United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III stopped by on the occasion of 2023 AUSMIN meetings to make sure that the military service was orderly, the troops well behaved and the weapons working as they should.
The questions asked were mild and generally unprovocative; the answers, naturally, were tailored.
Australia is rapidly moving into the US orbit of client status: its minerals will be designated a US domestic resource in due course and its land, sea and air are to be more available than ever for the US armed forces, nuclear and conventional.
One vestige of sovereignty might have evinced itself — how Canberra might push for the release or, at the very least, better terms for the Australian founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange.
The publisher faces 18 counts, all but one of them pertaining to the Espionage Act of 1917, an archaic, wartime act with a dark record of punishing free speech and contrarians.
The Anthony Albanese government, in favour of “quiet diplomacy” and not offending Washington, has failed to make any impression.
An open letter in April to the US Attorney General, Merrick Garland, featuring 48 MPs and Senators, including 13 from Labor, argued that the Assange prosecution “would set a dangerous precedent for all global citizens, journalists, publishers, media organizations and the freedom of the press. It would also be needlessly damaging for the US as a world leader on freedom of expression and the rule of law”.
Despite such concerns, Foreign Minister Penny Wong was not about to upset the guests. “[W]e have made clear our view that Mr Assange’s case has dragged for too long, and our desire it be brought to a conclusion, and we’ve said that publicly and you would anticipate that that reflects also the positive we articulate in private.”
But “there are limits until Mr Assange’s legal processes have concluded”. The assumption, laid bare, is that Australia will only push for terms once the US secures its treasured quarry.
Blinken parroted staged lines, politely dismissing Wong’s statements while pouring acid on the Assange plea.
“I really do understand and certainly confirm what Penny said about the fact that this matter was raised with us, as it has been in the past, and I understand the sensitivities, I understand the concerns and view of Australians.”
He thought it “important” … “that our friends here understand our concerns about this matter.” Assange had been “charged with very serious criminal conduct in the United States in connection with his alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of our country.
“The actions that he has alleged to have committed risked very serious harm to our national security, to the benefit of our adversaries, and put named sources at grave risk — grave risk — of physical harm, and grave risk of detention.”
Such false reasoning went unchallenged by the all-too-pliant Wong and Defence Minister Richard Marles.
Blinken’s own colleagues at the Pentagon have found that the WikiLeaks disclosures never posed a risk to any valued source in the service of the US imperium and other outlets have also published these purportedly “named sources” without having their collars fingered by the US Department of Justice.
The double standard is gold in Washington.
The same nonsense was evident during the extradition trial proceedings of Assange, at London’s Central Criminal Court in 2020. There the prosecution, representing a number of ignorant representatives, proved unable to produce a single instance of actual compromise, or harm, to a single US informant.
They also showed an ignorance of the court martial that the US military had subjected Chelsea Manning to when she faced charges for revealing classified national security information to WikiLeaks.
Wong, as part of her buttoned-up brief, either did not know nor care to correct Blinken who, for all we know, is equally ignorant of his brief on the subject. If the prosecutors in London in 2020 had no idea, why should the US secretary of state, let alone the foreign minister?
As a terrible omen for Australians, four defence personnel seem to have died in waters near Hamilton Island through an accident with their MRH-90 Taipan helicopter, as part of the Talisman Sabre war games.
The US overlords were paternal and benevolent: Australia was grateful for the interest. Blinken soppily suggested how the sacrifice was appreciated. “They have been on our minds throughout today; they remain very much on our minds right now.”
The message was clear: Australia, you are now less a state than a protectorate, territory to exploit, a resource basket to appropriate.
Why not just make it official?
[Binoy Kampmark lectures at RMIT University.]