analysis of the rise of China and its consequences for Australia’s security. For White, the problem is one of political will. He argues that for a long time leaders in Canberra have refused to “… to admit …that a great strategic contest is underway between our major ally and our major trading partner.”

White’s analysis is sharp and alluring, and he is joined in his views by other academics and retired public servants. Yet even if White and others are correct regarding the rise of China and its consequences for the management of Australia’s security, questions still remain: Is Australian leadership in denial? Or is there genuine disagreement about the consequences of the rise of China?

Or, is it simply that Australia’s policy planning process is inadequate to the task at hand?

If ever were a time for a clever country, this would be it.

Since the mid-1940s Australia has been aboard the American bandwagon. That has served Australia well. White and others now question the wisdom of riding the American bandwagon. His proposal of an alternative balance of power, bringing together a concert of states guaranteeing the security of Asia, is debateable. It is unclear whether this would serve Australian interests any better than the current arrangements.

What is clear, however, is that the current institutional capacity to analyse what is needed for Australia’s future is lacking. For an Australia that seems to want to stay in America’s orbit, the strategic concepts and modes of interaction between Australia and the US are inadequate.

For example, most Australia-US interactions are ad hoc, with the exception of the brief Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AusMin). There is no secretariat in Canberra responsible for developing US doctrine, nor is there one in Washington for Australia. Equally, if Australia is to reimagine its future without an alliance, there is precious little institutional thought given to the complexity of managing such a concert arrangement.

Beyond the particular challenges of managing Australia’s immediate security are the broader questions: who is tasked with thinking deeply about future challenges to the nation? And who is responsible for aligning organisational and financial resources in order to address them?

The Policy Planning branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is neither sufficiently resourced nor sufficiently enabled to work across the whole of government to consider the future needs of Australian foreign policy.

Perhaps responsibility for thinking about the overall direction of Australia’s foreign policy may not be best seated within DFAT itself, but instead may be better situated outside the department. Anticipating future trends and conducting plausible futures analysis is best conducted away from the demands of short-term policy-making and situational response.

Delivering greater capacity for Australia’s management of future threats and challenges requires political will. Maintaining the Australia-US alliance against the backdrop of a rising China requires leaders to not only make the case for the alliance, but also take the steps required to support and fund that choice.

Equally, for Australia to embrace an alternate future and forge its own path without the United States will require political will and an abundance of organisational infrastructure.

Only by properly resourcing the machinery of foreign policy can Australia claim to be truly prepared for the uncertainty of the next few decades.

This piece was first published at Policy Forum, Asia and the Pacific’s platform for public policy analysis and opinion. Read the original here: https://www.policyforum.net/plan-now-gain-later/

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Initial Reactions to Australia’s New Foreign Policy White Paper

3109788657_f8acd73be7_qCheck my comments on Australia’s new foreign policy white paper, https://www.policyforum.net/rapid-round-up-fp-white-paper/

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Duterte and the death of democracy

War and martial law come to Mindanao – again.

Alan Tidwell

Does martial law in Mindanao spell the end of democracy in the Philippines? Alan Tidwell takes a look at the state of democracy in the Southeast Asian nation.

Today one might well ask, does President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao spell the end of democracy in the Philippines?  The simple answer is ‘no’.  The cadaver of democracy already rests on the steps of Malacañang Palace and in the funerary plots of the 7000 killed thus far in Duterte’s war on drugs. It is a little late to worry about the niceties of things like habeas corpus.

Rather, the declaration of martial law ought to be seen as just one more nail in democracy’s coffin in the Southeast Asian nation. So, where did this nail come from?

Duterte declared martial law on 23 May 2017, suspending habeas corpus for the whole of Mindanao, and the islands of Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu.

The putative cause of the declaration stemmed from an outbreak of violence in Marawi City, on the shores of Lake Lanao. The Maute group, founded by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute, has aligned itself with ISIS since mid-2015. Trouble erupted when the Philippine military launched a mission against elements of the Maute and Abu–Sayyaf groups (Abu-Sayyaf is a small terrorist group operating in Mindanao and Sulu).

More on this:

Duterte and Donald’s ctrl-alt-delete

Duterte had signalled the possibility of martial law well before the 23 May attack. The Philippine Sun Star reported on 16 May 2017 that Duterte had been considering declaring martial law in Sulu. A week before the Marawi attack Duterte said: “Do not force my hand to declare martial law because if I do, I will solve everything, not only about rebellion. I will solve everything that ails Mindanao. If I declare martial law, there’s no way of telling how long would it take us to restore order, or we might not really be able to succeed.”

Clearly, Duterte had been looking for an opportunity to make martial law a reality.  The attack on Marawi City gave him the excuse he was looking for.

Mindanao is no stranger to violence. It is the site of at least two conflicts pitting insurgents against the government. The New Peoples Army (NPA) is a communist inspired insurrection in Mindanao in the south and Luzon in the north. Duterte has made efforts to engage with the NPA to end the conflict. Thus far, however, the talks have foundered.

On the western side of Mindanao, several Muslim groups fight against the state. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) signed a peace deal with the government in 1996. The Moro Islamic Liberation group (MILF) splintered from the MNLF and has been fighting ever since. They too have signed agreements with the government, but as yet no final peace deal has been negotiated. The Abu-Sayyaf group is a much smaller group known mostly for kidnapping and beheading their captives.

More on this:

Duterte and the return of the authoritarians

Like Mindanao, Duterte himself is no stranger to violence either. The former mayor of Davao, in eastern Mindanao, has several times claimed involvement in homicides.  He claimed in December 2016: “In Davao, I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys (police) that if I can do it why can’t you? And I’d go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around, and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill.”

Martial law has a long history in the Philippines, and most notoriously under Ferdinand Marcos. Under Marcos it was clear he had no real intention to return to democracy, with martial law in place from 1972 to 1981, and he was only removed from power by the People Power Revolution.

Martial law returned briefly in Maguindanao from 4-13 December 2009 when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo sought to disarm a local militia.

Which sort of martial law will Duterte pick – the shorter Arroyo version or the multi-year Marcos kind? Given his already apparent disdain for the rule of law and earlier mentions of martial law, it seems most likely Duterte will opt for the multi-year version of martial law, one heavy on order and light on law. I am betting on the longer version.

Violence in Mindanao gives Duterte cover to launch martial law. It allows him to complete the transformation of the Philippine state from a weak democracy into a more authoritarian state. How it plays out in the future and what the implications are of this transition for the Philippine people and the wider region remains to be seen. One thing is certain – Rodrigo Duterte has brought an end to democracy in the Philippines.

This piece was first published at Policy Forum, Asia and the Pacific’s platform for public policy analysis and opinion. Read the original here: https://www.policyforum.net/duterte-and-the-death-of-democracy/

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By inviting the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte to the White House, Donald Trump emboldens a killer

duterte2e-1-webCheck out my editorial on Duterte’s visit to the Trump White House.

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The tag is cut: how will the Trump-Turnbull spat damage the alliance?

3718071086_59a816c2d7_mWhen former prime minister Paul Keating said last year it was time to “cut the tag” and loosen the bonds of the Australia’s alliance with the US, who would have thought the man wielding the knife would be Donald Trump?

The public disagreement between the Trump White House and the Turnbull government over the deal to send asylum seekers languishing on Manus Island and Nauru to the US is unprecedented. At no previous time in the history of the Australia-US alliance have things seemed so dire – and got there so quickly.

Past tensions kept quiet

Australian and American leaders over the years have, from time to time, disagreed or said things to cause embarrassment. But for the most part, such disagreements have been kept out of the limelight.

John Howard and Bill Clinton did not like one another. Their discomfort did not, however, seriously affect the alliance. But sometimes discomfort breaks into something stronger.

Blanche D’Alpuget, Bob Hawke’s then-biographer (and later his wife), recounts that Australia’s former foreign minister, Bill Hayden, and US Secretary of State George Shultz loathed one another. Hayden referred to Shultz as “the German pork butcher”, while Shultz called Hayden “stupid” to his face.

But, unlike the current saga, the Hayden-Shultz spat did not become public until after D’Alpuget published her Hawke biography.

In 2008, the content of another phone conversation between Australian and US leaders became pubic. A brief row broke out when reports emerged of a leaked conversation between Kevin Rudd and George Bush.

As the 2008 financial crisis erupted, Rudd had suggested using the G20 as a way of handling things to Bush in a phone conversation. Bush allegedly replied:

What’s the G20?

The White House angrily rejected the public version of events.

Time to think differently

Members of the US Congress have made a rare intervention in the latest spat in an attempt to counter Trump’s amateurish handling of the issue. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said:

Australia is a very important and central ally and it’s going to continue to be.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham admonished Trump, suggesting the president “sleep more and tweet less”. Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said:

Before the president shows such disrespect again, he should consider this: there is only one nation that has stood with us in every war of the last century, from the fields of France and Belgium to the mountains of Afghanistan – Australia.

Trump has handled this situation very badly. In a very short space of time he has undone decades of work in building trans-Pacific security ties between Australia and the US. Other American allies – Japan and South Korea in particular – must look on, aghast at what has transpired.

But the Australia-US alliance was already under pressure before the phone call between Trump and Malcolm Turnbull went awry. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a vital element in the Obama pivot to Asia, was headed for the dustbin even before the US election. Within hours of being sworn in, Trump cancelled US involvement in the trade deal.

More ominously, other US security partnerships in the region exhibit severe strain. In an eerie and intemperate foreshadowing of Trump’s outburst, Philippine President Duterte in 2016 called Barack Obama a “son of a whore” and then denounced his country’s security alliance with the US and embraced the Chinese.

While many aspects of the US-Philippine relationship are still in place, it is nonetheless showing signs of strain.

In 2016 the Chinese refused to comply with the decision handed down by tribunal convened under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The tribunal found the Chinese had violated the UN convention in asserting its claim to disputes islands in the South China Sea.

The Australia-US relationship has suffered numerous knocks over the past year. The greatest threat to it has not come from China, the Philippines or Australia, but from the US. Trump’s misguided handling of the refugee issue and his withdrawal from the TPP has combined with external events to place real pressure on the alliance.

Trump has cut the tag. Now Australia must think differently about its relationship with the US.

creative-commons-logo-4cd655489c196c20a2416b8b696f5c31e9fec70dc21b5fdbf99306454f22f766 An earlier version was published in The Conversation

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