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A reminder of our insignificance (in American eyes)

August 30th, 2004

The headline for William Safire’s Op-Ed piece in today’s NYT is “Four connected elections”, and the teaser is

More than one election will affect the young democracy in the land of Saddam’s former tyranny.

Obviously, there’s the election in Iraq itself, and the US election in November. Then there’s another Presidential election in Afghanistan. What’s the fourth? You might expect that the first national election to be held in one of the original “Coalition of the Willing” countries since the war would count for something. But actually, it appears that Safire counts the outcome in Najaf[1] as a ‘primary’.

I’m well aware of how little we are noticed, but even so I opened Safire’s article expecting a mention of Oz. For anyone who thinks that our policy of unwavering support for the US buys us anything in the way of gratitude, or even attention, this is a sobering reminder of our insignificance in American eyes.

fn1. Which by the way, he grossly misinterprets. Sistani, who he correctly presents as the big winner, has been an unwavering opponent of the US occupation. However happy he may be that Sadr is out of Najaf, he is unlikely to countenance a continued presence once a Shia majority government is installed.

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  1. Peter Murphy
    August 30th, 2004 at 23:40 | #1

    That should read “An explosion in a “Coalition of the Willing” country is blamed on the ETA…”. It doesn’t make too much sense otherwise.

  2. August 31st, 2004 at 00:41 | #2

    if your browsing through volume 97 of the american journal of international law, as you might be, there is this line:

    “The military “coalition of the willing” was broad-based, composed of forty-nine allies led by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia”

    (Ruth Wedgewood: The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 97, No. 3 (Jul., 2003), 576-585)

    not that this really demolishes your argument, but we are not completely insignificant.

    by the by, i recommend the article.

  3. gordon
    August 31st, 2004 at 09:45 | #3

    Prof. Quiggin, you refer to “…the fact that Americans don’t notice us…”. This is mistaken. Americans notice us, all right; rather in the way that a hungry man notices lunch. What you are really concerned about is that Americans don’t notice us in the way we’d like to be noticed.

  4. September 1st, 2004 at 02:13 | #4

    I would not place much weight on the opinon of a clapped-out old hack like William Safire.
    As John Howard discovered, the US power apparatus notices us when it counts, on the cusp of military conflict.
    The DoD does not loan out Marine amphibious assault aircraft carriers to just any one.

  5. Jono
    September 1st, 2004 at 13:51 | #5

    The US doesn’t notice Australia because of one omission made in an article ?

    Thats a far stretch. He’s a journalist, he doesn’t have to be diplomatic and mindful of every single nation that has/will contribute to the rebuilding of Iraq.

    I suppose somehow that its George Bush’s fault. If only they would vote Kerry, a man who cares what other countries think about the US – including France, China, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Pakistan….

  6. gordon
    August 30th, 2004 at 17:34 | #6

    I don’t feel insignificant just because some right-wing American hack doesn’t mention Australia in his latest potboiler. I thought we had got over this sort of cringe.

  7. John Quiggin
    August 30th, 2004 at 18:35 | #7

    A fair point, Gordon ( I’ve amended the title of the post to address it), but the fact that Americans don’t notice us is important if our policies are based on the assumption that they will.

  8. August 30th, 2004 at 18:57 | #8

    Yes, it may very well be important if our policies are based on licking America’s boots. Somehow though, despite what many may think, I don’t think John Howard has forgotten he’s the Prime Minister of Australia, not the PM of Australia, America’s 51st state (we’re not the only ones suffering from an inferiority complex, I read somewhere that some other country is suffering from public opinion that sees its leaders as shoeshining for the US… yes, I know, I’m being somewhat vague…).

  9. Peter Murphy
    August 30th, 2004 at 23:35 | #9

    I always thought the “51st state” syndrome was a condition limited to the anglosphere. Symptoms have been found in Canada and the U.K. I don’t know about New Zealand – their foreign policy has immunized them somewhat. Pulling out of ANZUS seemed to have something to do with it.

    As for important elections – Safire missed one: the last Spanish election. An election in a “Coalition of the Willing” country is blamed on the ETA by the government. The said government is found to have lied, and then goes down to electoral defeat. The new government pulls out its troops out of Iraq.

    So if Safire forgot to mention Australia’s contribution, don’t feel too bad. He seems to have missed the missed the election of a bigger contributor, and with more implications. After all, Spain is bigger in population that Australia by far, so he should have paid more attention to it.

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