Although the Palestinians refused to meet him, US Vice-President Pence’s visit to the Middle East and his address to Israel’s Knesset highlighted a wide range of important issues and explanations of the US’s foreign policy not previously made clear. Considerable publicity has been given to his confirmation that the US embassy will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem but his Knesset address (text here) says a lot more than that. As with such speeches, it probably includes statements of policy which may not be achievable: but Pense has made an important US foreign/defence policy statement.
The US Secretary of State , Tillerson, has made a major speech in which he effectively says the US will increase its political and military roles in the Middle East.The attached report by the Washington Post (not generally supportive of Trump) says: “Tillerson listed vanquishing al-Qaeda, ousting Iran and securing a peace settlement that excludes President Bashar al-Assad as among the goals of a continued presence in Syria of about 2,000 American troops currently deployed in a Kurdish-controlled corner of northeastern Syria. His comments represented the most comprehensive and ambitious articulation of Washington’s often-contradictory policy in Syria since President Trump took office a year ago, and they underline the extent to which the war against the Islamic State has inevitably also entangled the United States in the region’s other conflicts.
Once again, Turnbull has shown that he should not be leader of the Liberal Party. His handling of the Coalition’s policy on same sex marriage failed to recognise that the plebiscite produced substantial opposition (38.4%) to legislation allowing marriage between people of the same sex and that a proportion of those who voted Yes would also have wanted any such legislation to include provisions protecting freedom to express opposition to such marriages for religious reasons alone. Other opponents not necessarily based on religion simply wanted “marriage” to remain as a relationship between a man and a woman and that, whether between relationships of the same gender or even between a man and a woman but not formally married, should be expressed as “partnerships” or in similar vein.
Today’s Australian says that the Renewable Energy Target (RET) of 23.5% by 2020 will not be changed as part of what is described as Turnbull’s overhaul of energy policy (see Renewable Energy Target). That target was reduced by Abbott when he was PM and the recent National Party Conference voted to “repudiate the central finding of the Finkel review for a clean energy target and eliminate subsidies for renewable to maximise the difference with Labor over surging power bills”, and hence to reject the Finkel proposed clean energy target of 42% of renewable energy by 2030. However, it appears that the halt to increasing the RET mainly reflects the mounting cost of the subsidies, which ran to a remarkable $2 billion just last year and which may already have reached the point where a continuation of the scheme would exceed the RET target without any new investment. There is a reference in today’s report to the likelihood of allowing more subsidies to those whose projects have not been completed. In other words the taxpayer is handing out money to a badly constructed scheme, not to mention the bad decision to have one at all before properly reviewing the basic need for it.
I headed my Commentary on Sunday “Are Our Politicians in the Real World? and suggested that some of the behaviour and events in Canberra and one or two other states in the last couple of weeks indicated that our political body is, like Alice in Wonderland, acting outside the real world. I added that “It would be surprising if tomorrow’s Newspoll does not show a further decline in the Coalition’s rating, which would again emphasise the need to replace Turnbull if the Coalition wants an election chance”.
After I read on Tuesday evening that ASIO Head Lewis had said there is “absolutely no evidence” to suggest a link between the refugee intake and terrorism, I decided early yesterday morning to send a letter to The Australian expressing concern about this assertion and Lewis’s other reported assertion that he doesn’t “buy the notion the issue of Islamic extremism is in some way fostered or sponsored or supported by the Muslim religion”. That letter has been published as the lead letter in today’s Australian, together with a number of others letters in similar vein
Although the ABC and SBS continue to convey concerns about Trump, the realisation that he seems to be on the right track is spreading, including by Turnbull. Of particular importance are the signs that he may have done a deal with China involving the putting of pressure on NK to change its missile threat policy. The article in today’s Australian by its first rate China correspondent, Rowan Callick, suggests that Trump may have persuaded XI to threaten Kim with a reduction in oil supply and in imports from NK (where about 80% of NK exports go). Callick also quotes a Chinese academic as saying publicly that “the fundamental interests of China and North Korea are now conflicting”. Such a statement would not be made in China unless the hint of a basic change had got around (see attached Chinese Policy on NK).
Most commentators, including Turnbull, welcomed or approved Trump’s decision to bomb a Syrian airport from where chemical bombs are alleged to have been dumped onthe rebel held Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun. Although some claim there is no proof that Syrian President Assad made the decision to bomb, the only alternative deliverer must have been his Russian ally. Hence, one way or another the Assad government of Syria implemented or approved the bombing of the Syrian town.
The lead up to the Budget (on Tues 9 May) is normally pretty quiet except for advance leaks by the government on what we might expect – or not. So far the main possibility being foreshadowed is action to reduce housing “affordability”, which sounds like a worrying move by a government which should be reducing expenditure. But as it happens, some other issues have emerged since Parliament had the break after two weeks in Canberra.
Trump’s Executive Orders and Twitter announcements continue day by day and it is pertinent to consider their effectiveness and possible implications so far: Job Approval ratings in US polling show a slightly higher net rate of disapproval of Trump, on average - 48.3 to 46, with more disapprovals than approvals (see attached on Polling on Trump Job Approval). But the protests shown on our TV, and the imbalance in the news, clearly exaggerate the opposition to Trump. It is probably little different to the election, albeit more aggressive. Even “our ABC” felt it had to mention support for Trump in last night’s TV news. Despite Trump’s critical remarks about NATO, the meeting of European leaders in Malta on Feb 3 seems to have produced mixed views about Trump (see EU on Trump). The British PM (the only one to have met Trump as President) told them that the US under Trump would still cooperate on defence. The French PM, whose approval polling in France was in single figures the last time I looked, attacked Trump’s support of Brexit (but in front of May). It appears that the meeting was mainly concerned with helping Libya stop emigrants to Europe across the Meditarranean and improving controls on entry of refugees. However, the current President of the EU (actually of the Council), Tusk, thought the US is a threat to the EU!