On a superficial level I agree with President Trump that it was a “dumb deal” for the US to accept asylum seekers warehoused by Australia in Nauru and Manus Island. We should have brought them to Australia long ago.
What is scary is how Trump and his administration handled the whole thing. Via Bloomberg, this is the scene in his office:
An early report in The Australian suggested that Turnbull, in order to seal the deal, had to promise fealty forever in whatever ventures Trump might take, for example to wipe ISIS from the face of the earth, or conduct military exercises to provoke the Chinese.
It seems from the Washington Post report that Trump acted in his default style, as a thin-skinned, bombastic bully, mercurial and flaky, accusing Malcolm Turnbull of seeking to export the “next Boston bombers” to the US. How will he act if something really serious in international affairs has to be addressed?
Certainly this one is serious for those poor people banged up in Nauru and Manus Island, but it is not going to start World War III.
Initially both parties spun the event in the usual pollie-speak and it seemed as though Trump had agreed to honour the deal. The phone call was said to be very cordial and warm. Then what really happened was leaked to the Washington Post, not, it seems, by people friendly to Trump, followed by an intemperate Twitter comment and now it seems Trump is thinking about this “dumb deal”, implying that it may not go ahead.
My bet is that either he will renege, or the “extreme vetting” will find all but a handful potential terrorists. Probably the latter, as it gives Trump an opportunity to spruik how reckless his predecessor has been.
However, it is clear that Trump missed the opportunity to do a deal of real advantage to the US. He asked nothing of Turnbull, it seems, preferring to vent, but perhaps that is still to come.
Turnbull may improve in the polls as a result, having stood up for Australia. It is reported that he kept his cool in the face of a presidential rant. Meanwhile at Essential Report is again stuck at 54/46 in favour of Labor.
Prior to that some were wondering why Turnbull would not criticise Trump’s executive order banning immigration from certain Muslim majority countries, unlike other leaders, such as Theresa May and Angela Merkel. I think the recent events explain that silence, but if you can get it Charles Richardson at Crikey has a lacerating commentary. In summary:
- The Australian government baulks at condemning Donald Trump’s barbarism, for fear that its own barbarism should be undermined.
He says that Turnbull’s whole career, if it meant anything, was opposed to what John Howard stood for. But to get the leadership he had to promise a return to the Howard era.
- Promise kept, but to no avail: no matter how closely he sticks to their policies or repeats their slogans, the right still hates Turnbull with a passion. Its hatred is tribal; it knows that at heart he is not one of them, and it fears, however remote the prospect might seem, that one day he will escape their grip.
For Turnbull, appeasement is a dead end. He will be used and discarded; his only possible route to success is to crash through or crash. Instead, he has discarded everything that gave him popular appeal in the first place. A prime minister who keeps a Peter Dutton in his cabinet cannot credibly claim to be a liberal of any sort. It’s as simple as that.
Richardson is another that thinks Turnbull will not last the distance. He points out that some in his party are deeply committed to demonising refugees. He says that we have “pro- and anti-Trump members looking at each other with blank incomprehension. And the prime minister stuck in the middle, like a kangaroo in the headlights.”