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Costello Decries Anti-American Sentiment Amongst Teachers

Peter Costello, Liberal Member for Higgins, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Federal TreasurerThe Treasurer, Peter Costello, has attacked anti-American sentiment by teachers and criticised the teaching of history in Australian schools.

In an address to the Australian American Leadership Dialogue Forum’s Gala Dinner in Sydney, Costello defended the alliance with the United States and sought to examine the origins of what he termed ‘anti-Americanism’. He claimed that anti-Americanism is “prevalent” in Europe and “viruluent” in the Arab world.

In Australia, Costello argued, anti-American sentiment is dressed up as “anti-globalisation”. He said: “Opponents of globalisation locate evil in the same place that their ideological soulmates from the days of the Cold War did. Left wing politics and its more recent variant – anti-globalisation – operates in a fever of anti-Americanism.”

Costello’s speech appears to be part of a deliberate strategy to broaden his political appeal by speaking out on a variety of political and social issues. It follows remarks he made a week ago about government leadership.

This is the text of the address by the Treasurer, Peter Costello, to the Australian American Leadership Dialogue Forum Gala Dinner at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Last Monday, 15th August 2005, was the 60th Anniversary of Victory in the Pacific (VP Day).

Of course the Second World War did not start on the same day for our two countries -Australia and the United States of America. For Australia it started on 3rd September 1939 when Germany ignored an ultimatum over Poland, and Great Britain and its Dominions declared war. For the United States it began on 7th December 1941 with the infamous attack on Pearl Harbour. But the war finished for each of us on the same day some 60 years ago.

Australia and the United States went into World War II separately but came out of it together:- as allies; and as friends.

Just as the United States was caught off guard by the Japanese attack in 1941, Australia was caught unprepared for the rapid Japanese advance in South East Asia and the Pacific. By February 1942 the continental mainland of Australia was under direct air attack. Australia faced its gravest security threat. But beginning with naval battles in the Coral Sea, with the Australian land defence of Port Moresby, and the island campaign under Douglas MacArthur, the war began to turn. It ended in circumstances that are well known.

Anyone who lived through that period knows that in Australia’s greatest hour of need it was the forces of the United States that stood with us in the defence of Australia and ultimately secured victory in the Pacific. This is the World War II generation – a generation sometimes described as the ‘greatest generation’.

My generation is the sons and daughters of that generation. We know the story of the defence of Australia from our parents -their stories, their medals, their battalion reunions have been part of our history from birth. But as that generation fades, so too does the knowledge of how our countries came to be military allies and what that meant in the dark years early in the 1940s. We should not assume that these events loom large in the minds of the next generation.

It is common in this country, like so many others, to come across anti-American sentiment. It is always there but it rises at times of Australia’s military engagement in coalition with the United States. Most recently Australia’s engagement in Iraq has raised these sentiments. Critics commonly allege that Australia is only engaged in these theatres at the urging of, or in some supine gesture towards the United States. ‘After all’, one senior school student aggressively asked me at a local school: ‘What have the Americans ever done for us?’ What indeed? I began my answer with the events of 1941. There was no flicker of recognition. It was clear to me that whatever the educational achievements of this school, the teaching of history was not among them.

This is not to say that every person that opposed Australia’s engagement in Iraq is anti-American, plainly not. Some have legitimate disagreements over aims or strategy. Some dispute the legality of the engagement. Not every person opposed to Australia’s engagement in Iraq is anti-American. But let me turn it around the other way. Every anti-American would have opposed Australia’s engagement in Iraq.

I think it was a fair element motivating Labor’s Leader of last year. When he opposed Australia’s engagement in Iraq, he didn’t confine himself to aims or strategy but included gratuitous insults to President Bush. Warming to his theme he told Parliament that:

‘Mr Howard and his Government are just yes-men to the United States.
There they are, a conga line of suckholes…’

Other statements by him on the subject cannot be reported here for reasons of decency. They reveal a lot of venom directed towards America.

Anti-Americanism is not unique to Australia. It is prevalent in much greater degrees in other places around the world. For example, in Europe, particularly France, it is widespread. Jean-Francois Revel writing on ‘Europe’s Anti-American Obsession’ in December 2003 observed that:-

‘Many Europeans sneer that America, a society still in a primitive state, ruled by violence and criminality, couldn’t possibly have a mature culture’.

Part of the feeling against America in Europe stems from the fact that although America is a much younger country it has managed to take the leadership role in world affairs that Europeans believe rightly should belong to them. In the minds of many in Europe, America is an immature upstart. Of course one of the reasons this upstart became a global leader is that it proved quite successful and valuable to France in 1944!

Anti-Americanism is virulent in the Arab world. I will not give examples. They are regularly published in newspapers and on websites. Some of them can be extremely offensive. They mostly revolve around perceived injustices to Islam, the Palestinians, or the so-called influence of the Jews.

But a sense of denied global leadership or a perceived injustice to the Arab world is not likely to be the source of anti-Americanism in Australia. So where does it come from?

In April this year, the Lowy Institute published a survey of Australian attitudes to other countries. It asked this question: ‘When you think about the following countries do you have positive or negative feelings about them?’ Amongst Australians positive feelings for New Zealand topped the list with a net positive of 90%, the UK was second with a net positive of 75%, Japan was at 70%. Then it fell away. The United States had a net positive rating of 19% half that of China and slightly ahead of Indonesia. It received a much larger negative response than China.

What are the sources of anti-American feeling in Australia?

There has always been hostility from some on the left of politics towards America. These are people who believe capitalism is evil and that the United States is the home of capitalism. In their eyes the United States is the place where the evil of capitalism and exploitation is most at home, and not only at home, but at home base from which it is exported around the world. During the Cold War, Marxists and socialists of various types were ideologically or emotionally drawn to the communist side. Their side lost. This gave them even stronger reason to dislike America.

Fortunately communism has now been consigned to the dustbin of history. Except for a few strongholds in University Faculties it would be rare to meet a real socialist today, or to hear a Marxist critique of capitalism. But the sentiment hasn’t entirely disappeared – the Left in Australian politics is still there but has morphed itself into other names. One of the names you will find it takes today is ‘anti globalisation’.

Anti-globalisation rallies really got a big start after the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle in November 1999. They are frequently directed at International Monetary Fund meetings. It is quite common to see an effigy of Uncle Sam at these rallies. After all if the world is being subjected to exploitative economic forces where do you think those forces would be based and who do you think would be directing them? You guessed it – the home of evil. Opponents of globalisation locate evil in the same place that their ideological soulmates from the days of the Cold War did. Left wing politics and its more recent variant – anti-globalisation – operates in a fever of anti-Americanism.

Outside of left-wing circles, there might be another reason for resentment towards the United States. This is a resentment about the level of US power. This might not be a particular objection to the economic or political system but resentment that its economy is so strong and its military reach so wide. In global terms the power of the United States is unrivalled. People are naturally suspicious of power. A lot of our literature tells stories about the little guy who takes on and overcomes the big guy:- David vs. Goliath. We are supposed to identify with the little guy. There is something in human nature that resents another’s power.

Of course people get suspicious about power because they fear that at the end of the day it might be used against them, or their interests, or the interests of those they care for. The history of the world is replete with powerful states and empires -Rome, the Ottomans, Great Britain. These were powers that ruled large areas of the globe, generally by force. There always has been and, in likelihood, always will be great powers – even hegemons. But if the world is to have a hegemon the modern United States is the kind of hegemon we would like to have – democratic, respectful of human rights, with strong and genuine belief in individual liberty.

A stable international order which recognises these values is far preferable to one where great powers seek to extinguish these values, or to an unstable international order where these values cannot be guaranteed or enjoyed.

A stable free democratic condition is not the natural condition of the human race. In the sweep of world history this is the exception not the rule. Democracy is something that has to be worked at. Most societies that have been able to practice it successfully have come to it after a very long process.

Great powers determined to rub out democracy are dangerous. Great powers that want to respect and protect this process are not at all threatening.

Australia does not seek to rival the United States for global leadership. We have no reason to resent its great power. That power is more likely to be used in defence of values we hold dear -the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, property rights, freedom of movement, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech – than in threatening them.

There is another level of values, a less important level, where Australians might worry about the United States influence. American mass culture is very strong. It is exported around the world principally through media. A fair bit of it is distasteful – particularly views on violence and sex portrayed on television or movies coming out of Hollywood. If you watched too much of this rubbish you could begin to think that this behaviour is normal or glamorous. Some people might try to imitate it.

Before we get too self-righteous about this we should acknowledge that there is an element of Australian popular culture that is equally distasteful. We have our own media propagating distasteful images and values. We could certainly give the Americans a run for their money in a race to the bottom.

Unfortunately America has found it much easier to spread its mass culture, than to spread its high principles. Perhaps we have too. So what should we conclude? That there is something wrong with the international order? Of course not. We should conclude that human nature is frail. There is always going to be a large market for this kind of stuff. A large proportion of America is concerned about Hollywood as well. Short of media control there is little, however, that can be done about it.

So some people blame America for ‘evil capitalism’. Some resent its power. Some dislike aspects of its mass culture. None of these things threaten Australia, its vital interests or its core values. In fact American power is supportive of our core values. Our country has no solid reason for anti-Americanism.

The US Administration has recognised that anti-Americanism is an issue, and I think the appointment of Karen Hughes as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy has been a positive move to help address this issue. Henry Kissinger in his most recent book concluded with an injunction for the US to strive for co-operation.

He cites the Australian scholar Coral Bell who he says brilliantly describes America’s challenge thus:

‘to recognise its own pre-eminence but to conduct it’s own policy
as if it were still living in a world of many centres of power.’

Australia and the United States will see many issues in the same way – because we have similar values – but we will see some issues quite differently because we have dissimilarities:-

  1. The United States is a global power that sees its role and interests in global terms. Australia does not purport to be a global power.
  2. We are located in different regions. Australia’s neighbourhood is in East Asia and the United States’ neighbourhood is the Americas.
  3. The United States believes that it can be a self-contained economy. Australia knows it can’t and relies on international trade for its standard of living.
  4. The United States believes it has a ‘manifest destiny’ to take its view of human rights to the world. Australia has a common law tradition where civil and political rights emerge from democratic experience sometimes in different forms.

These different perspectives give rise to some differences on policy. I will illustrate a couple from my own experience.

Disagreements over IMF Support for Indonesia

In late 1997 and early 1998, the Asian economic crisis that had started in Thailand spread to Korea and Indonesia. The Indonesian currency was in free fall (falling from 2450 to the USD in June 1997 to 10375 in January 1998), foreign banks had cut their credit lines, inflation had surged and trade was disrupted. Indonesia’s economic stability and future was at stake.

The IMF and Indonesia agreed on an IMF program in November 1997. It made little difference, conditions in Indonesia continued to deteriorate. A revised programme in January 1998 contained a long list of demands that I would support – fiscal conditions, structural reform – for long term economic reform but which were hopelessly misdirected for a country with collapsing living standards that required immediate stablisation and liquidity support. For example, the IMF demanded the abolition of Bulog, the state-owned monopoly food supplier; the elimination of the Clove Marketing Board; cement cartels to be dissolved; barriers to foreign investment in palm oil to be lifted; petrol prices to be increased. Australia made strong objections about the appropriateness of these conditions. The United States strongly defended them. Eventually the IMF reconsidered them.

Australia’s approach to Indonesia during the crisis reflected our assessment of Indonesia’s strategic importance – our view that the stability and prosperity of Indonesia and its 200 million people were the first and foremost issue not only for the Indonesians themselves but for Australia and the wider region.

The United States believed that breaking up monopolies would break up corruption and improve human rights. It wanted the international community to get tough with Indonesia – much tougher than it demanded when crises later occurred and programmes were offered to Argentina and Turkey, where US strategic interests were seen more clearly at risk. Washington viewed Indonesia principally through the lens of human rights. Australia viewed it through the lens of economic stability in East Asia.

China’s Exchange Rate Regime

Over recent decades, China’s remarkable growth has lifted millions of its citizens out of poverty, transformed its economy and society, re-shaped the East Asian economic landscape and shifted global markets for commodities, manufactured goods and capital.

Australia and the US have welcomed – and benefited from – China’s economic emergence and increasing integration into the global economy. We have encouraged the Chinese authorities to maintain the pace of economic reform and liberalisation.

It is widely believed that because China has pegged its currency to the US dollar the RMB is undervalued. If so, this means its exports are more competitive against US domestic manufacturers. Many in the United States see this as unfair competition and a source of the large United States current account deficit.

This was a major issue at the 2003 APEC Finance Ministers’ meeting in Phuket, Thailand.

At the end of the 2003 APEC Finance Ministers’ Meeting in Phuket, Thailand, US Treasury Secretary Snow issued a press release affirming his: –

‘long-held view that market-determined floating currencies, with interventions kept to a minimum, are essential to a well-functioning international financial system.’

He went on to point out that:-

‘[o]nly freely floating currencies bring the accuracy and efficiency necessary for proper pricing, account settlement and capital flows among our economies.’

Australia agrees. We also acknowledge that for emerging economies with fragile financial systems, the pacing and sequencing of reform designed to bring about this outcome is critical.

Here’s what I said at the end of the meeting:-

‘…countries that are emerging markets like China have to develop strong financial systems to come fully into the international financial system and as we learnt in 1997 and 1998, the floating of an exchange rate is something that tends to come at the end of that process rather than the beginning of that process. And there’s a lot of work to be done of course in strengthening the Chinese financial system.’

Australia, like the US, welcomed China’s 21 July announcement that it was adopting a more flexible approach to its currency, we believe that Beijing must adopt a carefully paced approach to further liberalisation. Australia views this issue through the lens of regional economic stability. The United States views it in the context of bilateral trade.

Different Perspectives, Shared Values

These examples are not major strategic disagreements. They do illustrate different perspectives. We are nations of different sizes. Australia is conscious that it is one of many middle sized powers in the world. It is conscious that it must work with those powers.

We are not a self-contained economy. We are an open trading economy. We want to work within the World Trade Organisation to open trade for the benefit of all countries. If the world resorts to a shoot-out on subsidies, the United States might think it can win. We know we would lose. Overall global prosperity would turn down.

Australia has done a lot of hard reform in opening its economy to international trade. It has paid results. But it would pay higher results if other countries were able to achieve similar results. We really need co-operation in the forthcoming Hong Kong Ministerial by countries that are able to take decisions in the long-term interest even where it conflicts with short-term political pressures .

Australia is conscious that its near neighbours in East Asia are important to it economically and strategically. It wants to see continuing stability and growing prosperity. And it wants to see the United States closely engaged with the region.

On matters of global significance, such as the fight against terrorism, we look at things in very much the same way. This is because we look through a prism of shared values and shared interests. It is shared values and shared interests that form the foundation of our alliance. An alliance could not have a firmer foundation.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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