Australia’s relationship with the US started with deception

Foreign policy is, obviously, complex. A lot goes into building and maintaining relationships, especially with your biggest allies on the world stage. Still, it’s worth thinking about the tenor of your partners.

I’ve been thinking about Australia’s relationship with the United States. Specifically, if you remove the sizeable (and important) economic and defensive benefits of the USA, would they still be the kind of country you’d want to associate yourself with?

The superpower comes with a lot of positives. But, geopolitically, one of the early interactions between the countries [$] way back in 1908 was instructive:

Australians christened the American visitors “the Great White Fleet” in a surge of pride at what their Anglo-Saxon kin on the other side of the Pacific could achieve. But amid the celebrations of fraternity in Sydney, Melbourne and Albany, the officers of the Great White Fleet were quietly collecting intelligence on Australia’s coastal defences. These reports contributed to an American plan to attack British Pacific bases, including in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Fremantle, Albany and Auckland, should Britain’s alliance with Japan draw it into a war between the United States and Japan in Asia.

Nothing starts a long and productive relationship like a little bit of light deception.

Maybe things haven’t changed all that much. Take this phone call between US President Donald Trump and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison from early this week, as described by Paul Bongiorno for The Saturday Paper:

According to the White House’s version, the US riots were not mentioned in the conversation between Morrison and the president. The Australian version says “both leaders discussed the distressing situation in the United States and efforts to ensure it would be resolved peacefully”.

Phone calls can be tricky. But you’d hope everyone involved could at least agree on what they spoke about.

Trump made the call after storming a church for a photo-op; an Australian journalist and camera man were beaten by police outside the White House in the lead up.

The world leaders didn’t discuss it. Morrison didn’t know about it (but has since said he’d support a formal complaint). I guess the PM also didn’t know about Trump’s call for “total domination” of protesters – which he made a few hours before they spoke.

That’s a lot of obfuscation for a supposedly close relationship. But, given its beginnings, maybe that’s no surprise.