Monday 26 Feb 2018 | 02:50 | SYDNEY
Monday 26 Feb 2018 | 02:50 | SYDNEY

McCain's Australia connection



23 September 2008 13:37

Recent polling suggests the Australian public has been carried along on the wave of international Obama euphoria. Perhaps Senator John McCain’s opinion piece in today’s Australian will give at least some pause for thought. I was struck by several things:

  • Unlike Obama, McCain has a real connection to Australia and a deeply personal engagement in the alliance and our shared history, particularly on the battlefield.
  • McCain uses the word ‘critical’ to describe Australia’s support for US global leadership. Even discounting for an element of flattery, McCain challenges the persistent thread of Australian opinion that deprecates Australia’s international influence and would seek to circumscribe our international responsibilities to the South Pacific and perhaps Southeast Asia.


  • McCain sets out clearly his Asia strategy – in which US democratic allies are paramount. The language on China is clear-eyed, acknowledging substantial common interests but not shying away from shortcomings in China’s international behaviour and treatment of its own people. Experience shows that this ‘outside in’ approach to influencing China’s choices in positive directions is more likely to succeed than the alternatives (which, at the other extreme, includes proposals for a US-China condominium in Asia). Equally important for Australia, McCain’s strategy empowers US allies; but the implicit rub is that the conceit that Australia can set itself up as a bridge between Washington and Beijing by positioning ourselves equidistant between the two is a non-starter.
  • McCain is an unabashed free trader, which matters deeply to Australia and to our major economic partners in Asia. At a time of profound global economic uncertainty, a renewed US commitment to free trade is even more vital. Obama’s advisers say that Obama too is a free trader despite his campaign rhetoric; but it’s hard to see a Democratic administration and a Democrat-controlled Congress standing up to growing protectionist impulses. A McCain Administration would still face an uphill battle with Congress on trade, but it’s better to have an advocate occupying the bully pulpit of the presidency than someone whose commitment is equivocal at best.
  • McCain, like Obama, is saying the right things about climate change, nuclear arms control and redressing the damage to the America's international image caused by aspects of its post-9/11 detainee policies.
  • Values and democracy promotion would remain a central thread of US foreign policy under a McCain Administration, including in Asia.
  • McCain mentions Iraq before Afghanistan, a subtle rebuttal of suggestions that winning the latter war is more important than the former; while his language is diplomatic it is clear that McCain has noted not only Australia’s contribution in Iraq but also our premature departure.

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