Pine Gap: The link Alice has to Trump's betrayal of the Kurds



Sir – What does the betrayal by Donald Trump of the Kurds, the former allies of the USA in the fight with ISIS, have to do with Alice Springs?


Well, of course it is all about Pine Gap.


The Australian Government has a relationship of trust with the United States of America. We have agreed to nest the Pine Gap facility just outside this town. We are involved in the geopolitical drama as much, or even more than any other citizens of Australia.


And yet we cannot question this relationship of trust. Is the United States still trustworthy?


The USA was once good. It was great. But now, with the betrayal of the trust with the Kurds we must legitimately and bravely ask of our friends – is the USA trustworthily “good” anymore?


The current President’s behaviour shows that he acts on his own whim – as does a tyrant and an autocrat.


The President appears to have made that decision by himself and against the advice of his team. This is the action of an autocrat. 


Australia is a democracy which on occasion works. We are now twinned with a nation that once was good and great. 


The man who wishes to make America great again carries out his actions while in the grip of a compulsive disorder,  the features of which include denial of truth, betrayal of friends. 


We are allies. And somehow for many  pragmatic reasons, our government places trust in the President of the United States. But what if that man wakes up one morning with a headache, upsetting some other autocrat?


Of course the Kurds are not victims. They will arrange a new deal to protect their country.


My concern is about us, here in Alice,  where many of us have come from countries upset by wars and by autocrats and now with a man in the White House who is a “great tyrant and a very bad president” – as an American citizen said, quoted in the New York Times a couple of days ago. 


And yet Alice Springs, home to good American citizens, has no way of exerting influence on the behaviour of that man in the White House.


I have seen good enough democracy in action in Alice Springs when the Town Council were recently debating  the challenges of meeting shifting conditions in our climate.


Democracy is government by the people through representatives of those people.


Democracy was invented and brought into practice in Greece in order to curb the power of autocratic tyrant kings. 


It worked for a while, but democracy is hard to maintain.


America fought to free themselves from colonial control by the British King, George III. George did suffer from a recurring psychiatric illness, probably a bipolar disorder. 


America was  founded on the principles of democracy. One reason for a democratic process is to limit the limitations of human rulers, calling them into account if and when they slip into any kind of derangement – as can happen to any  of us. 


A French historian, Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote a  serious book on American Democracy. One of his lines goes: “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”


How has the democratic process of the USA slipped so far that Donald Trump is able to make decisions on behalf of millions of people, without any form of democratic consultation, not to mention consulting with his allies, the Kurds?


The issue on my mind is the abrupt decision by the leader of the world’s “greatest’” democracy to open the borders to [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s armies?


I have been to Turkey and Syria and I know Turkish, Kurdish and Syrian people. My issue is not with those people, it is with the rule of law as acted out by a man whose sworn duty as President of a democracy is to enact the will of the people and follow the Constitution.


Yet he does not.


Erdogan qualifies as an autocrat, since the law he follows is his own, as does the current president of the Unites States. So now we live in the age of the autocrat. The twin towers of the tyrant.


Craig San Roque (portrayed above as a Senior Territorian by Henry Smith)

Alice Springs

UPDATE Oct 16, 9.15am
This is a comment from Jules Cashford, a colleague in the UK and contributor to the forthcoming book  Cultural Complexes and the Soul of America.
Craig, great article. I especially liked your question: How has the democratic process of the USA slipped so far that Donald Trump is able to make decisions on behalf of millions of people, without any form of democratic consultation, not to mention consulting with his allies, the Kurds?
I wonder, do we know who would have been “in the room,” as it were with him when he made this decision? We don’t hear anything from anyone else. What happened  to the checks and balances – as old as the musket and equally outdated?


  1. Thank-you, Craig, for your considered and probing reflection on the trustworthiness of allies and tendencies towards autocracy.
    It is particularly poignant that the Rojava Kurds that are being abandoned are enacting a unique form of democracy in Rojava, where “the PYD’s organising principle is democratic confederalism: a system of direct democracy, ecological sustainability and ethnic inclusivity, where women have veto powers on new legislation and share all institutional positions with men.
    “Within the short time since forming Rojava’s democratic experiment, child marriage, forced marriage, dowry and polygamy were banned; honour killings, violence and discrimination against women were criminalised.
    “It is the only part of Syria where sharia councils have been abolished and religion has been consigned to the private sphere”.
    As this article shows, the relationships between the Kurds and the USA is more transactional than allies, a relationship built on mutual need rather than one of mutual values.
    Ecological sustainability, democratic confederation, empowerment of women and respect for diversity, now if a US President (of any variety) held those values they would surely be someone who was trustworthy.

  2. I cannot help wondering if history is turning full circle – certainly too many of us in the West seem to be forgetful of the fundamental principles that are foundational to democratic societies.
    As far as the United States is concerned, the preamble of The Declaration of Independence (probably the most influential document in history) is well worth contemplating: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
    That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
    That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
    Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
    But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
    These words drafted by Thomas Jefferson nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago seem to resonate powerfully for our times.

  3. Please stop blaming Pine Gap for everything. The Kurds have “no friends but the mountains,” they said a long time ago.
    The Kurds, the fourth-largest ethnic group in Middle East region, have been campaigning for their own state since the late 1800s.
    In the dismemberment of the Ottoman empire that followed World War I they saw their chance.
    The boundaries of a possible Kurdistan were considered in the negotiations after the 1918 armistice, but after Turkey fought back, the French and British tore up those plans and divided Kurdish inhabited lands between Turkey, Iraq and Syria.
    A short-lived Kurdish kingdom inside modern-day Iraq was crushed by 1924 with the assistance of the British. (Take note, the Brits like for Palestinians.)
    Last week’s decision by the White House not to stand in the way of Turkish invasion builds on a bitter history of Kurds being embraced, then spurned by capricious American administrations going back to 1975.
    Trump was not there.

  4. And the question remains: How does the autocratic decision of a tyrant, to whom we offer for a pepper corn the use of a valuable facility some 20km out of town, will affect us in consideration of our long term alliance.
    Listening to Craig, and deTocqueville, and Jefferson. It is the right, indeed the duty of us, the people, to provide new Guards for our future safety and happiness.
    Here in OZ as much as in the US.

  5. How has the democratic process of the USA slipped so far that Donald Trump is able to make decisions on behalf of millions of people, without any form of democratic consultation, not to mention consulting with his allies, the Kurds?
    Former presidents Bush, and Bush, and Reagan, and Nixon, also made decisions on behalf of millions of people, without any form of democratic consultation, with devastating disregard for the Kurds.
    This ‘slipped’ narrative is inaccurate and unhelpful.
    The USA was once good:
    Well, not in the lifetime of Pine Gap.
    A lazy focus on the twisted character of Trump has the perverse side effects of rehabilitating the emperors who came before him and distracting useful analysis of the realities of the structures that enable and produce them.
    This is precisely the cognitive failing that saw us welcome new USA war bases into the NT.
    Instead of focusing on the spectacle of Trump, Australians should be focused on extricating ourselves from the foreign empire’s attack formation, to define a genuinely independent and peaceful Australia whose place in the world is defined by useful relationships with our regional neighbours.

  6. Thanks for taking the time to write this, Craig. It’s not about ‘blaming Pine Gap’ but the powers that sit beneath its presence. Your views resonate in relation to Howard’s decision to follow America into Iraq. Those big decisions should not be one man’s or even a cabinet’s but the whole parliament’s.


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