Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 22:23 | SYDNEY
Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 22:23 | SYDNEY

Michael O'Hanlon interview


Sam Roggeveen


13 August 2009 11:03

Here's a brief email exchange I had with Michael O'Hanlon (pictured) of the Brookings Institution, co-author with our own Michael Fullilove of a new Perspectives paper on Obama, Rudd and the US-Australia alliance:

SR: What do you make of reports that US commanders are considering requesting perhaps 10,000 or even 30,000 additional troops for Afghanistan? Is Obama committed to this war for his entire presidency, and does he have the plan to win?   

MO: I think the reports are probably right, though clearly it makes a big difference whether it’s 10,000 or 30,000 more troops. The plan is good, but it can’t succeed without strong Afghan help and cooperation — and we can’t ourselves guarantee or produce that. So the jury is going to be out for a while on this one. 

The troop increases raise questions for Australia too. As I say in the paper, even with about 1,550  Australian troops committed, Australia is in the top ten troop contributors but still punching beneath its weight, if America or Britain or Canada is viewed as the standard when adjusted for size of population.  If Australia considers  the Afghanistan war to be a reasonable enterprise,  it should not be content with the current contribution.

SR: In what ways can the traditionally security-focused US-Australia alliance be adapted for other challenges? Will it be of any relevance in the Copenhagen negotiations, for instance? Has it mattered much in the recent G20 summits?  

MO: I have no doubt that on several issues — climate change, the future of nuclear weapons, relations with the broader Islamic world, and most of all the rise of China — Australians have particularly good insights and a particularly pivotal role. But it will not be a matter of first redesigning the alliance and then solving these problems. We already have a good enough relationship to proceed, and any new structures devised for such challenges will primarily involve mechanisms like the G20, not new instruments within the US-Aussie relationship.

SR: Does Australia focus too much on the presidency when it comes to our relationship with and influence in the US? Does Congress get enough attention?   

MO: In my dealings with the Australian Embassy, I have noticed a great deal of attention to Congress. And more broadly, as I say in the paper, Australia tends to be less vain about its status than some other countries, which demand attention in the early months of an administration. Australians can tolerate playing second fiddle as long as they are respected, consulted, and given special deference on issues of particular importance to them.