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Do Americans agree that the Prime Minister of Australia should have been treated the way he was by President Trump during their first phone call?
So, we’re kicking back at the office, 2 PM, and my COO flicks his phone as I’m coding, and says “hey, the Aussie dollar’s up 1 cent!”
And I look at him, and I look at my colleague, and she says, “OK, what’s Trump done now?”
And I pop onto The Age newspaper, and Donald Trump tweets he will study ‘dumb’ refugee deal with Australia
I am going to do something that I don’t particularly want to do. I’m going to channel my inner Scott Adams (Scott Adam’s Blog) and assume that Trump is being a rational agent, and try to work out what’s in it for him.
(And then I’m going to take a shower, because I don’t want to have an inner Scott Adams.)
Our own Australian government has been treating refugees in a very… by now mainstream fashion, involving detainment and abuse, and has done so on a bipartisan basis for the past decade and more. The Australian government has decided to deal with its refugee responsibilities by exporting them to Pacific islands. And now that the Pacific islands are turning against this, it has signed a deal with Obama to export the refugees to America.
So, no honour there from our side.
The phone call involved Australia trying to remind America that “we had a deal”, which we had—with Obama; and Trump saying “screw your deal, and screw you”.
Turnbull our PM is what would have happened to Arnie Vininck, had he actually been elected in The West Wing. He’s been hostage to the right wing of his party, and he has been unable to act as the Great Moderate Hope he did while out of leadership. (The left have been massively disillusioned. But the left weren’t really going to vote for him anyway.) He is, in all too many ways, a pussy cat. So the notion that he provoked Trump somehow brought up many a chuckle in our office at 2 PM.
There’s a strong suspicion that the details of the phone call were leaked by Bannon: Bannon, Spicer, Flynn and Trump: who heard Malcolm Turnbull’s phone call?
So. Let’s go all Scott Adams, folks. Why would Trump do this, apart from reasons of his ego?
Trump needs to send a strong message to his base that he will keep all “bad guys” out. If “bad guys” includes Muslim migrants with green cards (or without green cards), and “bad guys” includes refugees from Syria, then “bad guys” certainly also includes refugees grandfathered in from Syria via Australia.
Trump needs to send a strong message that he is undoing everything Obama ever did, like this deal. He needs to send a strong message that America First, and that all US deals and obligations are back on the table, because America First. And he needs to send a strong message that he is alpha, oh so alpha, and he doesn’t do diplomatic nicey-nice talk.
And he doesn’t send this message by yelling at some random country’s prime minister. Oh no. After all, Turnbull didn’t say a word of this after it happened.
He sends this message by yelling at some random country’s prime minister, having Bannon leak it, and tweeting about Obama’s dumb deal afterwards.
Does this kick America’s most loyal lapdog ally to the curb? You bet. And you know what? I’ve been reading about the clash between Whitlam and Nixon back in the day; and before Whitlam, Australia was lickspittle to the US, and it still got kicked to the curb. Australia was expected to support the US in Nam; the US would not send one GI to support Australia in any entanglements it had in Malaysia. ANZUS was only a one-way obligation. That’s what happens when you’re dealing with the 800 pound gorilla.
Trump has political reasons to rip off the mask. But it always has been a mask. Of course any American administration is ultimately going to be America First. They’re just not as arseholish about it.
So. Should Trump have treated Turnbull thus? By the standards of valuing longstanding alliances, preserving a viable world order, honouring your government’s existing commitments, and you know, statesmanship: no.
By the standards of the world we’ve just alighted on, with Trump running the US (as Scott Adams gushes) like a Silicon Valley disruptor, throwing all the existing rules out the door and bamboozling the world so he can get himself a better deal: well, yeah. Sure. The Hon. Malcolm Bligh Turnbull is just a prime minister of a bunch of kangaroos, who gives a shit.
That… was not fun to write.