“In Australia, I’m surprised at how people are unwilling to see racism and to admit that it’s a problem.” He cites work by one of the academics at the centre, David Smith, in explaining that the US “arbitrates racial issues very visibly in the courts and in politics” while “in Australia when debates do surface – over the Voice to parliament now – it’s striking that they are less open”.
Green’s job at the US Studies Centre is to help Australians better understand the US and the alliance. The Japanese-speaking, bagpipe-playing black belt in the Japanese swordcraft of iaido quips that it was easier explaining Kim Jong-un to Americans in his last jobs.
He worked as the Japan chair at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, as well as director of Asian studies at Georgetown University.
So what does Australia need to understand better? Three points. First, Green thinks that pessimism over US democracy is misplaced: “I’m an optimist because I’m historically minded. US democracy has been a 250-year struggle” defined through three wars on US soil in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and the War of 1812 and the civil rights movement.
And the US midterm elections last month showed a nation moving away from anti-democratic Trumpism: “Candidates who challenged the Constitution were defeated, with the sole exception of J.D. Vance”, who contested a Senate seat in Ohio.
“It was a repudiation of anti-democratic candidates across the board. We’ll see with Donald Trump but even some of his supporters said he was deflated” by the results.
Green was one of 50 former senior Republican national security officials to sign a 2016 open letter declaring they would not vote for “dangerous” and “reckless” Trump.
Green had served as the senior Asia policy adviser in George W. Bush’s White House. A registered independent, he had earlier worked in the Pentagon in the Bill Clinton administration, reporting to Kurt Campbell, who is today in the Biden White House as Indo-Pacific co-ordinator.
Second, Australians should know that the US today puts a greater value on Australia as an ally than at any time in recent decades. He says: “When you asked Americans whether the alliance with Australia made America safer, typically 40 to 45 per cent said yes. This year, that was almost two-thirds.”
Why? “The combination of Ukraine and Taiwan, and Americans realising that our allies are on the front lines. The traditional US view was that ‘we are powerful and should defend our allies’. Now there’s a subtle shift; ‘we are not as powerful and we really need our allies’.
“You can see it in the Biden administration, too. The Indo-Pacific strategy from the White House mentions allies more than 30 times. So it’s elite opinion as well as public opinion.”
Green says Australia is at “the pointy end of the spear” in the confrontation with China, which makes it more valuable to Washington. It also makes it more pertinent for Green to study professionally, and helps explain his move to Terra Australis.
Third, the alliance itself, he says, needs “retooling” after decades of stasis: “Rotating Marines is good but it’s not a grand strategy. There’s a real opening for the Albanese government to shape the alliance. Not through lecturing Washington about how Asia works but through ideas.”
Indeed, in a recent essay in the US journal Foreign Affairs, Green says Washington needs to shut up for a minute and listen to its Indo-Pacific allies. The response was revealing: “Really senior people in the US said it was a good point and they’d never thought of it that way, which is alarming.”
Australia’s China debate, says Green, has reached a point of “equilibrium” after the May election. Labor, he says, had “skilfully neutralised” China policy as a partisan issue. And Australian policy was more advanced than in Washington because it both confronts Beijing’s aggression but also allows for peaceful co-existence.
“In the US, attacking China is very popular. It hasn’t yet been able to envision peaceful coexistence with China.” Australia, he says, can be a pivotal influence here. Now that would be an act of mateship.
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