The Guardian • Issue #2050


Wong’s “reality check” ignores reality

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2050
Penny Wong.

Penny Wong. Photo: Crawford Forum – (CC BY 2.0)

When Penny Wong took over as Foreign Minister from Marise Payne last year, she was surfing the wave of approval that brought the Albanese Labor government into power, replacing a disorganised and venal regime which seemed to think that everything could be solved with a three-word slogan. Progressives were thrilled. Instead of a PM who spent all his time in search of photo-ops, we would have a PM who actually did something about serious issues like climate change. We would have a government that lived in the real world, and did real things about real problems.

All Labor had to do was be more real-world based than the Liberal-National Coalition. That’s not setting the bar very high.

That was then. Now we find Penny Wong giving the Press Club a “reality check”. Apparently, nations in the Indo-Pacific would not have had a “long, uninterrupted period of stability and prosperity” without the USA.

That’s Penny Wong’s reality. We don’t know if Wong looked at history during her time at the University of Adelaide, but as far as the “long uninterrupted period of stability and prosperity” goes, conditions apply. Wong may have forgotten the Vietnam war. 521 Australians died, which wasn’t very good for their prosperity. New Zealand, Thailand, and the Philippines had fatalities and casualties too.

Apart from that, the prosperity and stability was uninterrupted, unless you count the Korean War, in which Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and the Philippines also lost lives in one of the most destructive conflicts of the modern era.

Closer to home, between 500,000 to one million people, a conservative estimate, were killed in Indonesia in a massacre of communists and suspected communists in 1966. Spies from the US, the UK and Australia helped encourage the massacres with black propaganda campaigns. This wasn’t very stability or prosperity-enhancing, but the massacres happened two years before Wong was born, maybe nobody told her.

We could also mention the Indonesian takeovers of West Papua and Timor L’este, both Gulf Wars and the lives lost in Afghanistan, and but we think you get the point. The US has provided Indo-Pacific nations with stability and prosperity except for the many times  when it has provided the opposite. The stability and prosperity is the the imperialist nation. Any that the rest of us get is a by-product.

In the same speech, Wong added that America is “indispensable,” and that people who criticise the US “would find the world a lot less satisfactory if American ceased to play its role.” There, she is appealing to a counterfactual; if America didn’t pretty much run the world, it would be a worse world. Since the first part isn’t real – the US has dominated the Indo-Pacific for a long time, we’ll never know for sure, but the relatives of the dead might well ask “less satisfactory how?”

Unlike Penny Wong, we can call a spade a spade.  Unlike her, we don’t have to imagine what a world not dominated by the USA would be like. We’re working to make it happen.

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