When we lived in New York a decade ago we used to have a kind of kitset itinerary for visitors depending on how long they stayed. We had the two week tour, the five day tour, and even the intensive two day tour. The latter involved a hurtle up the Empire State, the early ferry to the Statue of Liberty, Met, Broadway show. It was fun, kinda exhausting, but a bit superficial in all honesty.
It feels like John Key has been on the diplomatic equivalent of the two day tour. It is not that often I found myself in agreement with Fran O’Sullivan but her column in Saturday’s Herald zeros in on the celebrity approach to our international relations from Key. Fran says
When Key first became PM his boyish “aw shucks” approach to meeting the Queen, or even departing US President George W. Bush at Apec, was endearing.
But with nearly a year as PM under his belt he should now be notching up some foreign policy achievements.
This is a good point. Key’s lack of foreign policy experience was only a minor issue at the election, and his generally affable nature seemed to get him off on a good footing in international meetings. But, as we all know, that is fine for the first date, the next ones need to have a bit more going on if the relationship is to flourish. Fran continues
Instead our Prime Minister is now on the verge of being seen as a celebrity-obsessive himself, a political groupie of the first order who will not let a chance go to embellish his Rolodex by opportunistically hunting down major stars like Bill Clinton or Tony Blair to learn leadership skills from the masters.
For a former “master of the universe” who has made buckets shoving around the currencies of many of the countries whose leaders he is now pallying up to, it is all a bit cringe-making.
Fran goes on to say she has seen Key do something substantive on foreign policy, but to be honest there is scant evidence of that in his statements, despite a nicely crafted, but light on detail speech to the GA that has been phisked by my colleague Phil Twyford, here.
Fran also raises questions about why New Zealand is returning the SAS to Afghanistan as the rest of the world contemplates reducing their contribution.
New Zealanders should care that Key has committed the SAS special forces to Afghanistan at a time when other US friends and allies are on the verge of withdrawing their troops.
Other political leaders now believe the Nato-led war against the Taleban will prove just as intractable as the Soviets’ doomed foray into Afghanistan.
Key and Obama have apparently had serious talks by phone on Afghanistan. But our Prime Minister won’t tell us the real substance in the secret letters he has exchanged with the US President.
We shouldn’t have to wait until or if an SAS soldier comes home in a body bag before expecting answers to the hard questions.
Certainly many of those I spoke to in DC and elsewhere were taken aback NZ is pushing on with something that even the Obama administration is not yet confident about.
There is a lot more to being a PM than taking photos and meeting people, and I am with Fran here, the celebrity approach needs to end sometime very soon if NZ is to retain its credibility on the world stage.