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Weekend Catch-up: Australia counts, what Putin wants, the Chilcot Inquiry and more

Weekend Catch-up: Australia counts, what Putin wants, the Chilcot Inquiry and more
Published 9 Jul 2016 

By John Gooding, Digital Editor at the Lowy Institute and Associate Editor at The Interpreter.

With a handful of seats still in doubt nearly a week after the election, Australia still doesn't know for sure who the next prime minister will be (though, at the time of writing, it appears Malcolm Turnbull will find the numbers). The biggest story from this election is the steadily decreasing first preference vote for the major parties, wrote Sam Roggeveen:

We need to get used to the fact that the minor parties and independents are going to have a much bigger say over Australian policy in future, and that includes in foreign and national security policy. Would a minority government have joined the Iraq war in 2003? Would it have signed the various bilateral trade deals we have agreed to over the last few years, or the TPP? Would it have allowed a relatively rapid return to good relations with Jakarta after populist disruptions over causes such as the Chan-Sukumaran executions? Would it support higher defence spending?

Leon Berkelmans questioned whether Australia’s political uncertainty would spark economic uncertainty (and if so, how bad would it be):

After the Australian election, and after Brexit, learned authorities in dark suits are shaking their heads. 'Times are especially uncertain', is their grave assessment. It begs the question: when are times especially certain?

Despite a domestic stasis in politics, the Australian government should still make the effort to send a minister to this weekend's G20 meeting, argued Tristram Sainsbury:

For decades Australia has been well served as a medium-sized, open economy, and we have a good message against protectionism. We also have a strong stake in the sideline discussions on steel markets, a saga that seen the US accuse China of dumping subsidised steel in global markets and China concerned about the 500% steel tariffs imposed by the US.

So it would be a missed opportunity if Australia did not participate in the Shanghai meeting.

In the US, FBI Director Jim Comey recommended this week that no charges should be laid against Hillary Clinton. On this issue, Clinton’s greatest ally is the incompetence of Trump, wrote James Bowen: [fold]

The generally unappealing Trump campaign has definitely lowered the bar for expectations around Clinton heading into November's poll. While she is repeatedly assessed as being 'not honest and trustworthy' and among the least popular major party candidates in American history, she is also routinely beaten for top spot in these rankings by her competitor.

With Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump getting so much media attention, it’s hard to imagine the US election as anything but a two-horse race. However, Emma Connors wrote, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson could yet make his grand entrance:

If Johnson can get over 15% in five national polls, he earns an invitation to the presidential debates and greatly increased exposure.

His campaign is still the definition of a long shot. Past experience suggests it is all but impossible for a third party to take the prize (Ross Perot's 1992 run was the most recent; he managed to get 19% of the vote but didn't carry a single state) but when two candidates are as disliked as much as Trump and Clinton, anything can happen.

Jiyoung Song continued her analysis of the migration-security nexus in the Asia Pacific:

The 2016 Lowy Poll suggests that 73% of those surveyed think immigration has a positive impact on Australia’s economy, yet 40% believe the current levels of immigration is too high and a burden on Australia’s social welfare system. In addition, 35% think immigrants are taking away jobs from Australians. These partly contradictory views reflect the mixed feelings Australians have about migration, and help to explain why myths that are not based on facts have proved remarkably persistent.

The Chilcot Inquiry report (an investigation into Britain’s role in the war in Iraq) was released this week. Why not have an inquiry of similar scope in Australia, asked Tom Switzer?:

All this raises the question: where is the accountability in Australia? After all, we were one of the leading players in Operation Iraqi Freedom in March-April 2003…

A Chilcot-style inquiry here might help answer these questions and more if only to learn how to ensure a rush to war in dubious circumstance is not repeated.

The report was less than flattering, and prompted John Howard (prime minister of Australia when the Iraq war began in 2003) to hold a press conference to defend his record. Sam Roggeveen argued that the focus should be on Howard's judgment, rather than his motives:

The true failure of judgment here is that the shock of the 9/11 overwhelmed Howard, Bush and Blair causing them to vastly overstate the threat posed by terrorism.

After speaking on Putin's Russia at an excellent Lowy Institute panel discussion last month, Kyle Wilson asked what the Russian president wants:

Putin wants to see the emergence of an entity he grandiloquently calls the 'Eurasian Union'. This is in essence Putin's ultimate answer to 'The West', a reconstituted Russian empire in a 21st century form.

Finally, The Interpreter hosted a mini-debate between Kurt Campbell and Hugh White on the thesis of Kurt's new book, The Pivot: The Future of American Statecraft. First, Hugh White’s initial review:

Kurt Campbell's new book reinforces the impression that important elements of America's foreign policy establishment still haven't begun either to take China's rise seriously or to consider the momentous choices America faces in response to it.

Kurt Campbell’s response:

Beyond the academic arguments around hegemonic transition and competition, White holds a subtly disguised view that the US is simply not up to the challenge of managing relations with China. In his view, disengagement back to Hawaii or even Los Angeles is infinitely preferable to the testing, vexing challenge of creating a coexistence with China that will never be easy, but nevertheless central to achieving the promise of the 21st century in Asia.

And finally, Hugh White’s counter:

I do think that America no longer has the power to sustain primacy in Asia if China is determined to resist. But I do think America is perfectly capable of negotiating a stable, productive bilateral relationship with China which preserves a strong US role in Asia, constrains China’s hegemonic tendencies, and makes a vital contribution to the region’s future.

 Photo: Getty Images/Ryan Pierse

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