Should we be scared of Uncle Sam ?

This poll showing that 57 per cent of Australians thought US foreign policy to be as great a threat as that of Islamic fundamentalism provokes a variety of thoughts. I happened to read the poll results on the same day as this NYT story about Maher Arar, whose ‘extraordinary rendition’ has been covered in detail at Obsidian Wings.

There are various ways of assessing threats, and most Australians rightly regard terrorism as an overstated danger. But, as far as terrorism is concerned, there can be few instances more horrible and terrifying than the kidnappings and televised beheadings we’ve seen in Iraq. There are, however, equally awful things going on that are not televised, and that are carried out by the United States government.

An unknown number of people have been kidnapped, then shipped to torture chambers in unknown locations. We’ve found out about this from cases like that of Maher Arar, who was eventually released after his captors gave up on the idea that he was a terrorist, but it’s likely that in most cases, the victim simply disappears and is never seen again. Arar was in transit through the US when he was grabbed, but there have been similar kidnappings in Italy, Sweden and Macedonia and of course, countries like Iraq and Pakistan are free-fire zones.

As with quite a few of the worst policies of the Bush administration, the practice of extraordinary rendition apparently began under Clinton, but has been greatly expanded by Bush[1].

As far as I’ve seen so far, all of the victims in this cases have been Muslims. If that comforts you, perhaps you ought to read Martin Niemoller

As long as extraordinary renditions and similar practices continue, Australians are right to regard at least some aspects of US foreign policy as a threat comparable to that of Al Qaeda.

An update In the comments thread at Crooked Timber, Katherine observes, correctly I think, that arguments about moral equivalence are counterproductive. As she says ‘“Are we better or worse than Zarqawi and Bin Ladenâ€? is the debate people like James Inhofe and George W. Bush want us to have. ” So, I shouldn’t have said “equally awful” above. But what is being done is awful, and such things are contributing greatly to the fear of US foreign policy I referred to.

fn1. Supporters of the Clinton Administration might usefully think about this the next time they are tempted to take a small step on the slippery slope of curtailing civil liberties. Supporters of the current Administration might want to give some thought to the likelihood that the practices they are now defending or assiduously ignoring will sooner or later be directed by Hillary Clinton, who might well choose to use them against the vast right-wing conspiracy linked, at its extremities, to Oklahoma City (the apparent starting point of extraordinary rendition) and to terrorist attacks on abortion clinics.

65 thoughts on “Should we be scared of Uncle Sam ?

  1. When I was thinking up a short list of hegemons, the usual suspects came to mind with a fanciful outlier or two thrown in for good measure. Still it’s possible an outlier might get its hands on some Jules Verne type superweapon that makes any resistance useless.

    Now it struck me that we all get a bit tired of the same old hegemon and can start to get a bit nit-picky and irritable with them (Lions bad-Power good heh heh!)Hence the poms are preferable to the yanks, particularly since the poms have form and experience on their side. Also they have probably been cured of colonialism and empire, which is why we’d generally prefer Russia in front of China any day, after the democracies naturally enough.

    Now it would be un-Australian not to consider our own country as a worthy hegemon of course. It would have advantages like the poms not daring to bowl bodyline at our Don, but then bowling underarm might make us an instant international pariah, with boycotts of McLamingtons and Hungry Pavlovas and bang goes the market for vegemite futures. I guess if the thought of Pres Howard as leader of the free world gives Gianna kittens, the thought of Pres Lithium might give some of us the jeebies too. Imagine RAAF One pulling up on the tarmac and Pres Mark Lithium bowls down the steps and along the red carpet. All I can say to international leaders is keep your hands firmly in yer pockets, lest international disarmament takes on a whole new meaning. What about Pres Paul waking up one morning to announce- ‘Gidday scumbags, welcome to the international recession you have to have!’ or Pres Bob announcing no kid will live in poverty on his watch.(bang goes our dollar and keep yer eyes on the deficit folks)

    Of course it’s quite likely that our fearless leaders are still PMs instead of Pressies, after Menzies installed our own monarchy, when he had none of his own to ooh and ah over. By now we’ve knocked out a few walls in the Opera House, for some big renos and carports and verandahs and fenced it off to create Bennelong Point Palace for the tourists. It’d be Freddy shacking up with our Queen Mary after he’s been normalised, rather than the other way round. Wouldn’t it be fun for the world too, seeing if a Jim Cairns could outdo a Bill Clinton in the international giggle stakes.

    Nah! hegemon shmegomon for most of us I reckon. We’d rather be free of all this crap and free ride on the backs of some other kindly, deserving schmucks, providing they’re not too ‘out there’ for us all.

    Talk about Hobson’s Choice for the last 3 on the list. Now I like a smoke as well as the next bloke, but lots of cigars aint gonna make up for starving in a Gulag, although it gets Cuba higher than NK just. Now I’m a bloke, so I guess Saudi Arabia gets the nod over the other two. Plenty of black gold to keep me in the manner to which I should be accustomed, even if I have to adopt some other funny customs. What the hell! Mrs O will just have to wear a sack on her head and get 10 paces behind me with the other wives. Still, I can understand it if Gianna has a preference for cigars and going hungry.

    How’s your hegemon list going?

  2. wbb in comment # 50 1/4/2005 @ 6:09 pm still does not get it:

    What are cultural identity policies anyway?

    They are basic civic principles as applied to the issue of the migrant settlement program. Since egg-heads got in on the game these policies have been variously called New Australian assimilation (ethnics make like traditional Anglos), then multicultural Asian engagement (Anglos make like traditional ethnics) and now cosmopolitan integration (we should all be good worldly citizens).
    Howard’s position citizenship exactly matches that of the normal Australians. It can be summed up in a two word policy speech delivered by Sonny Bono, that well-know settlement policy expert, who, when asked his opinion on illegal immigration replied by saying:

    Its illegal.

  3. “It’s illegal” – Well, not really in the case of refugees, but you can always change the adjective to a noun

    As regards “normality”, the panic Howard managed to generate won him an election, but I get the impression not many people are looking back on this episode with pride these days.

  4. Oh, for Christ sake John – there are laws about entering Australia, and if they aren’t complied with, then the entry is by illegal means – it’s illegal. The attitude that anyone who has the balls to run the gauntlet of an illegal entry into Australia obviosly must be in great fear and should to be treated compassionately leads to outcomes like the SIEV-X and the growth in people smuggling. Pretty crappy moral country to be hanging around in.

  5. You have to understand John, some of us are somewhat bewildered that for some there appears to be no such thing as a tradeoff which I queried Tim Dunlop on at

    I directed this particular query to Tim there but perhaps you’d like to answer it:

    Now the article you refer to Tim, points to the same discrimination at a local level, with the particular local problem of Gypsy Travellers. A similar problem has reared its head in my local council area in Adelaide. A local woman is running a pseudo, unlicensed boarding house by parking a number of caravans in her backyard for homeless men. Basically they are loners with perhaps the odd minor alchohol problem, although there is no evidence of real nuisance to the neighbours. What Americans might call trailer trash, with probably no more than an antipathy to these blokes lowering the tone of the joint and perhaps RE values.

    The council has served notice to remove the caravans, on the usual health, planning and fire safety building provisions, which they currently don’t comply with. Compliance would clearly be uneconomic for these men to afford to pay for via increased rent naturally. I suppose here is the immigration debate in microcosm. Would you favour lowering the community planning/building standards in order for them to afford to stay Tim?

    I assume Tim’s too busy or still scratching his head at the implications of a fairly obvious tradeoff. It’s almost tautological that legally enforced standards logically imply some form of discrimination.

  6. Jack Strocchi in comment #52 defines cultural identity politics as the interplay between policy-makers and popular attitudes towards immigrants.

    He praises Howard’s ability to get the normal Australian’s stance vis-a-vis non-Anglo immigrants (of the tiny refugee and diminishing family-reunion category at least).

    Many others, whom Jack disdains as Left/Wets, do not find Howard’s ability to play on this issue as cause for admiration for they regard soft xenophobic populism as neither a difficult political art to master nor do they consider the long-term fallout of such political opportunism as without risk. They also consider it to be morally transgressive.

    Jack says that Left/Wets will be a long time in the wilderness if they cannot overcome their principled positions to play in Howard’s gutter. (And it is a gutter as even Jack admits Howard lies about children overboard.) This is a short-sighted view and also a pointless observation. Politics is afterall the competition of ideology. Anybody prepared to jettison her beliefs to gain power would not have taken up this argument in the first place.

    Defeating somebody who is prepared to exploit our innate tribalism is, it is true, very difficult. It is much easier to tear down a civilisation than it is to build one up as the eventual Balkanisation of Ancient Athens shows. But it’s still doable. In this case it merely requires media support and the absence of emergency situations (Tampa, 911).

    It’s Jack’s habit at this point in a discussion to launch into diatribes against multiculti crimes which he claims were the endpoint of a more tolerant and favorable official attitude to non-Anglo immigrants. His Exhibit A are the crimes and misdemeanours of Andrew ‘wogbrain‘ Theophanous. (There are some other minor examples which I cannot recall despite being read the sermon on several occasions.)

    Theophanous acted corruptly for private gain. He also wrote a book on multi-culturalism. From this Jack Strocchi is content to damn multi-culturalism holus bolkus. He does himself a disservice. Surely he can find at least one other of the hundreds of contributors to multi-culturalism who has fallen in the shadows of the seven deadly sins.

    This type of shallow critique is similar to the current ploy of dismissing the entire UN by pointing to oil-for-food, Kofi Annan fils or rape in the Congo.

    It’s akin to rejecting democracy for the current inability of the USA to hold a straight election or the fact that Tony Blair invaded a country despite being advised that it was probably an illegal act of agression

    What’s more, the whole debate about multi-culturalism is irrelevant. Howard’s end has been to whip up hysteria about arriving foreigners not the manner in which established immigrants integrate in society.

  7. “Howard’s end has been to whip up hysteria about arriving foreigners”

    Sez you wbb. What our politicians were faced with was a growing pipeline of immigrants via Malaysia and then on to Indonesia where people smugglers would carry them to Australia. The number grew quickly from a hundred or two to over 4500pa and then on one hijacked rescue ship, one tenth of that bulging annual figure was demanding entry to Australia. Not one of them was a genuine refugee in the sense that they sought asylum in Malaysia or Indonesia, but rather they had became economic country shoppers. Faced with an unknown and growing cost burden of these economic country shoppers, the Howard govt called a halt to this trade. Now I believe sooner or later a Labor govt(particularly under Latham) would have done likewise, but instead it had a bob each way, playing the race card and its little bit pregnant stance all the time to suck up to some of its supporters like yourself. The electorate saw through this hypocrisy and Labor got belted at the polls.

    Howard’s policy has worked, and the paid pipeline is closed to country shoppers and people smugglers have stopped drowning their clients. Also at about $40k each to settle, and with a politically accepted target of about 12000 refugees pa, these ‘brown’ people were elbowing out some of the ‘black’ people I increasingly see in my travels around Adelaide. Now I haven’t stopped to ask them where they’re from, but I’ll bet my arse they’re from Sudan.

    Whats the matter wbb? You aren’t being a bit racist unlike Howard, in preferring your richer (by $10,000 US per ticket) ‘brown’ people to his destitute ‘black’ people are you?

  8. Commment #53 John Quiggin — 1/4/2005 @ 7:02 pm

    “It’s illegal� – Well, not really in the case of refugees, but you can always change the adjective to a noun

    Well it is illegal, largely, going by the unlawful secondary movement of persons trafficked in people smuggling operations from safe havens to this jurisdiction. This comprised the bulk of persons swept up in the last few waves of the boat people. And there were more to follow.
    NB Placing ideological scare quotations around the term “illegal immigrantion” implies that Sonny Bono is a racist proto-apartheidist. If that were true I wonder why he married Cher?Howards draconian border protection policy engineered a pragmatic, rather than symbolic, utilitarian improvement in this process because it put a stop to the lethal people smuggling industry which is inherently unsafe, whatever its legality. This means that scores of people now do not drown every year at the hands of ruthless and greedy smugglers.
    I bet that normal Australians would be proud that Howard has stopped this form of avoidable misery. But their intellectual betters prefer to indulge in self-destructive Howard-hating rather than give them the straight skinny on this.

    As regards “normality�, the panic Howard managed to generate won him an election, but I get the impression not many people are looking back on this episode with pride these days.

    The panic that Howard’s 2001 campaign manifested was latent and was building up through all the glorious years of the nineties during the Wet-Left’s cultural ascendancy. These policies were tolerated with uneasiness by normal Australians, especially those that had to live with local socio-pathological consequences of a laxed migration policy written by corrupt ethnic lobbyists. The reaction burst into public life with Hanson, not the Tampa as Pr Q suggests.
    Politics is always the choice of the lesser evil. The 2001 election was not a pretty sight, but a vindication of the Wet-Lefts would have been uglier.
    The greater evil of the last generation has been the Wet-Lefts disastrous forays into politico-cultural construction, viz rorted alien settlement programs, Tin-Pot Republicanism and the mess made of Aboriginal welfare policy.
    It is false to imply that Howard has generated a racist politic. The fact that Ms Rau, as white as a loaf of Tip Top bread, was tossed into an assylum detention proves that Howards policies were statist, not racist.
    The real target of Howards politics was not the refugees or ethnics, neither are much of a worry as things stand. It is the Left-Wet cultural constructionists who were in his sights. They can’t be trusted to run a school tuck shop, let alone a civil polity. The 2001 election was their Waterloo.
    Its a job well done to see the Decline of the Wets. Mishandled ethnic settlement can spell the ruin of a nation, as anyone who has worked “down and out” in the EU, or “for the man” in the US, can attest. Just look at the ME.
    Howard was the man for the job. He defeated Hanson’s nativist politics whilst retaining the best and most of Holt-Whitlam’s cosmopolitan policies. This was a victory the long term civic stability of our liberal and lawful polity. I, for one, see no point in wailing the means whilst willing the end.
    I have yet to see even one Wet-Left blogger or commenter or pundit concede that the incompetency and iniquity of their Push caused any real politico-cultural problems. They dont even acknowledge that there are real probems with ethnic settlement from foreign cultures. Anyone who points out these problems is condemned as a rotten racist reactionary and so on. And people who then point out pee-cee constraints on such commentary are then accused of erecting straw man scarecrows. This is a closed ideological circle alright, and one which can only be broken from the bottom-up, so to speak.
    The population was at fault for failing to be progressive and the politician is at fault for “blowing dog whistles” and “playing race cards”. We need to elect a new people!

  9. “They dont even acknowledge that there are real probems with ethnic settlement from foreign cultures.”

    Sure there are. There are probs with most things. However the gains in this case are enormous and far outweigh the downside if we manage to contain ethnic bigotry.

    Sparta died for its insularity. And I bet even Fiji for all its ongoing strife has benefitted from its new arrivals.

  10. “NB Placing ideological scare quotations around the term “illegal immigrantionâ€? implies that Sonny Bono is a racist proto-apartheidist.”

    But no-one has done this. The scare quotes are around the apartheid-derived non-word “illegals”, not used by Bono – the Parliamentary Library document you kindly sent me does exactly the same.

  11. Mishandled ethnic settlement can spell the ruin of a nation, as anyone who has worked “down and out� in the EU, or “for the man� in the US, can attest.

    Saying that the USA has been ruined by immigration makes you sound like a Red Indian, Jack.

  12. wbb — 2/4/2005 @ 12:35 am does a mighty fine job of mimicking “Jack Strocchi” at his condescending prickly best. Unfortunately his substance falls short of his style.

    He praises Howard’s ability to get the normal Australian’s stance vis-a-vis non-Anglo immigrants

    No, wrong, fail. Howard’s has gotten Normal Australians stance on the appropriate statist means, not racist ends, of alien settlement (or cultural identity) policy. In fact the NESB ratio of AUS’s alien intake has risen under Howard, as anyone visiting an inner city campus will testify. This is a good thing as these migrants – whether black, white or brindle – have passed muster and are fitting in.
    Normal Australians hate the idea of ideologues and apparatchiks unofficially regulating citizenship rights. (which is why “we will decide who comes to this country…” brought the house down.) Settlement policy ain’t like setting hog prices. It affects who you live with and what kind of life there will be to live. In a democracy it must be run with the full and clear consent of the natives, elsewise they get restless.

    nor do they consider the long-term fallout of such political opportunism as without risk. They also consider it to be morally transgressive.

    Most Australians travel or at least watch overseas TV, and are well aware of how bad things can get if this is stuffed up – anything from gang warfare to civil warfare. You can muck around with trafficking goods, they can be sent back. After tipping point, you cant send people back.
    Howard’s draconian intervention prevented the kind of ethnic V nativist interest group politics that rancidifies the EU & US polity from gathering momentum in AUS. The 2001 election put a stop to this process well before critical mass was reached. This was tough luck for the current batch of genuine reffos but good luck for future ones down the track.
    The risk of creating a populist racist politics has turned into a reward of getting rid of Hansons nativist party. On the issue of moral transgressions one can say that if the Left-Wets were willing to play the elitist race card (“multiculturalism”) they cant complain when the Right-Dries play the populist race card (“nationalism”) right back at them. I suggest that race cards of whatever flavour should be not be dealt at all.

    Defeating somebody who is prepared to exploit our innate tribalism is, it is true, very difficult..

    Hard core multiculturalism is the exploitation of acquired, rather than innate, tribalism. This is a divisive and reactionary policy. National citizenship and “lawfare” is the only effective institutional counter to tribal kinship and “lore-fare”. Howard supports the former and opposes the latter.

    multiculti crimes which he claims were the endpoint of a more tolerant and favorable official attitude to non-Anglo immigrants…Theophanous acted corruptly for private gain.

    wbb is simply ignorant of recent AUS history. AUS had a tolerant attitude to non-Caucasian immigrants for about fifteen years (1965-80) prior to the “equity and diversty” multiculti-crat ascendancy. Its only when the Left-Wets started to run things, from the late seventies onwards, that this relatively popular race-neutral integrationist policy was traduced.
    Its not the migrants, stupid! Its the self-appointed “migrant spokesmen” who started building their little empires and clienteles. In short, our multiculti-crats were using political offices for personal gain. Or as Michael Kinsley put it “the scandal is not what’s illegal, the scandal’s what’s legal.”

    the whole debate about multi-culturalism is irrelevant. Howard’s end has been to whip up hysteria about arriving foreigners not the manner in which established immigrants integrate in society.

    The debate on multiculti is more relevant than ever before. Most violent social conflict in the world is now internecine ethnic related. Much organised crime is undertaken by ethnic gangs. Globalisation will only amplify this. So its vitally important to get cultural identity ends, and border protection means, right.
    I think it is fair to say that Howard has undergone a progressive evolution, from whipping up hysteria about the type of migrants coming in (Asians) to whipping up hysteria about the process of migrant intake (border protection).
    His ministry is quietly moving away from a cultural identity policy that sits on the ambiguous and nebulous concept of
    “multiculturalism” to one stressing national citizenship and racial integration. This is real progress.
    I do not think that our Wet-Lefts would be pleased to know the pedigree of their fancy ideas. The concept of “multiculturalism” was first used in modern political campaigns by Konrad Heinlein, who was attempting to assert the rights of the native German minority in the Czech state. And we all know how well that worked because after 1938 there were no more ethnic conflicts in Middle Europe ever again.
    I do not apologise for banging on about these matters. It is clear that in cultural policy, as in cultural professions, we are in need of, what Tom Wolfe calls, “the Great Re-Learning”.

  13. On the “unofficially regulating citizen rights” bit, I think there would be a fair bit of support for anybody with UK citizenship who tried to run for Parliament on the overt stand of not being told he was a foreigner – particularly if we could find someone who had, say, served in Vietnam (a non-UK war) and become prominent in other ways later.

    I can see that working the same way as the non-swearing MPs of the 19th century, or the likes of the former Lord Stansgate (Wedgie Benn, to those that knew of him and disapproved, Tony Benn to the rest).

    I for one do not like the idea of Judeges being prescriptive or descriptive about this, when there was a perfectly good ethos in place that allowed the likes of Billy Hughes. Anything else is to rule off the agenda anybody that won’t play by PC rules – like Irish MPs in late 19th century Westminster.

  14. Normal Australians hate the idea of ideologues and apparatchiks unofficially regulating citizenship rights.

    Again a reference to Theophanous. There has never been another case of this! It is complete exaggeration of history. And it wasn’t unofficial and ideological regulation of the visa system, it was corrupt and criminal. Done for personal gain. Not for reason of advancing the cause of some multi-cultural paradise. Jack, you love to conflate crime with ideology. How about giving some specifics of the damage caused by actual ALP government policy?

    Maybe, Jack, Theophanous’ conception of multi-culturalism was as divisive as you suggest. If they were such ideas would’ve never got up. He was one man in cabinet. You make him sound like Australia’s own Stalin loitering outside the door of the dying leader ready to institute his nefarious program.

    Much organised crime is undertaken by ethnic gangs.

    Of course there are instances of ethnic strife when a society is composed of many ethnicities. And of course there will be crime by members of a non-dominant ethnicity. However it is facile to characterise such crime as the direct product of there being a multi-cultural or multi-ethnic society. Maybe there are just bad apples in every barrel. And specifically with the drug trade the links back home to drug trade areas guarantee this type of phenomenon amonst a couple of groups. But its a dirty business and if it wasn’t X it would by Y.

    All crims will flock according to feather. Black, white or brindle. Are Williams and Adler part of a Rose Bay ethnic crime gang?

    I don’t know about where you are but north of the river in Melbourne its the Italians who’ve grabbed most of the police reporters time over the years if we break it down by non-Anglo racial stats.

    Doesn’t seem to stop the crowds flocking to Lygon Street for over-priced pasta. Are 45 Italian bistros in a row an ethnic ghetto or a smart retail strategy? Hasn’t hurt property prices neither. And Victoria Street Richmond had its arse hangin out its pants a few years back . Now the joint has been gentrified by the Vietnamese. Ghetto or suburb on the move?

    The evidence suggests that Australia’s experiment with multi-culturalism has been a resounding success. Maybe you are just too Old Europe, Jack.
    For us New Worlders diversity is kind of exciting and dynamic.

  15. “It is clear that in cultural policy, as in cultural professions, we are in need of, what Tom Wolfe calls, “the Great Re-Learningâ€?.”

    And who Jack, will decide, direct and enforce this massive reducation program that will weed out the deviationist intellectual weeds sprouting like weeds in our plain and sturdy Australian gardens? And you’d need to market it to the honestly toiling masses with a catchier name than Wolfe’s clumsy construction.

    I know, you could call it “The Cultural Revolution”!

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