Keeping an Eye on the Sheriff: New US Ambassador to Australia

Filed in: Geopolitics  Author: Brendan R Hay

Back in October 2003, former US President George W Bush caused something of a stir in Australia and East Asia after he described then-Prime Minister John Howard’s government as America’s “sheriff” for the region. Bush was asked whether Washington viewed the capital, Canberra, as the region’s deputy sheriff.

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US Amassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse. Photo: AP

This was a reference to similar comments made by Mr Howard three years ago. At that time, his words generated a huge row across the region. Mr Bush, apparently unaware of the sensitivity of the subject in the region, said: “We don’t see [Australia] as a deputy sheriff; we see it as a sheriff. There is nothing ‘deputy’ about this relationship.”

A government spokesman at the time said that while Australia enjoyed a good long-term relationship with the US, it could not be described as a sheriff.

“Sometimes there are some nuances in the language that get a little bit lost,” Liberal MP Fran Bailey said in 2003. “The American concept of a sheriff is a peacekeeper. We don’t actually use the term sheriff, but we do act as a peacekeeper.”

Fast forward to 2019 and Australia’s role in the East Asian/South Pacific region is increasingly coming under the international spotlight as the Trump Admninistration shoehorns a Reagan-era Republican lawyer into the role of US Ambassador to Australia.

Arthur Culvahouse Jr. wasted no time at his new diplomatic post to begin strong-arming Canberra into adopting Washington’s confrontational policy regarding Beijing.

A Reuters article published by the South China Morning Post in March 2019 points out that:

China is using “payday loan diplomacy” to exert influence in the Pacific, the new US ambassador to Australia said on Wednesday, in comments that threaten to inflame regional tensions.

The United States and its regional allies have been battling China for greater influence in the Pacific – a region that has votes at international forums like the United Nations and controls vast swathes of a resource-rich ocean.

The geopolitical competition has seen both sides increase foreign aid to the region in recent months, which the West says is needed to prevent the Pacific falling into financial distress and becoming susceptible to diplomatic pressure from Beijing.

The arrival of Culvahouse, the first US ambassador to Australia in more than two years, comes at time of bilateral tensions between Canberra and Beijing.

In 2017, then Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull accused China of meddling in domestic affairs. In 2018, Canberra banned companies linked to foreign governments from investing in its nascent 5G network, effectively blocking China’s Huawei.

The timing of the arrival of the new ambassador is a clear move to signal the US interests in Australia’s diplomatic postion in the region. It would appear to be a diplomatic mission with a specific geopolitical intent. The American people for whom Ambassador Culvahouse is supposed to be a representative, should be perplexed over his obsession with China rather than fulfilling his duties of representing the United States in Australia itself.

As the United States has done with many other allies, it has successfully turned Australia into a Washington proxy for its own confrontation with China. Washington risks dragging Australia down an usuccessful diplomatic path with it, when Australia could instead be bilaterally resolving issues with China and building constructive relations throughout Asia-Pacific, all while redefining for itself a more positive role in the region, breaking free from its historical role as an extension of Anglo-American hegemony.

Geography 101: China is Located in Asia, the United States is Not 

Interestingly enough, Reuters failed to notice that China is actually located in Asia-Pacific, while the United States is not.

Just as the US is expected to exert a certain amount of influence in North America where it is actually located, it is not unreasonable to expect China to do likewise in Asia. That US foreign policy seems formed around the notion that the US, not China, should hold primacy in Asia is both counterintuitive and fundamentally flawed.

Such a policy reflects a basic but intentional lapse in geographical awareness widespread across Western media and political circles representing the remnants of European-American imperialism of the 19th-20th centuries. It suggests that Asians lack agency to decide for themselves how “votes at international forums like the United Nations” and “vast swathes of a resource-rich ocean” should be used and that the United States should decide for them instead.

The US currently does this by attempting to surround China with client states and infecting nations across Asia with US government-funded nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). These NGOs impose upon the region US-style institutions that reflect US interests through a process the US itself calls “soft power.”

Examples of this can be seen in Myanmar where US-funded NGOs have managed to bring existing ethnic tensions toward the brink of war, in Thailand where US-backed political forces are attempting to displace the military and constitutional monarchy and roll back recent progress made between Bangkok and Beijing and in Cambodia where the entire opposition is virtually run out of Washington D.C.

The more obvious results of this US “soft power” in action are ongoing “colour revolutions,” but a more subtle attempt to overwrite Asian culture and institutions with US ideas and institutions is also constantly attempting to take root. It is the latest evolutionary step taken by centuries of European and now American imperialism and it is the tool of choice used by the special interests of today benefiting from this imperialism.

Ambassador Culvahouse’s rhetoric and the accompanying talking points touched on by Reuters brings all of this into focus, with the US openly accusing China of usurping American primacy in Asia, and admitting it is investing across the region to regain it.

Who is Ambassador Culvahouse? 

Ambassador Culvahouse had previously served President Ronald Reagan’s administration between 1987 and 1989. He has also been involved in multiple committees within the Republican Party, Australia’s ABC would report.

Ambassador Culvahouse is also listed as a Brookings Institution trustee, which may help explain why in his capacity as US Ambassador to Australia he is openly pursuing policy that serves neither the American nor Australian people but rather the corporate sponsors who control both Brookings’ activities and those of Washington.

He is also a former chairman of O’Melveny & Myers (OMM), a massive international law firm whose clients include equally massive corporations seeking to protect their existing monopolies and to find footing in emerging markets, including in China. Former OMM chairman and now Ambassador Culvahouse stepping into the middle of Australia’s bout with China over 5G and Huawei and OMM’s own role in cases specifically involving Huawei (e.g.), in turn represents equally massive conflicts of interest.

Ambassador Culvahouse is another stark example of “revolving door” politics in which representatives of special interests move in and out of government positions appointed to regulate and hold accountable these very interests.

The entire process that Ambassador Culvahouse represents is the modern manifestation of European-American imperialism, representing the modern equivalence of an elite minority, their greed and the mechanisms instituted to satisfy it, merely dressed up as representative governance serving the majority.

But just like every other empire in history, American hegemony rose on a global scale before beginning to fade. The vector sum of Chinese-Australian economic ties, despite recent setbacks (some might call sabotage), is positive, as noted by the Parliament of Australia itself. As China continues to grow economically, politically and even militarily within the region and upon the global stage, the US will have no choice but to concede its longstanding primacy in Asia-Pacific, a process already well underway.

Without an entirely new, innovative and constructive American foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region, Ambassador Culvahouse and his rhetoric serve only to delay the continued, inevitable decline of American power and in the process, increase resentment not only from Beijing, but resentment from all the partner-proxies including Australia the US is using in the process.

4 comments

  1. Yes, Yes and again Yes. Everyone ‘knows’ that the Second World War began when Japan bombed Hawaii. Everyone ‘knows’ that the only role Australia played was to act as a base for MacArthur’s Army. Everyone ‘knows’ that Australia’s involvement in Vietnam and the Middle East is because we have to pay our insurance premiums to the the only ‘real’ ‘Defence’ Force that there is. So, JF, what did you expect? Magnanimity?

    Like

    1. Interesting comment, if a little salty. And yes, I expect better from the political class, it’s part of the reason I write. Silent ignorance doesn’t suit me.

      Like

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