Thursday 20 Sep 2018 | 05:22 | SYDNEY
Thursday 20 Sep 2018 | 05:22 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Straight talk with US


Sam Roggeveen


23 February 2010 17:57

Crispin Rovere writes:

I am deeply impressed by your post on North Korea, and now especially the question you pose regarding our relationship with the US.

It goes directly to my main criticism about the present nature of Australia's relationship with the US. It is not a problem with the Americans, but with ourselves. We simply aren't as useful to the US as we should be, given our unique perspectives across a spectrum of regional and global challenges. 

As an example, take three people who are out clothes shopping for a mutual friend, Joe. Joe needs an outfit to impress a fussy audience of fashion designers. Each person feels loyal to Joe and wants to act in Joe's best interest. Joe tries on an outfit. Joe is clearly excited about it, but it's hideous.

Friend A: Enthusiastically joins in the excitement, believing their role is to support Joe and boost Joe's self esteem. Joe of course likes Friend A for their flattery and loyalty, but its pretty useless when it comes to impressing those fashion designers. Friend A doesn't do Joe any favours here, but gets to think of themselves unique for their 'loyalty'. 

Friend B: Immediately blurts out in front of everyone that Joe looks hideous and that if Joe had any self respect he'd pick something else immediately; incredulous that it was ever considered in the first place. Now Friend B believes they are helping, but Joe is instantly upset at Friend B and suspicious of Friend B's motives. It may have been good advice and judgement, but it was expressed in a pretty unhelpful way.

Friend C: Asks plenty of questions and gets Joe think critically about the outfit. What about this outfit do you like? What do you think the fashion designers are looking for? What risks are involved in wearing it? Can the features you like be found elsewhere? Joe appreciates Friend C's thoughtful approach, and comes to a sophisticated decision. Now, regardless of what Joe ultimately decides, Friend C has been both useful and intelligent; a very reliable and important friend. 

It is surprisingly easy to use this analogy as it applies to say, the invasion of Iraq. It is plain Australia is Friend A, France is Friend B, and its hard to find Friend C. Given the very special access we do enjoy with the US establishment, the distance between Friend A and C for Australia is only the deficit of intellectual laziness and failings of our leadership and diplomacy.

We need to do better if we are to be the friends our close allies deserve.