Sunday, 5 February 2017

Australia-US relations in 2017: just for the record


On Sunday, 29 January 2017 (Saturday 28 in America) U.S. President Donald Trump made a scheduled telephone call to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The Washington Post  broke this story on 2 February 2017, listing it under "National Security":

It should have been one of the most congenial calls for the new commander in chief — a conversation with the leader of Australia, one of America’s staunchest allies, at the end of a triumphant week.

Instead, President Trump blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refu­gee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win, according to senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange. Then, 25 minutes into what was expected to be an hour-long call, Trump abruptly ended it.

At one point, Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day — including Russian President Vladi­mir Putin — and that “this was the worst call by far.”

Trump’s behavior suggests that he is capable of subjecting world leaders, including close allies, to a version of the vitriol he frequently employs against political adversaries and news organizations in speeches and on Twitter.

President Trump speaks on the phone with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the Oval Office on Jan. 28, 2017. (Pete Marovich/Pool photo via European Pressphoto Agency)

“This is the worst deal ever,” Trump fumed as Turnbull attempted to confirm that the United States would honor its pledge to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention center.

Trump, who one day earlier had signed an executive order temporarily barring the admission of refugees, complained that he was “going to get killed” politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the “next Boston bombers.”

Trump returned to the topic late Wednesday night, writing in a message on Twitter: “Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”

U.S. officials said that Trump has behaved similarly in conversations with leaders of other countries, including Mexico. But his treatment of Turnbull was particularly striking because of the tight bond between the United States and Australia — countries that share intelligence, support one another diplomatically and have fought together in wars including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 The characterizations provide insight into Trump’s temperament and approach to the diplomatic requirements of his job as the nation’s chief executive, a role in which he continues to employ both the uncompromising negotiating tactics he honed as a real estate developer and the bombastic style he exhibited as a reality television personality.

The depictions of Trump’s calls are also at odds with sanitized White House accounts. The official readout of his conversation with Turnbull, for example, said that the two had “emphasized the enduring strength and closeness of the U.S.-Australia relationship that is critical for peace, stability, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and globally.”

A White House spokesman declined to comment. A senior administration official acknowledged that the conversation with Turnbull had been hostile and charged, but emphasized that most of Trump’s calls with foreign leaders — including the heads of Japan, Germany, France and Russia — have been productive and pleasant......

But U.S. officials said that Trump continued to fume about the arrangement even after signing the order in a ceremony at the Pentagon.

“I don’t want these people,” Trump said. He repeatedly misstated the number of refugees called for in the agreement as 2,000 rather than 1,250, and told Turnbull that it was “my intention” to honor the agreement, a phrase designed to leave the U.S. president wiggle room to back out of the deal in the future, according to a senior U.S. official.

Before Trump tweeted about the agreement Wednesday night, the U.S. Embassy in Canberra had assured Australian reporters that the new administration intended to take the refugees.

“President Trump’s decision to honour the refugee agreement has not changed,” an embassy spokesman had told the reporters, according to an official in the Sydney consulate. “This was just reconfirmed to the State Department from the White House and on to this embassy at 1315 Canberra time.”

The time the embassy said it was informed the deal was going ahead was 9:15 p.m. in Washington, one hour and 40 minutes before Trump suggested in a tweet that it might not go ahead.

During the phone conversation Saturday, Turnbull told Trump that to honor the agreement, the United States would not have to accept all of the refugees but only to allow each through the normal vetting procedures. At that, Trump vowed to subject each refu­gee to “extreme vetting,” the senior U.S. official said.

Trump was also skeptical because he did not see a specific advantage the United States would gain by honoring the deal, officials said.

Trump’s position appears to reflect the transactional view he takes of relationships, even when it comes to diplomatic ties with long-standing allies. Australian troops have fought alongside U.S. forces for decades, and the country maintains close cooperation with Washington on trade and economic issues.

Australia is seen as such a trusted ally that it is one of only four countries that the United States includes in the “Five Eyes” arrangement for cooperation on espionage matters. Members share extensively what their intelligence services gather and generally refrain from spying on one another.

There also is a significant amount of tourism between the two countries.....

At one point, Turnbull suggested that the two leaders move on from their impasse over refugees to discuss the conflict in Syria and other pressing foreign issues. But Trump demurred and ended the call, making it far shorter than his conversations with Shinzo Abe of Japan, Angela Merkel of Germany, François Hollande of France or Putin.

“These conversations are conducted candidly, frankly, privately,” Turnbull said at a news conference Thursday in Australia. “If you see reports of them, I’m not going to add to them.”

After news of the content of Trump's telephone call became public, the ruling Republican Party went into damage control:

Feb 02 2017

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released the following statement on his call this morning with Australia’s Ambassador to the United States Joe Hockey:

“On the Fourth of July 1918, American and Australian soldiers fought side-by-side at the Battle of Hamel. In the century that followed, our two nations struggled and sacrificed together in World War I and World War II, Korea and Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Those of us who took part in the conflict remember well the service of more than 50,000 Australians in the Vietnam War, including more than 500 that gave their lives.

“Today, Australia is hosting increased deployments of U.S. aircraft, more regular port visits by U.S. warships, and critical training for U.S. marines at Robertson Barracks in Darwin. This deepening cooperation is a reminder that from maintaining security and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region to combatting radical Islamist terrorism, the U.S-Australia relationship is more important than ever.

“In short, Australia is one of America’s oldest friends and staunchest allies. We are united by ties of family and friendship, mutual interests and common values, and shared sacrifice in wartime.

“In that spirit, I called Australia’s Ambassador to the United States this morning to express my unwavering support for the U.S.-Australia alliance. I asked Ambassador Hockey to convey to the people of Australia that their American brothers and sisters value our historic alliance, honor the sacrifice of the Australians who have served and are serving by our side, and remain committed to the safer, freer, and better world that Australia does far more than its fair share to protect and promote.”


Meanwhile in Australia ABC News was reporting:

Mr Trump's declaration via Twitter that the proposed Australian refugee settlement arrangement struck with former president Barack Obama was a "dumb deal" has startled long-term observers of the ANZUS alliance.

"I've been watching the alliance relationship for more than 30 years now and I think this is as difficult a period as we've seen since the so-called MX missile crisis of the early 1980s," said Peter Jennings, the director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

"I think it's sensible for us to be working through all manner of contingencies, which includes a temporary freezing of the alliance, a sort of lull in alliance cooperation," Mr Jennings warned.

"Ordinarily you'd say that was very unexpected, but I just think we've got to be prepared for any contingency under the new presidency".

And of course Twitter lit up over the subject:

Business Insider Australia, 2 February 2017

The Sydney Morning Herald reporting from New York on 2 February 2017:

New York: The revelation that Donald Trump berated Malcolm Turnbull, the leader of one of America's closest allies, during a recent official phone call has been met with shock, disbelief and some embarrassed humour in the United States, fuelling concerns about the US president badly damaging important international relationships.

The Washington Post scoop revealing the tense conversation broke late in the day in the US and went on to dominate late night news television shows and social media, with many expressing disbelief that of all the countries the US could have offended in the first weeks of a new administration, it would be America's genial allies across the Pacific.

"Dear Australia: The majority of Americans who don't support Trump want to say we are sorry. We will make it up to you in four years or less," Ted Lieu, a Democratic congressman from California who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote on Twitter after the story broke.  

"I made a Top 100 Possible Trump Administration Foreign Crises list & I gotta admit 'Rupturing US-Australia Relations' was NOT on there," senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut who sits on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, also wrote.

Lawrence O'Donnell, the left-wing commentator and host of MSNBC's The Last Word, lambasted the president for insulting Turnbull, "while having no idea that Australia has stood by us like no other ally, marched into battle with us where no other ally would go, including Vietnam, something Donald Trump would have known if he had served in Vietnam and heard those men beside him with those Australian accents, men who saved the lives of American troops".

Mr Trump avoided serving in the Vietnam War due to a series of deferments, including a medical deferment for bone spurs in his heels.

Democratic senator Jeff Merkley said much of the president's behaviour had been "extremely disturbing" and that "many of us are worried we are going to stumble into war".

David Gergen​, a former presidential adviser to Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, who is now an analyst for CNN, accused Trump of bullying a friend…..

Kevin Madden, a former adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said people had long expected that Trump, a mogul and reality television star known for his combative, impudent manner, would eventually conform to some level of political protocol, but that a pivot of that nature was never going to come. 

"He's just not going to change but that's what's problematic," he said on the same CNN panel…..

Trump felt compelled to explain himself publicly at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday 2 February 2017 as reported by The Independent UK the next day:

Donald Trump has warned that he plans to be “tough” and “straighten things out” after reports emerged that he had “yelled” at the Australian Prime Minister about their refugee resettlement deal and had hung up mid-conversation.

At a prayer breakfast, the President said: “That’s what I do, I fix things. We’re going to straighten it out. Believe me.

“When you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having, don’t worry about it. Just don’t worry about it. They’re tough. We have to be tough. It’s time we’re going to be a little tough, folks. We’re taken advantage of by every nation in the world virtually. It’s not going to happen any more. It’s not going to happen any more.”

The call with Malcolm Turnbull on Saturday should have lasted an hour, but after 25 minutes Mr Trump wanted off the call.

Australia Sky News sources reported that the President “yelled” at Mr Turnbull as he sat in the Oval Office, flanked by Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon, Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Defence Secretary Michael Flynn. It was the last call of the day after several other scheduled phone calls with several foreign leaders. reported Trump further on 3 February 2017:

AS the White House confirmed a “horrible deal” between Australia and the US on refugees would remain, US President Donald Trump cast more skepticism.

He said he questioned the purpose of the agreement, and suggested the number of refugees could increase to 2,000, after the Trump administration agreed to honour an Obama-era plan to resettle 1,250 asylum seekers in the US.

“For whatever reason President Obama said that they were going to take probably well over a thousand illegal immigrants who were in prisons and they were going to bring them and take them into this country,” Trump said.

“And I just said why?”

“Why are we doing this?”

“We have to be treated fairly also, we have to be treated fairly.”

“So we’ll see what happens. When the previous administration does something, you have to respect that, but you can also say, why are we doing this?” he said.

News footage of Donald Trump has him stating that the United States is being taken advantage of by Australia

He has forgotten - if he ever knew in the first place - just how many U.S. strategic defence/intelligence installations are sited on Australian soil, sometimes at a genuinely peppercorn rent. One, Pine Gapcollects a wide range of signals intelligence as well as providing early warning of ballistic missile launches and allegedly controls certain American spy satellites as they fly over China, North Korea, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

On the morning of Thursday 2 January, Australia’s Ambassador to the United States met with two of Trump’s senior staff, Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, at which time they conveyed the president's deep admiration for the Australian people - presumaby because the story of Trump’s telephone tantrum refused to die a quick death and they were obviously desperate to see it interred six feet under.

Despite this clumsy olive branch  9 News carried footage from that same day which clearly demonstrated how untrustworthy this new White House is:

Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway has blamed Australia for leaking a transcript of the US president berating Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull despite reports it came from the White House.

Conway who was speaking on Fox & Friends on Thursday took the opportunity to address the heated phone call that has turned many Americans against Trump for verbally attacking the leader of one the USA’s closest allies.

However, despite the Washington Post reporting the leak came from US officials briefed on the exchange, Conway refuted claims the leak came from the US.

"This is the practice for us… we’re the ones not leaking. You saw it with the earlier reports, you see it here. You’re a little bit hamstrung when you’re the ones upholding the law or, more frankly, upholding a gentlemen’s agreement to not release," Conway said.

When asked who leaked the transcript the Trump advisor insinuated it must have been Australia.
"Well, you can make your own conclusions," she said.

More reliable rumour has it that the leaked details of the Trump-Turnbull conversation came from within Trump's close circle of advisers, in an attempt to either lay the groundwork for a reluctant agreement to the Obama-Turnbull Nauru & Manus asylum seeker arrangement or to poison this deal the eyes of the American public and so give Trump an excuse to eventually withdraw.

Either way Donald Trump has misread the relationship with Australia and it may come back to bite him.

When they decide enough is enough, Australians can become decidedly bloody-minded and President Trump needs to keep that in mind.

Right now a good many Australians have narrowed eyes and grim mouths as they turn their gaze towards this man.

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