Crucially, the closeness between Washington and Canberra goes far beyond rhetoric.
Under Trump, Morrison’s mission was essentially defensive: he wanted to stop Australian exports being whacked with tariffs. Under Biden he has gone on the offensive, leveraging the US-Australia alliance to deliver major defence commitments and enhance Australia’s standing on the global stage.
The AUKUS partnership, announced last week, comes with the promise of allowing Australia into the elite group of nations with nuclear-power submarines. In a briefing for reporters, a Biden administration official explained the esteem in which it holds Australia.
“We don’t have the intention of extending this to other countries,” the official said of the sharing America’s prized submarine submarine secrets.
“This is for Australia. And it is based on a unique set of circumstances involving the Australian case.”
Crucially, that sentiment is shared on both sides of the aisle in Washington. After a series of meetings with Republican and Democrat leaders on Capitol Hill, Morrison said he was confident that Congress will provide the support necessary for the US to share highly sensitive intellectual property with Australia.
Then came the first in-person meeting of the “Quad”, a grouping that allows Australia to work with three of the world’s most powerful democracies on vital challenges like vaccine sharing, climate change and mineral supply chains.
The Quad currently remains more formidable in theory than in practice: the leaders’ March pledge to donate one billion COVID-19 vaccines to the Indo-Pacific was derailed by the Delta variant outbreak in India.
But the grouping has enormous potential to achieve big things and provide a bulwark against China’s ambitions in the region.
Playing in the big leagues comes at a cost, however, and that was certainly apparent during Morrison’s US trip. France’s furious reaction to the cancellation of its $90 billion submarine contract cast a shadow over the early part of Morrison’s visit and led to an awkward encounter in New York when one of Europe’s most senior leaders reminded Morrison of the need for “transparency and loyalty”.
Closer to home, Malaysia and Indonesia were alarmed about a nuclear arms race developing in the Indo-Pacific.
It would have been a diplomatic disaster for Morrison if the leaders of Japan and India had voiced similar concerns, souring relations ahead of the crucial Quad meeting. But India and Japan are happy with the trilateral partnership – including the submarines plan.
During his trip Morrison met with Vice President Kamala Harris, an important move given she could well be president in the near future. He also met with the heads of the World Bank and US Federal Reserve. No Australian prime minister in recent history – and perhaps ever – has packed so many important meetings into one trip.
Although undoubtedly exhausted by his intense schedule, Morrison leaves Washington with a smile on his face and a spring in his step.
Yes, plenty of significant questions remain unresolved – like how to patch up relations with France and how the AUKUS submarines deal will actually work.
But the trip was undoubtedly a success overall. Morrison strutted across the global diplomatic stage and very much held his footing.