Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

Tony Abbott: Trump is right, allies are ‘freeloading’ off US defence

“It’s little wonder that he’s tired of so-called allies who give sermons from the sidelines while America keeps them safe. The truth is that the rest of the world needs America more than America needs us.”

Abbott said the Australian government will have to increase military spending above the current level of 2 per cent of gross domestic product, expand its Navy and Air Force, and be prepared to shoot down missiles from adversaries such as North Korea in coming years.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott in June.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott in June.

Photo: AAP

“America can’t be expected to fight harder for its Australian ally than we would be prepared to fight for ourselves or to do more for Australia than we would already do for ourselves,” he said.

“Our armed forces need to be more capable of operating independently, even against a substantial adversary, because that is what a truly sovereign nation must be prepared to do.

“What Trump is making clear to us and to others is what should always have been screamingly obvious: that our nation’s safety now rests in our own hands far more than anyone else’s.”

Abbott said the Turnbull government should have followed Trump’s lead by moving the Australian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, conducting freedom-of-navigation exercises in the South China Sea and taking a more active military involvement in the Middle East.

US President Donald Trump is right about NATO defence spending, Abbott says.

US President Donald Trump is right about NATO defence spending, Abbott says.

Photo: AP

While Trump may be erratic and ill-disciplined at times, Abbott said he had “every chance” of being re-elected in 2020 and was in many ways preferable to his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.

“President Obama spoke beautifully about American values but was always cautious and sometimes slow to stand up for them,” Abbott said. “Under his watch, the rules-based order was already unravelling.

“Trump is much more honest about the limits of American power.

“For all the former president’s high-mindedness on fringe issues like climate change, Trump’s America is more robust than Obama’s.

“It’s certainly less apologetic and still willing to use force, so at least for those allies that don’t shed their responsibilities Trump’s America should remain a reliable partner – just don’t expect too much.”

Abbott said Trump had fulfilled his promises to cut taxes, withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and scrap Obama’s environmental regulations.

“For someone who a legion of critics say is a compulsive liar, he has been remarkably true to his word,” Abbott said.

“He is not a bad dream from which America will wake up or a fool to be ridiculed.

“Unlike almost every other democratic leader, he doesn’t try to placate critics; he knows it’s more important to get things done than to be universally loved.”

Abbott also referred to Trump’s controversial election pledge to build a wall on the US-Mexico border. “It’s bogged down in the Congress, but once it’s there it will be the US version of Australia sending back the boats and will end up demonstrating that it’s far from humane to let people take advantage of you,” he said.

Abbott – who is fighting against the Turnbull government’s plans to reduce carbon emissions through a National Energy Guarantee – said Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate change accord had not produced any “discernable environmental damage”.

Abbott did criticise Mr Trump, especially for his faith that one-on-one meetings with leaders such as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin can lead to peace.

Abbott spoke about Putin in far more hostile language than Trump has ever used, saying Russia had become a “predatory state” under his leadership.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will always have blood on his hands, Abbott said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will always have blood on his hands, Abbott said.

Photo: AP

“Under Putin, Russia has invaded the Ukraine, meddled in Syria, coerced Georgia, had numerous domestic critics murdered and killed opponents of the regime abroad,” he said.

“For Australia, Putin will always have blood on his hands,” he said, referring to the death of 38 Australians in 2014 when flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine.

Matthew Knott is a federal politics reporter currently on sabbatical studying a Masters of Journalism at Columbia University in New York.

Morning & Afternoon Newsletter

Delivered Mon–Fri.