Towards the end of the Obama administration, a classified “deal” was made between the then President and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, to send an undisclosed number of refugees from detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru to the US for resettlement. In return, Australia agreed to accept refugees from Costa Rica.
The classified nature of the deal infuriated Republicans, who after the election of President Trump called for details to be released, claiming the agreement covered the resettlement of an estimated 2,400 refugees, some from countries already on Obama’s list of “countries of concern.”
It was on the basis of Obama’s list that Trump formed his own list of seven predominantly Muslim countries from which entry into the US is now forbidden for ninety days, with refugees refused resettlement for one hundred and twenty days.
Both Obama and Turnbull were likely confident of a Clinton win when the agreement was reached, though Turnbull did express confidence that if elected, Trump would honour the agreement.
It was and remains, an unholy deal. The US is the last of a number of countries successive Australian governments have attempted to persuade to take refugees who legally sought asylum in Australia, and were incarcerated in off-shore camps for exercising those legal rights. Both the LNP and ALP have engaged in increasingly desperate efforts to wash their hands of the refugees, and both parties were relieved and enthused by the US “deal.”
It’s been revealed today through leaks to the Washington Post, that Trump exploded at Turnbull during a phone call over the weekend, telling him it was the worst deal he’d ever heard of, and why did he, Turnbull, expect that Trump would agree to importing the next Boston Bomber. Trump later tweeted this:
The clue as to what is actually going on here is in the tweet, and to understand it, you need to know some context.
In 2011, Trump’s attacks on President Obama’s origins were at their height, the so-called “Birther” controversy. At the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner that year, Obama, who was guest speaker, took the opportunity to thoroughly trash Donald Trump, who was also present. Witnesses to this trashing claim Trump’s humiliation and rage were palpable, and many have since commented that this was the moment that determined Trump to enter the presidential race, and in victory avenge himself, lay his humiliation to rest, and assume power over every Obama initiative instigated during his administration, with the aim of dismantling as many of them as possible.
Much as in our own country, Tony Abbott set about dismantling every Labor government initiative of any note, regardless of its value, simply because it was a Labor initiative, and he could demonstrate his power to be greater than the ALP’s through this destructive rampage.
Trump misses no opportunity to denigrate Obama, either overtly or covertly. This “dumb deal” of Obama’s is being used by Trump to demonstrate to the American people that his predecessor was reckless enough to enter into a secret deal that allowed refugees from “countries of concern” into the US, and in so doing, risk the safety and security of Americans. Trump’s message is that he is better than this. He knows a dumb deal from the Obama administration when he sees one, and he’s not going to just go along with it.
Turnbull and the refugees are collateral damage. Turnbull deserves it. The refugees do not.
Trump personally loathes and fears Muslims. He is also no doubt genuinely irritated at having to negotiate his way through this “deal” which, should he decide to honour it (and he may yet, the man is mercurial and entirely unpredictable) will cause him considerable embarrassment, given his hardline stance towards countries that are also the homelands of many of those whose fate is in limbo. Politcially, Trump allegedly said to Turnbull, I’ll get killed by it. I don’t want these people.
The future of the refugees is still as uncertain as it has been for years. At the very best, Trump might agree to “extreme vetting:” a process very few are likely to survive, given their homelands, the involvement of many in protests against their ill-treatment, and their demonised reputations, for which Australia is entirely responsible, having cast them as “criminals” and “illegals” in order to win political favour with the ignorant.
It is with increasing incredulity we now watch as Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton attempt to rebrand those they’ve slandered as criminals and illegals, into “genuine”refugees worthy of resettlement in the USA. As we are wont to observe on social media, you could not make this shit up.
Turnbull continues to insist that Trump has agreed to honour the “deal.” However, neither he nor the media are particularly honest in their explanations of this deal: it is not a deal to accept anyone. The terms are such that the US can refuse to take even one refugee, and still honour the agreement. This has been known by the government for some time:
Our politicians seem not to have caught up with events. Trump is feral. He’ll do what he wants. He has no regard for diplomacy, checks and balances, time-honoured channels, or the right way of doing things. We’re in an entirely new political landscape. Documentary film maker Michael Moore claims there’s a coup underway even as we speak, a coup in which a handful of men destroy the US state via the transference of executive power to a small, tight inner circle, over-ruling any efforts by relevant agencies to intervene in their power grab.
The only certainties we can have about Trump is that he will act in ways that benefit and gratify his personal goals, and that his thirst for revenge is a legendary driving force.
Turnbull is in a pickle, and one he richly deserves. This is the karma bus coming to call.
However, he has an opportunity to redeem himself, at least as a human being, if not as a politician. I fear that latter ship has sailed. He could, however, recognise that there is nothing left to do but bring the refugees here, and attend to it without further ado.
At the moment he continues to insist, like a petulant and disappointed child, that Trump “promised” to keep the agreement, and he won’t stop believing he will. Unfortunately, Turnbull doesn’t seem to realise yet that keeping the agreement does not mean the US accepting any refugees.
Meanwhile, those on Manus and Nauru continue to suffer. Pawns in successive Australian governments’ pandering to xenophobia, fear and ignorance. Well done, both major parties. Now let’s see you get out of this mess.