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us ambassador under fire

  1. ABC Online:

    Federal Labor backbencher Laurie Brereton has demanded the United States recall its ambassador to Australia after he accused the ALP of making a "rank appeal to anti-Americanism, to anti-George Bush feeling". Tom Schieffer's comments in The Bulletin magazine have also upset Labor leader Simon Crean, who says it is unprecedented interference in Australian politics. Ambassador Schieffer isn't available to defend his actions but a lecturer in International Relations and Strategy at the Australian National University in Canberra says his comments were totally unacceptable.

    Edited transcript of interview with Michael McKinley
    Senior lecturer in International Relations and Strategy
    Australian National University, Canberra

    Diplomatic niceties would normally demand that the democratic politics of Australia be respected by the official representatives of another democracy and that doesn't seem to have taken place on this occasion.

    What Simon Crean was doing, interestingly enough, was expressing the opposition to a war against Iraq, particularly one not led by or authorised by the United Nations, which the great majority of the people of Australia are opposed to.

    And he was entirely, appropriately making the point to the Prime Minister that another and better way should be followed and that does mean that the US ambassador should have kept his silence.

    It's in his area of responsibility certainly to defend his country's interests and even if he wants to defend his good friend President George W Bush. But at the same time, the points made by Mr Crean...were remarkably understated and accurate, and if the American ambassador is going to take issue with every person in Australia or every person in public life in Australia who takes exception to President Bush's statements or policies and decisions, then the US ambassador will do nothing else while he's in Canberra except appear on television denouncing Australians in public life.

    I believe that Mr Crean should go on record as saying what Mr [Tom] Schieffer did was totally unacceptable.

    I think it has to be made, time and time again because the United States has a record of not really welcoming decisions taken by democratic governments which they disagree with.

    Just across the water in New Zealand the treatment meted out to prime minister David Lange over an extended period and to his successors, I might add, meant that the United States simply punished New Zealand for taking a democratic stand on the matter of nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered vessels.

    And it's almost as though democracy is seen by the US as acceptable for only so long as it produces decisions which are agreeable to by the United States.

    What the ambassador could do is first of all learn that there is a certain robustness to politics in Australia that does not exist in the United States which is more corporate and collegial and there's a different level of etiquette. And people still get stabbed in the back and get stabbed in the back badly in the US. But it's finessed in a way which it's not in Australia on many occasions.

    Politics here can still be a shouting match and it can still involve some quite I suppose direct criticisms many of which are not voiced in congressional circles and that's where I think US ambassadors could achieve a great deal more if they just sat and watched for a while.

    Australian politics is different. They need to come to that understanding.

    The United States is very jealous of keeping its politics clean of foreign intervention and that includes activities of foreign ambassadors making public statements direct to the American people - they're not fond of that at all.

    A minor outrage would have been caused if an Australian ambassador had done that.

    It simply smacks overly of a partisan relationship with a political party in Australia. It should not be the position either officially or unofficially of any foreign representative in Canberra.

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