*Cartoon: Martyn Turner, used with permission: https://www.facebook.com/martynturnercartoons/ . http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/martyn-turner
First published April 17
The Donald follows rave reviews of his hugely popular Syrian bombing this week by trashing his “America First” isolationist foreign policy. “Just a jump to the left then a step to the right” continues his recent Time Warp homage and conveys all the chaos and conflict of the Trump team’s horror show domestic policy on to a world stage.
In one week, Trump has discarded half a dozen major campaign pledges on foreign policy. Happily Australian foreign policy is just as fluid: Trump’s left wheel – right about turn wins instant approval from Malcolm Turnbull and his crew of US cheerleaders, environmental vandals, climate deniers and mindless multinational corporate lackeys.
North Korea is “reckless and dangerous” says Malcolm Turnbull from India while he rashly promises government funding for an uneconomic, environmentally disastrous, toxic coal mine Australia neither needs or wants.
In words that echo Washington, Turnbull says China is “clearly not doing enough” to control North Korea. Astonishingly, the new Donald Trump has been trying to get the same message through to the Chinese President.
“From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first”, Donald Trump promised at his inauguration. It has taken until Easter for his show’s new directors, US Neocons to take him down their rabbit hole; turn him around.
It’s a big turn. Now, despite his campaign stump stuff, Trump must “reverse (Obama’s) downward spiral” of US power and influence, not only in the Middle East, but throughout the world, orders right wing Brookings Institute’s Robert Kagan in The Washington Post. Trump is warned that one missile strike doesn’t cut it. Press on, Donald.
… threat to unleash nuclear hell …
Flip-flopping bigly, Trump tells NATO that it’s no longer obsolete. He crosses currency manipulation off the long list of things the US holds against China. Next, the US drops the Mother of all Bombs in Afghanistan before boxing itself into a corner by threatening North Korea with military action unless it stops its nuclear tests. North Korea responds by what Australia’s The Daily Telegraph, downplays as “a threat to unleash nuclear hell”.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop loves US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s proposal of a pre-emptive military strike against North Korea. She sees it as just an “all options on the table” thingy, a policy posture as familiar to the government as the flip-flop.
It fits well within its steadfast determination to normalise Trump’s aberrance within its role as US sycophant; Australia’s great and powerful friend. All the way with the USA whatever, wherever.
Bishop does have six decades of history on her side. In 1950 McArthur aimed to use six atomic bombs on North Korea. In 1951 Truman signed off on the plan.
Some estimate that the nation may have lost as many as 8 to 9 million people to US bombing, while others put the figure at 3 million – close to thirty per cent of its population between 1950 and 1953. With no official statistics it is impossible to know precisely.
What is certain is that the suffering inflicted is seared into the nation’s consciousness.
Carpet bombing was deployed to raise cities. The US dropped more bombs in North Korea than in the Pacific theatre during its part of World War Two; 29,000 tonnes of Napalm were used in campaigns which level entire cities.
In 1969, Richard Nixon put nuclear-armed warplanes on 15-minute alert. In the 1990s Bill Clinton weighed up nuclear strikes against North Korea’s nuclear facilities while George W Bush added the “rogue nation” to his axis of evil, a list of rogue states to be annihilated after Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been dealt with.
… Pyne is on Trump’s new page …
Wednesday, mouth that roars, Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne is on Trump’s new page. North Korea, is “the most dangerous situation” in the world right now and “worse than the situation in Syria”.
Pyne implies we are at war with North Korea whose erratic regime causes “significant consequence to Australia”.
“I know it seems surprising to say so, but there is a predictability about the war in the Middle East, in Syria and Iraq, and of course the allies there are winning that war slowly but surely,” he tells Adelaide radio 5AA.
The unpredictable slur fits neatly into the portmanteau stereotyping and demonising of North Koreans as erratic, crazy, deluded or buffoons, all ways the Chinese were portrayed in the fifties and early sixties in Western media until China acquired atomic, then hydrogen nuclear weapons 1964-7 with the help of the Soviet Union.
The “unpredictable” charge is doubly ironic in the light of the flip-flop foreign policy of the United States or a vassal of a nation which has had five PMs in five years and a government hard to fathom on energy or environment.
A US naval strike group steams to the Korean Peninsula, a show of force that has sections of the media talking war. Is this a showdown between Pyongyang and Washington? No. It’s more show than showdown.
Will “rogue state” North Korea – as MSM love to call it, often adding “hermit” or “secretive” defy the US? Launch another nuclear test? It’s Kim Il-sung’s 150th anniversary.
“Rogue state” was a favourite Neocon term in the Bush, Rumsfeld era. It helped demonise Iraq which failed to respond to cold war deterrence and helped justify illegal military intervention. If North Korea won’t play by the rules, it can’t expect to be dealt with in like manner.
… rogue nations who hate America …
As Bush warned, missile attacks are justified against WND held by rogue leaders in “rogue nations who hate America, hate our values, hate what we stand for.” The same rhetoric is still used by our own government.
In the end, Kim celebrates the birth of the nation’s founder, his grandfather with a parade that helps remind everyone how many missiles North Korea can put on show. There’s a fizzer of a missile launch on the coast. No-one starts a nuclear war, however much representatives of the tabloid press may suggest it’s imminent.
US Defence Secretary, Jim Mattis issues a statement: “The President and his military team are aware of North Korea’s most recent unsuccessful missile launch.” “Mr Trump was not making any further comment.”
Yet Trump has been commenting, correcting the record on his dinner with the Chinese president. The correction helps set a context for the week’s brinksmanship with North Korea, an event which ends badly for The Donald who had a notion he could press Xi to call his North Korean pups to heel. Until Xi disabused him with a history talk.
Just as in a February phone call he had talked him out of his nonsense on Taiwan. Xi set up the summit. He’s two strikes up on Trump already. Xi has Trump’s number.
Earlier reports put the pair mid-way through the pan-fried Dover sole with champagne sauce, when Trump chose to tell his Mar-a-Largo, dinner guest, China’s President Xi Jin-Ping he had just gazumped their summit by bombing Syria, or wherever, The Donald now advises that he and Xi were, in fact, on to their sweets.
“So what happens is I said, ‘We’ve just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq, and I wanted you to know this,'” Trump says in the interview. “And he was eating his cake. And he was silent.”
“Syria?” Fox Business Host Maria Bartiromo corrects.
“Yes, heading toward Syria,” Trump says. He follows up by mentioning Xi finished his dessert.
… Tomahawk missile-barrel diplomacy
Savouring “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you have ever seen”, Trump fills Xi in on his latest take on isolationism: he’s just launched 59 Tomahawk Cruise missiles at Syria. Doubtless, Xi’s tickled pink with the Von Trump family’s Tomahawk missile-barrel diplomacy. Learning that China’s last to be told is the icing on the cake.
Xi drops his cake fork. An interpreter has to repeat The Donald’s bombshell. Not only is it a complete flip-flop, a 180 degree turn on Trump’s campaign rhetoric, it’s a diplomatic gaffe; a breach of protocol, an insult to China.
It’s like breaking off a dinner party conversation with your boss to berate your neighbour, suggests Foreign Policy’s Asia editor James Palmer.
Above all, China experts agree, no Chinese leader is likely to mistake unpredictability for strength. What Trump claims as tough, a shirt-front victory, the Chinese dismiss as stupidity. Yet a wily panda will not block a US rush to self-destruction in another costly, protracted and unwinnable Middle Eastern war.
In a United States of self-righteous spin, The Donald simply has no choice. “If you gas a baby then I think you will see a response from this president” explains White House word-splicer, Sean Spicer. Satanic Bashar-al Assad, is a poison gasser and a bad man worse than Hitler, he adds. Assad gets his just desserts. Trump is pumped.
So, too are the decision makers in the alliance between arms’ manufacturers and armies influencing political policy which the US military-industrial complex, as Eisenhower termed it when he warned of its power in 1961. Syria, Iran, North Korea, all present alluring business opportunities. Above all, his son cheers on his father, his hero.
Eric, an affectionate but clumsy pup, eagerly volunteers how the strike shows how tough his father is. He’s not frightened by Putin’s threat of war. He won’t be pushed around by Putin. Just for measure he throws in a threat of his own. There’s “no one harder” than my Dad, the President if they “cross us”. It proves, he adds breathlessly, that his dad is not in league with Russia. Well, that’s cleared that up, then. Much rejoicing follows in the free press.
“I think Donald Trump became president of the United States,” gushes CNN’s Fareed Zakaria as her nation is smitten by strong man love – and its love of vigilantes bearing arms. Forget policy, integrity or merit, all you need to do to become President is order up a bombing somewhere. NBC’s Bryan Williams waxes Leonard Cohen-lyrical:
… guided by the beauty of our weapons …
“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two US Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean,” he swoons. “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.”
Guided? Try dazzled. Blinded. America swoons over the attack. It falls back in love with Trump, a type of Lone Ranger with more big hair than white hat. The “liars” and “enemies of the people”, as he calls the press, now rush to cheer on The Great Disruptor.
Lost in the rush is any case for the bombing. No need to bother with Congress or dreary international law. Forget briefings. To hell with intel. Foreign policy is now decided by whatever TV show upsets the President – or his daugher, Ivanka.
Ivanka Trump, Anne Summers suggests, is the most powerful staffer in The White House. And dangerous. Superbly equipped for a profound and nuanced understanding of foreign policy by her real estate and jewellery business background, “heartbroken”, “outraged” she urges Daddy to bomb Syria when she sees the babies on Fox news.
Her compassion is oddly selective. Did Ivanka reproach her father when he boasted he could look Syrian children “in the face and say, “You can’t come here”? Did she demur when one of his first acts as President was to sign an executive order to indefinitely ban Syrians, even beautiful babies, from seeking refuge in the United States?
“Rather than pay lip service to the plight of innocent Syrian children, President Trump should provide actual solutions for the children who have been languishing in refugee camps for years,” reads a statement released 7 April from the New York based International Refugee Assistance Project.
“Many refugee children have been left in life or death situations following the President’s executive order, which suspends and severely curtails the US resettlement program.”
Former Trump supporter, Republican Pat Buchanan suggests that Donald Trump was independently moved to act, before he was influenced by his daughter’s feelings. In other words, he was impetuous, emotional and uncritical of what may well prove to be a series of propaganda images and at a time when his National Security Adviser warned him that the intelligence services had their doubts about Assad’s culpability?
We do know, from multiple sources, that many in CIA and DIA, including those on the ground, did not accept that President Assad was responsible.
… we should be cautious …
Leading rocket scientists, national security advisor, and former scientific adviser to the US Chief of Naval Operations, MIT Professor Theodore Postol, who has won awards for debunking claims about missile defence systems says in a nine-page report that we should be cautious.
A four-page report released by the Trump administration intended to blame the recent chemical attack in Syria on the Syrian government, Postol concludes, “does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the US government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack”.
Postol is not convinced by such evidence. “Any competent analyst would have had questions about whether the debris in the crater was staged or real,” he wrote. “No competent analyst would miss the fact that the alleged sarin canister was forcefully crushed from above, rather than exploded by a munition within it.”
Australia’s response is similarly conveniently emotional and selective; visceral to the point of being anti-intellectual – unfussed by the illegality of Trump’s bombing and naively accepting of allegations against al Assad, a case which official Washington sources now concede is one of “high confidence” in a supposed intelligence assessment.
In other words, as Robert Parry decodes, “high confidence” usually means “we don’t have any real evidence, but we figure that if we say “high confidence” enough that no-one will dare challenge us.” Parry is one of the reporters who helped expose the Iran-Contra scandal for the Associated Press in the mid-1980s.
Instead, we stampede to trust images provided by Al Qaeda-related propagandists and to overlook documented prior cases in which the Syrian rebels staged chemical weapons incidents to implicate the Assad government in the context of what former British diplomat Alastair Crooke calls the most intensely fought propaganda war in history.
Malcolm Turnbull strongly backs US military action in Syria in response to the “abhorrent” chemical weapons attack.
Defence Minister Marise Payne is “open to Australia increasing its commitment” in Syria with no independent assessment of the worst man-made disaster the world has seen since World War II, according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in a statement to the Human Rights Council March 2017.
… confected moral outrage …
No-one bothers much either with the hypocrisy of the confected moral outrage. The US used agent Napalm in Vietnam and its use of Agent Orange is estimated by the Vietnamese to have killed or maimed 400,000 people.
Vietnam claims moreover half a million children have been born with serious birth defects, while as many 2 million people are suffering from cancer or other illness caused by Agent Orange.
In the end, Trump gazumps only himself. He’s boosted expectations. “A very difficult meeting” will not only fix the US trade deficit with China, settle North Korea’s nuclear nonsense but do a whole bunch of other things including blowing the whistle on China’s currency manipulation, slapping a 45% tax on imports and arresting its theft of US jobs.
By Friday the US President retracts his slur about the currency. Heck, he’ll even praise NATO when he has to.
Upstaged by the US President’s illegal Syrian sortie, by Friday, the US-China Summit’s a dud. Xi and Trump mumble goodwill and mutual respect; motherhood clichés cloak a woeful non-event. Required to negotiate, a skill he will never possess, Trump squibs; settles for a stunt, a token show of force. Call North Korea to heel or the US will fix the problem itself. Does Trump really believe he can coerce China’s cooperation?
Did Trump mean to torpedo the talks? Some commentators spin Trump’s blitzkrieg as a calculated plan, even a Nixonesque “strategic unpredictability.”
Henry Kissinger would privately let world leaders know that Nixon was an erratic madman best not be trifled with. It ended badly, however, for Tricky Dicky in impeachment. Does the same fate await The Donald? Certainly, he’s no diplomat. He’s decided offense is the best defence with China.
… brass-knuckled, crass, callous, amoral, ruthless …
“The Chinese government is a despicable, parasitic, brutal, brass-knuckled, crass, callous, amoral, ruthless and totally totalitarian imperialist power that reigns over the world’s leading cancer factory, its most prolific propaganda mill and the biggest police state and prison on the face of the earth”
Taking the cake in studied slights and calculated offence is academic Peter Navarro, author of Death by China, newly appointed head of Trump’s new National Trade Council, a body the President has set up to fix industrial stuff and do great deals so America can become great again. Sweet talking Navarro’s begun by attacking China.
It’s been a big week for Trump and for its Australian satellite. Happily for both parties Trump’s erratic and unpredictable reversals departures have not strained the relationship with our Great and Powerful Friend. Its dog-like devotion does not bode well, however, for any expectations of a mature and mutually beneficial relationship.
Given the rapidity with which isolationist Trump has now been overtaken – strong armed by Washington’s hawks, it is possible that this outcome has not surprised our government. Perhaps it was betting this way all along.
On the other hand, it may simply be that chance has dealt a totally unprepared-for-Trump-or-anything-else Turnbull government a favourable hand; a Neocon US foreign policy it can at least understand. Even if it cannot fathom the cost.
What is truly shocking, moreover, is that the Turnbull government is simply repeating the mistakes made in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq. It is 2017. Its aggressive tone with China. Should Australia still be the USA’s humble and obedient and uncritical servant?
Alarming indeed is our incapacity to exercise our critical faculties or perform due diligence on the case for attacking Bashar Al Assad. Similarly with our gung-ho anti North Korean propaganda. Australia, the world, deserves better.
*David Tyler (AKA Urban Wronski) was born in England, raised in New Zealand and an Australian resident since 1979. Urban Wronski grew up conflicted about his own national identity and continues to be deeply mistrustful of all nationalism, chauvinism, flags, politicians and everything else which divides and obscures our common humanity. He has always been enchanted by nature and by the extraordinary brilliance of ordinary men and women and the genius, the power and the poetry that is their vernacular. Wronski is now a fulltime freelance writer who lives with his partner and editor Shay and their chooks, near the Grampians in rural Victoria and he counts himself the luckiest man alive. A former teacher of all ages and stages, from Tertiary to Primary, for nearly forty years, he enjoyed contesting the corporatisation of schooling to follow his own natural instinct for undifferentiated affection, approval and compassion for the young.