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Scott Morrison, Donald Trump friendship: World leaders’ friendly before White House meeting

The Advertiser 2019-09-21 04:28:00

Scott Morrison and US President Donald Trump apparently have personal chemistry — and we are about to discover whether this is a good thing for the nation.

Prime Minister Morrison is in Washington to be just the second leader to star at a Trump-hosted state dinner, the other being Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu who is currently battling to keep his job.

The informed speculation is that Mr Trump came to like Mr Morrison during their catch-ups this summit season in Japan and France.

It wasn’t just a case of the eyes of two conservatives meeting across a crowded room of European lefties. Mr Trump likes the way the Australian defied the establishment odds to win the May 18 election — much like himself.

He also likes Australia’s border protection measures, reportedly saying admiringly, “they are worse than us.”

But state dinners and associated palaver are not put on merely because two leaders are chummy. They are intended to recruit an ally in a new venture or to cement commitments to an existing one.

One interesting element of this trip will be to uncover Trump’s purpose.

Another will be how Mr Morrison manages the president’s ego, which seems to be in constraints even of reinforcement from those around him.

Scott Morrison will be the 18th Australian prime minister to visit the US while in office but just the 4th to be granted a state dinner in the White House.

John Gordon and John Howard had one and Malcolm Fraser three.

The Americans don’t stint on ceremony on these occasions, possibly to make up for the absence of a genuine royal family and a Buckingham Palace.

When John Howard and wife Janette turned up for their grand welcome and state dinner in May 2006, the Marine band and march-past was conducted below a portico where President George W. Bush and Mr Howard, with wives, stood in quasi-regal entertainment as if on that famous Buck House balcony.

President Bush and Mr Howard also had a close personal relationship which was demonstrated from Washington to Waco, Texas where the Howards stayed on the Bush ranch.

One consequence, or at least an element of that relationship was Australia’s military involvement in Afghanistan and participation in the invasion of Iraq.

The two hot spots in the Trump-Morrison era are the USA-China trade war and the potential for military action against Iran.

On China, the Trump appeal to Australia was bluntly put by his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In essence, he said we could have cheap soy beans or solid security — Beijing buy-ups or the American security umbrella.

Prime Minister Morrison is unlikely to be stampeded into a tough confrontation with China, in large part because our economy already is struggling against the huge effects of drought, the limping wage growth, significant unemployment and underemployment and dawdling productivity, and low consumer spending.

Throw in a Chinese round of trade reprisals and the Prime Minister’s hopes of a string of surpluses will look like fantasy.,

Mr Morrison said before takeoff: “In a complex world, in a complicated world, a world of strategic competition, a world of great uncertainties — our partners and our allies are of great importance”.

Repeating the homage of his predecessors he said Australia was “a partner that pulls their weight in the alliance”.

Pledging to follow courses set by the erratic Donald Trump would test the strength of that alliance.

Originally published as ScoMo’s careful friendship with Trump