The visit of Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to Washington has been positive and productive. This is an antidote to the anger communicated via telephone just over a year ago by President Donald Trump. According to reliable reports, the newly inaugurated president angrily, insultingly condemned an immigration deal of the Obama administration that included acceptance of 1,250 refugees in Australia from such troubled countries as Afghanistan, Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Pakistan.
Trump abruptly hung up on Turnbull. Currently the two countries are implementing the agreement, with Australia reciprocally accepting refugees from violence in Central America.
The Feb. 23 meeting between the two heads of government formally puts the earlier regrettable event in the past. Symbolizing optimism about the future, Turnbull brought with him an extremely large delegation of business representatives. The leaders emphasized international trade, investments and tax cuts.
China represents an important, growing challenge to both nations. While attention tends to focus on the economic dimensions of China’s influence, military expansion is also of concern.
This underscores the generally under-reported role of Australia. In 2011, President Barack Obama addressed a session of the Australia parliament, and Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced an agreement to station U.S. Marines in that country.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 significantly re-energized ANZUS, the Australia-New Zealand-U.S. security alliance. Australians were targets in the 2002 terrorist bombings in Bali. In 2004, the Australian Embassy in Jakarta was attacked.
The American-Australian special relationship was forged in the crucible of World War II. In that war, the enormous Japanese military drive south was finally blunted just short of Australia. Knowledgeable jungle-savvy Australian troops provided vital support to generally inexperienced Americans.
The Vietnam War led to strengthening the Australia-United States partnership. A total of 50,000 Australian military personnel served in Vietnam; 520 were killed and 2,400 wounded.
In October 1966, Lyndon B. Johnson became the first U.S. president to visit Australia, underscoring cooperation with Prime Minister Harold Holt. The expedition cast the Vietnam War in global terms.
Australian forces gained valuable guerrilla war experience during the Malaya Emergency from 1948-1960 fighting the Malayan National Liberation Army. The insurgency was finally suppressed, confirming the value of long-term patience in employing sustained, targeted military force.
President Richard M. Nixon and national security adviser Henry Kissinger tried to apply Malaya insights to Vietnam. Sir Robert Thompson, a highly respected British guerrilla warfare expert, was consulted and provided an encouraging estimate of the prospects of the South Vietnamese military.
General Creighton Abrams, after succeeding General William Westmoreland as Vietnam commander, redirected U.S. forces away from massive search-and-destroy operations to small unit actions, reflecting the strategy successfully employed in Malaya. The war strengthened ties between Australia and the U.S. among military and civilian government professionals.
The Afghanistan insurgency is somewhat similar to Malaya and Vietnam. David Kilcullen, a retired Australian army officer, is influential in American security circles. Australians also do humanitarian work in Pakistan and elsewhere.
Australia along with Britain and New Zealand provides deep Asia diplomatic as well as military experience. Canberra has also indicated interest in a trade deal with London following Britain’s departure from the European Union. We need Australia now — more than ever.
Turnbull provided an op-ed to USA Today just before his arrival. “Mates stick by each other through good times and bad,” he opined. “Mates have each other’s backs.”
Australia provides diplomatic leadership. Americans, take note.
— Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact email@example.com.