By James O’Neill*
Returning to Australia after a six-week sojourn in four small, civilized, European nations has been a surreal experience. It seems as though 2018 has begun with not a single lesson learned from the foibles and follies of 2017.
First up was a report that the bucolic Deputy Prime Minister and the almost invisible Defence Minister had labeled Russia and China as bigger threats than international terrorism. That had a familiar ring to it and not because those two intellectual giants had espoused similar views on the past. It was because I had read exactly the same comments in the European press, sans attribution to Joyce and Payne. It was the exact sentiment expressed in the United States’ National Security Strategy paper, released a few days earlier, and reinforced by United States Secretary of Defence ‘mad dog’ Mattis in an interview that he gave.
Even the ignorant prejudices of our politicians are recycled from someone else’s intellectual garbage heap.
An article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 27 January 2018 written by Nick O’Malley followed this. Mr O’Malley quotes a recent speech by US President Donald Trump to the effect that Russia and China were competitive States that “seek to challenge American power, influence and interests”. We are clearly meant to take that as a bad thing.
Even the most casual perusal of the history of the past 70 years would readily identify the nation that has done the most to disrupt, bomb, invade and/or destroy nations in that period, causing tens of millions of deaths. Hint: it is neither Russian nor China.
O’Malley then quotes an article by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that “a resurgent Russia had invaded its neighbours Georgia and Ukraine in the past decade and undermined the sovereignty Western nations by meddling in our election and others.”
O’Malley simply presents this claptrap as unvarnished truth. He reinforces it by claiming “overwhelming evidence of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.”
Mr O’Malley clearly occupies some parallel universe in good company with the mad queen from Alice in Wonderland who demanded the sentence before the verdict, let alone before any evidence is presented. What is readily apparent to those willing to look and learn is that there is zero evidence of any Russian invasion of Ukraine, or of Georgia other than a limited police action necessitated by Georgia’s own conduct in relation to adjacent semi autonomous regions.
As to the so-called ‘Russiagate’ scandal, the actual evidence established thus far is that there was interference in the electoral process on a grave scale, but that was not by the Russians. We now know, (although not from reading the Sydney Morning Herald) that the Clinton campaign commissioned a company called Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on Trump. Fusion hired a former (?) MI6 man named Steele who duly produced a dossier full of what then FBI Director James Comey described as “salacious and unverified items.” Steele himself has admitted in UK Court proceedings that his dossier was “merely a compilation of bits of war intelligence that were unverified”.
So far, so bad. This shoddy document however was then used as the basis for an application to the FISA court for a warrant to spy on the Trump campaign. As part of that application, the director of National Intelligence, the director of the FBI and the director of the CIA all lied to the court.
The documents released thus far also show, to borrow O’Malley’s phrase “overwhelming evidence” of a high level conspiracy to intervene in the United States presidential election to try and prevent Trump’s election. There was also a conspiracy involving the same agencies to undermine a Trump presidency should the unlikely occur with Trump actually winning the election.
This is the real scandal and it is not fully revealed yet. But to O’Malley and other alleged Australian journalists, this information must not be discussed because it is clearly contrary to the Russian meddling meme that has filled acres of newsprint space.
On Tuesday 30 January 2018 the ABC’s Leigh Sales interviewed an American commentator on the ongoing war in Afghanistan. There was little factual material in the interview with which one would quibble. As is so often the case what was interesting about the interview was the material it carefully avoided mentioning.
There was no mention, for example, of Trump’s statement last year that Afghanistan had $3 trillion of estimated reserves of mineral resources, including the invaluable rare earths essential to modern technology. No mention of the pipeline from the Caspian Sea basin, the contract for which to an Argentinian company Bridas was the basis for the original decision to invade Afghanistan, made in July 2001, two months prior to the ostensible excuse of the events of 9/11.
Equally missing from the interview was the flourishing drug trade, with Afghanistan accounting for 95% of the world’s heroin. To process the raw opium grown under US supervision into marketable heroin requires chemicals unavailable in Afghanistan. These chemicals are flown into Afghanistan by US and other coalition aircraft. The refined heroin is then flown out of Afghanistan to strategic US military bases such as Camp Bond Steel in Kosovo from where it is then distributed to its various markets.
All of this is readily ascertainable from UN drug agency reports and elsewhere. Yet it remains the great unmentionable on Australian TV.
The fourth foray into surrealism was the limping and fatally compromised Prime Minister Turnbull desperately trying to resurrect his evaporating political career with an announcement that Australia was aiming to become one of the world’s top 10 arms exporters. It is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry it this manifest absurdity.
Leaving aside the moral and ethical issues, of which there are many, an arms industry to be competitive on a world scale requires a sophisticated and technically qualified labour force.
The PM announced a multibillion-dollar subsidy to local arms manufacturers to promote growth in this area. As usual with this government, the rhetoric obscured the reality. There is rhetoric about jobs and growth, and an agile and innovative workforce from a government this has been the most anti-science in living memory. It is a government that has slashed the science budget, gutted the CSIRO, fought against climate science, made higher education prohibitively expensive and has presided over an expensive and already obsolete NBN.
Expert commentaries on the arms industry proposal have pointed out its manifest technical flaws. I am not competent to judge those objections, but I would pose one question: why would one trust a government with a track record like this one, including expending vast sums on the flying boondoggle that is the F 35, to make anything approaching the right decisions on any matters involving science and technology?
As I said, it has been a surreal few days, and the prospects for the rest of 2018 look no better.
*Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org