President Obama greets Aussie PM Malcolm Turnbull at the White House (January 19, 2016)
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When it comes to my country Australia, to the extent that less worldly Americans might think about it, amongst the first things likely to come to mind are kangaroos, convicts, koala bears, and Crocodile Dundee. Far beyond just broadening folks' geographical awareness and cultural horizons, the following should provide a deeper appreciation of how our past history has fatefully intertwined with that of the United States. In so many cases this shared past has been to our detriment (our involvement in Korea, then Vietnam, with Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen being more recent notable examples).
As we'll see this includes one momentous and consequential CIA-inspired gambit that culminated in the ousting of our duly elected prime minister (PM). In short, a coup, the hammer in the U.S. foreign policy toolbox, and a recurring theme in The Company's playbook. In a recent interview with the Intercept's Jeremy Scahill, author and historian Alfred McCoy touched on this very subject. He was speaking with Scahill about his forthcoming book In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power. Citing numerous examples, McCoy went on to say that, 'all around the globe...any time there was a serious electoral contestin which the outcome was critical to our geopolitical interests, the U.S. was intervening.' [Emphasis added.]
With the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election now a self-replicating meme, the profound irony of McCoy's statement should not be lost on anyone. In a recent piece I also examined Uncle Sam's decades-long penchant for coups and color revolutions.
But perhaps the least known 'beneficiaries' of America's well-documented regime renovation gambits involved Australia. As with the Iranian coup of 1953, ably backed up on this occasion by MI6, the CIA had their not always plausibly deniable prints all over the 1975 Constitutional Crisis that triggered the dismissal -- the firing in effect -- by the then Governor-General Sir John Kerr, of Gough Whitlam, the PM of the time and his whole government.
As it turns out, the history of the CIA's clandestine involvement in Australian politics is a story that is well documented. But like so many of these things often are, it is a history that is far from familiar even to most Australians, let alone Americans. Indeed, insofar as the dismissal of Whitlam went, this was one of these situations where the indelible Henry Kissinger maxim prevailed:
'I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the [Ed. Note: insert name of offending country here] voters to be left to decide for themselves.'
Few would argue that Australia was experiencing a "serious electoral contest" at the time of this crisis, and it was one that certainly qualified as "critical" to U.S. "geopolitical interests". In succumbing to its interventionist impulses however, whether America was justified in the covert actions it took is an entirely different matter. The track record in so many other countries would lead most to suggest it wasn't.
As Australia's own dissident elder statesman, renowned filmmaker and investigative journalist John Pilger noted in a piece he wrote in 2014 eulogising Whitlam's passing at age 94, Kerr was not just the "Queen's man" in Australia; prior to being appointed as Australia's head of state, he had "long standing ties" to both Britain's MI6 and the CIA. Whitlam, who assumed power in 1972 after twenty-three years of conservative rule by a coalition of the Liberal and then Country (now National) parties, tellingly a ruling clique increasingly viewed by many as too subservient to Washington, believed that a foreign power shouldn't control his country's resources or dictate its economic, military and foreign policies.
Even though he'd visited China the previous year in his capacity as opposition leader, the eventual aim to both recognize that country and open up diplomatic relations once in office, he was hardly a card-carrying, left-wing radical. Yet the freshly minted Aussie PM was treated by many in and across the Washington establishment with no small measure of suspicion, paranoia, and later, by outright contempt and animosity. This tellingly extended to the palace intriguer nonpareil and then resident coup-meister du jour Henry Kissinger, along with his boss the estimable U.S. president Richard Milhous Nixon, a man with "suspicion", "paranoia", "contempt", and "animosity" to spare.
Yet in seeking an entente of sorts with China, the political visionary Whitlam wasn't just ahead of his time; he was way ahead of both of these folks in playing the Great Game as it was beginning to unfold then in Asia. As history tells it, less than twelve months later both Kissinger and "Tricky" were making a beeline to Beijing to do same, the media breathlessly announcing Nixon's impending trip during Whitlam's visit.
[Author Note: To the best of this writer's knowledge, there's no record of either Nixon or his Grand Vizier publicly acknowledging Whitlam's history-making geopolitical masterstroke. It seems safe to say then that these much-touted masters of international diplomacy and consummate practitioners of realpolitik would've been less than impressed that a political neophyte from Down Under of all places -- not even yet in high office -- had shown them both a clean pair of heels on both counts!]