Tony Abbott (L) with President Poroshenko (R)
By James O’Neill*
In the latest issue of Quadrant Magazine (26 March 2016) former Prime Minister Tony Abbott makes the rather bold claim that “I Was Right On National Security.”
Abbott then goes on to enumerate what he claims were the foreign policy successes of his government. Quite unintentionally, he makes a very strong case that the decision of his colleagues to move against him at an unprecedented early stage of his prime ministership was absolutely the right decision.
In an article in the Australian Independent Media Network on 30 March 2016 John Lord sets out a comprehensive case that Abbott is both delusional and a chronic liar (among other faults). This latest attempt by Abbott to cast his administration in a rosy reflective glow adds further evidence to Mr Lord’s thesis.
Three aspects of his foreign policy will be used to illustrate the argument.
Abbott claims as one of his successes the “stopping of the boats” filled with asylum seekers whom he labels “illegal arrivals”. The big concern of his government was that there might be a “fresh onslaught” that “would overwhelm the holding capacity of Nauru and Manus Islands.”
Entirely missing from the narrative is that Australia has ratified both the Convention on the Treatment of Refugees and the later Protocol. For a lawyer, Abbott seems remarkably unaware that asylum seekers are not “illegal arrivals”. Under the above Convention and Protocol they are entitled to have their claims for asylum processed in a proper and timely fashion.
Refoulment, i.e. the turning back of the asylum seekers without processing their claims is prohibited under the Convention and Protocol. Equally prohibited under other Conventions to which Australia is a party, including the Rights of the Child, is the indefinite detention of children and others in dangerous hellholes of Manus and Nauru Islands.
Abbott’s only concern is that these desperate people, most of whom are the victims of Australia’s foreign policy in other areas such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, is that we might be “overwhelmed” by a “fresh onslaught.” Entirely missing from the narrative is any examination of the causal factors in these mass emigrations. To do so of course, would cast a less favourable light on Abbott’s claimed foreign policy “successes.”
Abbott’s talent for making bold statements without the benefit of evidence or truth is apparent when he describes his government’s reaction to the shooting down of MH17 over Eastern Ukraine.
He rebuts Russia’s claim as to who was responsible, saying that
“US satellite imagery revealed that a missile battery had moved from Russia into Ukraine, fired and (once the target became known) returned to Russia.”
Insofar as this allegation has any antecedents it appears to originate from a British blogger named Eliot Higgins, operating from his living room in Leicester, under the nom de guerre of “Bellingcat”.
That Higgins has long been exposed as an agent provocateur; that the Americans have never made such a claim about who fired the missile; and that both the Report of the Dutch Security Services in 2015 and the Report of the Dutch Safety Board (to which Australia was a party) comprehensively demolished such a suggestion is apparently unimportant to Abbott. Reiterating scurrilous lies about Russia ranks higher in his order of priorities.
The demonization of Russia and Mr Putin in particular is a recurring theme in Abbott’s article. Even his most infamous remark, in that context a threat to “shirt front” Mr Putin at the November 2014 G20 Meeting in Brisbane is a reconstruction of reality.
Abbott says in the article that he had his “shirt front” meeting with Mr Putin at the APEC meeting in Beijing in November 2014. He says:
“I stated my view that a Russian supplied missile had brought down the plane. I didn’t accuse him of direct responsibility but did point out Russia’s role in fomenting the conflict.”
He goes on to say that he then made various demands of Mr Putin.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald of 13 October 2014, Abbott’s threat to “shirt front” Mr Putin was to be at the November 2014 Brisbane G20 meeting. Abbott went into some detail at the time as to what he was going to say to Mr Putin.
Neither after the APEC meeting, the G20 meeting, nor in Abbott’s latest article is Mr Putin’s response recorded.
It is much more likely to be the case that no actual “shirt fronting” occurred. Abbott’s account, then as now, is a self-serving fabrication.
Regardless of whether or not such a confrontation took place, the more significant point is that Abbott completely misrepresents the source and nature of the Ukraine conflict, and anything related to the MH17 disaster.
Entirely missing from Abbott’s account for example, is that his friend Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s President and who’s Council of Advisers Abbott has recently joined, came to power in an American organized and financed coup d’état.
Poroshenko presides over an economy in a state of collapse. He runs a government that features foreigners in its Cabinet. Its personnel and policies are dominated by the largest neo-Nazi organisations seen in post World War 2 Europe. It is a government currently waging war on the citizens of Eastern Ukraine. According to the eminent American scholar Stephen Cohen Ukraine is responsible for about 80% of the violations of the Minsk 2 Agreement designed to bring a peaceful end to the Ukrainian conflict.
There is not a hint of any of this in Abbott’s account.
The third area where Abbott’s worldview is completely detached from reality is the South China Sea. He says that
“China’s renewed wealth has shifted the geopolitical centre of gravity, and turned China into the coming super power, and spurred the militarization of the South China Sea.”
Later in the article he says
“It is more important than ever to maintain freedom of navigation, to avoid unilateral alterations to the status quo, and to resolve disputes peacefully in accordance with international law.”
The first quote is probably factually true, and the second is incontestable. The devil, as always, is in the detail.
The militarization of the South China Sea comes overwhelmingly from the activities of the United States. The so-called “pivot to Asia” is only one manifestation of this. A much more important factor in the militarization of the region is to be found in the ring of US military bases in countries abutting or close to the South China Sea.
These military bases, part of nearly 900 such bases worldwide, are found in South Korea, the Philippines and Japan among other places. They represent part of the US policy of “containment” of China. Abbott makes no attempt to reconcile the hegemonic presumptions of a containment policy with the implications of the shift in the geopolitical centre of gravity he correctly identifies.
Sir Halford Mackinder’s 1903 lecture to the Royal Geographical Society on the rise of what he called “Euro-Asia” is much more enlightening in this regard.
In addition to the military bases, the US also has a carrier task force in the South China Sea, asserting what it (and Abbott) are pleased to call ‘freedom of navigation’. The compete absence of any actual threat to such freedom and that the country most affected by any disruption to that freedom is in fact China itself, is a detail that doesn’t trouble Abbott.
The area contained within the so-called 9 Dash Line that China seeks to effectively control was first laid down by the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai Shek in 1947, two years before the present government of China even came to power.
The maritime claims made by the government of China with respect to the 9 Dash Line are exactly the same as the current claims made by the government of Taiwan. Yet we hear nothing from Abbott, nor indeed the entire Australian mainstream media, about Taiwan’s claim, let alone that Taiwan’s claim may also represent “Chinese aggression” or a “unilateral attempt to change the status quo.”
It is much more likely that the present arguments relating to the South China Sea represent an ongoing geopolitical struggle between the rising super power, China, and the inexorably declining super power, the US. In such a titanic struggle it behoves smaller players such as Australia to tread very carefully. Joining the US in asserting alleged freedom of navigation rights by sailing an Australian warship through disputed seas may in fact be potentially the most counterproductive policy of all.
Abbott argues that the US
“Remains the world’s indispensible nation: the one country with the strength and goodwill to be the guardian of a liberal, rules-based international order.”
The reality of US actions in the post world war 2 era, as set out by authors such as William Blum, Noam Chomsky, Peter Dale Scott, Gore Vidal and others, paint a very different picture. For Abbott to describe the US as the “guardian of a liberal rules-based international order” is delusion on a grand scale.
Abbott quotes himself telling Parliament after the shooting down of MH17 that
“The bullying of small countries by big ones, the trampling of justice and decency in the pursuit of national aggrandizement, and reckless indifference to human life should have no place in our world.”
Abbott was (mis) directing his words at Russia. If Abbott and Australia applied the admirable principle just quoted to other nations, notably but not only the United States, Australia would more likely be a safer and better place to live.
That is unlikely to happen. Abbott, while an extreme example, is by no means gripped by delusions, the greatest of which is that the United States is other than what the late Malcolm Fraser aptly described as a ‘dangerous ally.’
*Barrister at Law. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org