It is a dangerous thing to be an enemy of President Obama’s. It can be fatal to be his friend.
It’s a strange way to treat a friend but it is all of a piece, sadly, with Obama’s presidential style, especially as the power ebbs from him in the dying days of his reign.
The damage may not be long-lasting because the US President’s remarks bore little relation to anything he can deliver or will do. Instead, they reprise the most ineffably capricious and inconsequential moments in the Obama presidency: grand gestures, soaring visions, which never actually get implemented in the real world.
Obama went out of his way to imply, in the most politically damaging fashion he could, that Australia’s efforts on climate change were negligible and compared poorly with America’s. In fact, Australia’s efforts on greenhouse gas reduction are almost identical with those of the US. As some American journalists observed, it is not a speech Obama would have given at home, where his authority is gone and nobody buys the moonshine any more.
The Obama speech should not, however, overshadow what has been a very successful G20 summit in Brisbane. Of course, the idea that this summit will add 2.1 per cent growth to the world economy is absolute baloney. It is a rare example of the Abbott government, which has a generally admirable tendency to deal with hard truths in international affairs, blowing its own cloud of smoke. […]
Those parts of Obama’s speech that dealt with security, where he was echoing bipartisan US military policy and reinforcing decades-old alliance commitments, were solid, clear and reassuring. But substantial passages of the Brisbane speech were designed by Obama or his speech writers to damage the government.
Given the Abbott government has given the US every support in the Middle East, done everything it can to sustain the US presence in Asia, and agreed with US objections, made by Obama himself, to the governance structures of China’s proposed infrastructure bank such that Canberra has decided for the moment not to join, its capricious and reckless treatment by Obama emphasises Washington’s tin ear with allies, a problem it has had for the whole of Obama’s second term.
In reality, the US is in no position to lecture Australia on climate change. In the period covered by the first Kyoto agreement, for example, the US committed, amid great fanfare, to a 7 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. It recorded a 9 per cent increase. And support for Kyoto was so weak in the congress that the US never ratified the treaty. Australia likewise never ratified the Kyoto treaty, but actually came in 6 per cent below our Kyoto targets.
Given Australia has grown its economy and its population faster than most Western nations over recent years, ours is a more-than-respectable performance.