Lying down with dogs

Opinion  |  Dean Johns
Published:  |  Modified:

I had no problem with the fact that Nick Warner, the head of Australia’s foreign spy agency, Australia Secret Intelligence Service (Asis), recently saw fit to allow himself to be photographed alongside Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

After all, an ambassador, as I suppose Warner might in some sense be categorised, is, according to the famous definition by Sir Henry Wotton (1568-1639) ‘an honest man sent abroad to lie and intrigue for the benefit of his country’.

But I was appalled that he saw it fit to take his lying and intriguing so far as to be shown emulating Duterte’s infamous closed-fist ‘salute’.

This gesture smacked to me of a suggestion that we Australians were being represented as being ‘all the way with Duterte’ to a degree chillingly reminiscent of then Prime Minister Harold Holt’s notorious 1966 declaration that we were ‘all the way with LBJ’ in the disastrous Vietnam War.

A conflict that, as revealed by two of the best books on the subject that I have recently re-read, David Halberstam’s "The Best and the Brightest" and Neil Sheehan’s "A Bright Shining Lie", was characterised by as much lying to and intriguing against the citizens of the US and its allies as it was by lying, intriguing and fighting in what were allegedly their countries’ best interests.

Advocates of continuing and catastrophically escalating the Vietnam war spared nothing in their attempts to cover-up the fact that the corruption of the Diem and other, successive South-Vietnamese regimes was, as Sheehan wrote ‘a malignancy that poisoned the entire system of government.’

‘Graft was the main preoccupation of those on the Saigon side....their greed was too rapacious to permit any thought of its ultimate consequence,’ Sheehan continued.

In other words, far from a case of lying – or, as in the cases of countless combatants and civilians - dying for the good of Vietnam, the US, Australia or any other country, it was a classic case of paying dearly for defying the proverbial caution that I’ve had cause to mention many times before in these columns, ‘if you lie down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas.’..

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