Alexander Downer’s recent comparison of the Timor Sea to Texas is a little disturbing… but only if you’ve studied American history.
Australia has been negotiating with East Timor over rights to revenues from yet to be developed gas fields in the Timor Sea. According to an ABC news report, $40 billion worth of resources are at stake. Not surprisingly both sides have been playing hardball.
With negotiations at such a delicate stage you’d think that Foreign Minister Alexander Downer would be choosing his words carefully. But a recent interview with David Koch on Seven’s Sunrise program might make you wonder. In this interview (and others) Downer compared Australia’s relationship with East Timor to the United States’ relationship with Mexico:
DOWNER: Look, just because a rich country is next to a poor country doesn’t mean the rich country has to cede territory. It can cede cash. It can provide financial support, but…
DOWNER: …United States didn’t give up Texas because Mexico is poorer than the United States.
KOCH: Okay, with that which I can’t quite see the connection, with that we might leave it there. Foreign Minister, thanks very much for joining us…
DOWNER: Well it might be a bit intellectual but it’s an important point.
What’s unsettling about Downer’s analogy is that in 1846 the United States settled a dispute over the Texas/Mexico border by force. Here’s one account:
The conflict between the United States and Mexico in 1846-48 had its roots in the annexation of Texas and the westward thrust of American settlers. On assuming the American presidency in 1845, James K. Polk attempted to secure Mexican agreement to setting the boundary at the Rio Grande and to the sale of northern California. What he failed to realize was that even his carefully orchestrated policy of graduated pressure would not work because no Mexican politician could agree to the alienation of any territory, including Texas.
Frustrated by the Mexican refusal to negotiate, Polk, on January 13, 1846, directed Gen. Zachary Taylor‘s army at Corpus Christi to advance to the Rio Grande. The Mexican government viewed that as an act of war. On April 25 the Mexican troops at Matamoros crossed the river and ambushed an American patrol. Polk seized upon the incident to secure a declaration of war on May 13 on the basis of the shedding of "American blood upon American soil." Meanwhile, on May 8 and 9, Taylor’s 2,200-man army defeated 3,700 Mexicans under Gen. Mariano Arista in the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma.
So, as Downer says, the "United States didn’t give up Texas" to Mexico.
Probably nobody’s going to get too worked up about the connotations of Downer’s analogy. As the Voice Of America’s Maura Jane Farrelly says, the Mexican War was "a bloody, mid-19th century conflict that was provoked by territorial greed … and is today largely unknown to Americans."