Tom Schieffer was the U.S. ambassador to Australia in the grim years after 9-11, when America’s most loyal ally immediately rushed to our aid.
So you can imagine his chagrin last week, reading how a new U.S. president griped out the Australian prime minister by phone, hung up early calling it his “worst call by far” and then wrote that the countries’ refugee agreement is “dumb.”
If The Apprentice-star-turned President Donald J. Trump truly plans on firing all our allies around the world, the place to start is not Australia, which sent 521 men his age to die in Vietnam while he stayed home due to a minor heel spur.
“I can’t imagine not having Australia on our side,” Schieffer, a lawyer and also the former Texas Rangers president, said Friday in his Fort Worth office.
“It would be disastrous.”
Schieffer attributed the abrupt exchange between Trump and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to a “new administration.” But Schieffer’s concern is clear.
“I spent all day [Thursday] talking to Australian reporters,” Schieffer said, as coverage intensified after Turnbull shamed Trump over what Trump himself had called a “Muslim ban.”
We can’t go it alone in the world. … If we don’t lead, who will?
Former U.S. Ambassador Tom Schieffer
After the phone call, Turnbull wrote on Twitter, “Our commitment to multiculturalism and a non-discriminatory immigration system is well known.”
Trump complained about a deal that will bring up to 1,250 seafaring refugees now held on two islands to the U.S. Australia, with fewer people than Texas, would still take in 18,750 refugees each year, among them Central American refugees now held in Costa Rica.
“These are clearly refugees in need,” Schieffer said, attributing the conflict to a misunderstanding and a short-staffed new administration.
Tom Schieffer, 69, a former Texas state representative and gubernatorial candidate, was president of the Texas Rangers (1991-1999), U.S. ambassador to Australia (2001-2004) and U.S. ambassador to Japan (2005-2009).
“Every country has a right to control its border,” he said. “But Australia and the U.S. have such a close relationship, we are generally able to work out these difficulties.”
Australia has been our ally since World War I, but commentators there are now asking whether their country would be more prosperous and safer trading and aligning with China.
“I hate to think what would have happened [in Iraq] had Australia not been there, and they’re still there,” Schieffer said.
“I’m concerned about the path we are going down,” he said. “We can’t go it alone in the world. … If we don’t lead, who will? If the United States is going to withdraw from the world, it is not going to end up well.”
This is not how we treat friends.