Throughout my career I have been a staunch supporter of the alliance with the United States, and that has been true in the counsels of the trade union movement and of the Labor Party. I remain a staunch supporter. But we have to acknowledge that the relationship is under strain. Of course that is why this resolution has been brought forward. In acknowledging that strain, we have to acknowledge that the alliance, while of course it must be an institution that survives the ebb and flow of different administrations in different countries, is facing very real challenges—challenges of the moment and longer term challenges.

We must speak truth to power and we must speak truth to crazy. We see in President Trump a spiral of leadership which potentially has very unfortunate consequences for our nation. President Trump has brought to the body politic of the United States an unprecedented level of falsehood—statements such as that Ted Cruz’s father helped kill President Kennedy; that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower; that there were some three to five million illegal votes cast in the recent US election; mocking the disabled. We saw his National Security Adviser Flynn forced to resign because of contact he had with the Russians. And, most recently, we saw the FBI director confirm that that agency began investigating the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia from July 2016. We have a president of the United States whose own party often seeks to distance itself from him. The resolution being brought forward in the US Senate, which is absolutely welcome and a joy to see, was of course brought forward in the context of those senators wanting to reassure Australia in the context of the behaviour of their president.

We saw an appalling attack by President Trump on Senator John McCain, when he described him as not being a war hero because of course he had been captured by the enemy—a disgraceful set of remarks. And we see continuing attacks on the fourth estate, denigrating his critics as ‘fake news’. Even legislative oversight is denounced by President Trump: John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was denounced by President Trump when he—as is, of course, his legislative role—asked questions of the administration concerning military action in Yemen. Also we see judicial oversight scorned, with the President referring to ‘so-called judges’, denigrating and undermining the legitimacy of the judiciary in the United States.

What this adds up to is the fact that the United States, the arsenal of freedom in our world, has now entered into a domestic political discourse which unnerves its allies. When the President of the United States talks about ‘America first’, he is not talking about anything other than pursuing self-interest in a Westphalian nation-state system. That might be perfectly reasonable behaviour, but it does mean the United States is moving away from what has long been its global mission of exceptionalism, where it has talked about doing more than pursuing its own interest. When they called for Gorbachev to pull down the Berlin Wall, they were not simply seeking their self-interest; they were speaking to shared values about promoting democracy and fighting tyranny. We now see Trump changing that political discourse and changing in a way which unnerves America’s allies.

The world needs the United States. United States is now asking itself the question, does it need the world? A US retreat into isolationism is something that we should be very concerned about indeed. It is the United States which has questioned its alliances. It is President Trump and his tweeting that has questioned the existence of NATO, the alliance with Japan and the burden-sharing that the US has around the world. These questions have been put before us not by the Greens and not by Labor voices but, ultimately, by President Trump himself.

28 MARCH 2017.

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