During Barrack Obama’s visit to Oz last month, if you could find your way through the standard rhetoric that America has no closer friend and ally than (err… where are we playing tonight?), the ‘close personal relationship’ between the two leaders, and the various stupifying “Barrack can speak Ozzie” and “kangaroo was on the menu”, one actual meaningful theme managed to get some representation by our media, albeit often misrepresented to the point of contradiction.
The US will rotate 2500 marines a year through the Northern Territory and the US Navy will some time soon have a semi-permanent presence out of Western Australia. This is a small presence in comparison to other coutries who enjoy the US military’s favour. The universal media take on this is that we are sending some sort of a message to other nations of the region, specifically China. With reference to China the commentary on our common purpose with the US varies only in degree from the mild ‘to address’, others ‘to counter’, ‘to contain’, ‘target’, ‘take an aggressive stance’… to the most unfriendly ‘to encircle’. Whatever word you use it articulates a paranoia about the growing importance of China’s economy and what it might mean for Chinese influence.
Much was read into Obama’s speech to the Australian Parliament but the message contained in it that was directed to China was inferred, oblique, gentle, and tempered by in fact praise for China. All of the inspiring and positive things Obama had to say on a broad range of subjects were almost completely unreported in the media and subsumed by narrowly focused overblown reporting of some sort of defiance toward China. I’d urge anyone to listen to the man’s own words and completely ignore the headlines in the media which serve no purpose but to heighten mistrust toward China.
The media seem to be stuck in a cold war era imaginary world where we with our friends the US are the good guys and China the bad guys. What makes them bad? Obama made oblique reference to economic protectionism, government which lacks the legitimacy of the will of the people and violation of universal standards of human rights. But anyone who thinks we the West can claim any sort of moral high ground on such things is naively and tragically mistaken.
In the city of Falluja where the US saw its most intense fighting during the Iraq War there’s a stark increase in the number of birth defects among newborn children, most reports putting it at between an 11-15 times increase over the period prior to the US lead invasion. There’s a cemetery dedicated to children born with serious birth defects who survive only a short time. The fallout from US weaponry appears to be (and logically) to blame – US materials such as depleted uranium and pospherous both mooted as either definite or probable cause depending who’s doing the surmising.
To wreak such suffering on small children, many of them as yet unborm, is as sinister and insidious as humanity gets. This is done by Western peoples in our name. And yet the US has done this before. Two generations later the chemicals used as defoliants by US in Vietnam continue to cause birth defects in that country’s children. We simply close our eyes and ears and do not learn from the evil that we do, we ignore it and instead comfort ourselves naively in our imagined virtuosity beside the evil that others do. Human rights? If you were to count up the numbers of people killed, maimed and traumatised by the various nations of the world since the end of WWII and rank the nations in order of the most killing and maiming that has been done you would very quickly arrive at one nation which stands out well ahead of all others.
Government that enjoys the legitimacy of the people? It has been my observation that US elections both Presidential and Congressional are widely believed to be circuses which disempower ordinary people while guaranteeing the hegemony of a media and financial elite, and that they have proved a model for electioneering throughout the Western world. It is only a decade ago that George Bush was able to win an election through a US Supreme Court action which succesfully disenfanchised a poor, mostly African American community and thus tipped the result in Florida.
Level playing field with regard to international trade? For all the increased development and wealth that they can bring, US free trade agreements have often resulted in great travesty for ordinary working people in both the US and in their trading partner nations. The North American Free Trade Agreement is the obvious though not the only case in point. Many US jobs disappeared, contributing to urban decay and the disenfranchisement of American manufacturing workers, while south of the border Mexican workers suffer conditions that would constitute criminal offences just about anywhere in the developed world – workers being locked in factories, forced overtime and unsafe work environments, particularly for a predominantly female workforce, are among the travesties we hear about.
To articulate such things is often misconstrued as ‘anti-Americanism’. The truth is its precisely because of a close sense of fraternity and familiality with the US that I feel it is my place to put the world in such terms. To highlight such wrongs is not to hold them up as the complete or even typical picture of the US. For me they do however mean that to go around pointing the finger at China would be a perverse gesture coming from a US President. The West, and the US in particular have long ago forgone any position of legitimacy in claiming some moral high ground, if one ever existed.
The reality is that, as Barrack Obama really said in his speech to the Australian Parliament – China, like the US, is a very big and multi-faceted thing. Of both these nations there is much to behold in admiration and even wonder, and yet there are times when power is wielded discriminately, unfairly and inhumanely by individuals and institutions within each of these great nations.
I have no objection to US Military involvement in Australia so long as the result is not to signify pre-emptively we are not friendly to other peoples of the region. I don’t believe announcements about comparatively very small numbers of troop rotations through Australia and joint naval exercises that have always existed at any rate are really about sending a belligerent message to China. I certainly hope not. After a decade of futile and costly intervention on the far side of the globe resulting in very unsatisfactory outcomes it is only natural the US should pull its head in and start to reallign its focus closer to home. However as the media keeps playing up this belligerence toward China it is only a matter of time until enough people are convinced of the imperative that it becomes the self-fulfilling prophecy, and all of those lingering cold war tensions become a reality once again. With an eye to history it is possible to imagine such things could escalate into conflict. If that does happen the genesis of it will have been in the mass idiocy of the opinion-mongers and not in any real social imperative.
I wouldn’t normally cite Peter Costello, but one point he makes here about the left’s embracement of Obama (despite announcements regarding US military) almost warrants the Costello smirk: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/line-of-left-behind-obama-forget-old-beliefs-20111122-1nspe.html