Hey, how hard is to be John Key? Not very. Yesterday in New York for instance, Key basically took an old May 2 Washington Post article written by Barack Obama, recycled it back to the Americans, and still scored headlines here at home such as: “John Key Warns US Of Risks In Failing To Ratify TPP…” That’s telling them.
For the record, here’s the link to Obama’s five month old article in which Obama made this point:
‘Building walls to isolate ourselves from the global economy would only isolate us from the incredible opportunities it provides. Instead, America should write the rules. America should call the shots. Other countries should play by the rules that America and our partners set, and not the other way around…..The longer we wait, the harder it will be to pass the TPP. The world has changed. The rules are changing with it. The United States, not countries like China, should write them. Let’s seize this opportunity, pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership and make sure America isn’t holding the bag, but holding the pen.
And here’s what Key said yesterday :
“So our view is that if TPP fails to get ratified during the ‘lame duck’ period it will be a massive lost opportunity for the United States both for their consumers and business, but also for the geopolitics of the region.….. [Key] said failure to get a TPP deal through Congress would…..potentially cause it to lose geopolitical ground to China. “Because, in the end, if that vacuum is not filled by the United States, it will be filled by someone else – it has to be…..”
So here was New Zealand, dutifully pitching in as the White House messenger to a Congress that has heard this message many times before, and been notably unimpressed by it. Throughout 2015, the Obama administration repeatedly depicted the TPP in these geopolitical terms, vis a vis China. It did so here and mid 2016, administration officials repeated this regional security theme:
“Failure to pass TPP will have an impact,” said Catherine A. Novelli, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment. “China is actively working in Asia and has strong relationships with its neighbors and we expect this will continue. TPP provides balance in the region and sets a very high bar for transparent rules and open and fair trade.”
In April last year, Defense Secretary Ash Carter even claimed the TPP was as valuable in a strategic sense, as an aircraft carrier.
In short, Key wasn’t telling the Americans anything yesterday that they hadn’t said (and heard) themselves many, many times before. But I guess RNZ headlines here along the lines of “ Key Dutifully Repeats Failing Obama Warnings On Need To Pass TPP” wouldn’t have had quite the same pizzazz. Oddly, Key was choosing to be Obama’s glove puppet on trade at a time when Obama’s clout on trade issues has never been more feeble. In similar vein, Key had also rushed to the side of David Cameron at a time post Brexit, when Cameron’s only remaining friends in the world seemed to be our PM and Larry the cat. And when Cameron left 10 Downing St, he left Larry behind and put him on welfare.
Yesterday, Key’s real audience, and the headlines, were not only back here at home, but were happily consistent with our national mythology: that we are a brave little country speaking truth to power. Punching above our weight on the world stage. Telling it like it is. You go, John!
This week, we’ve had a double serving of this kind of comfort food. At the UN, New Zealand – and again briefly, John Key – is currently chairing the 15 person Security Council for the last time during our two year term on the Council. Foreign Minister Murray McCully too, has also been more than happy to play the role of the virtuous little battler. Hey, no one said that resolving the war in Syria would be easy. Yet in McCully’s view, talking about it at the UN – no matter how futilely- is the right thing to do:
My own view is that the Council too often fails to confront the big issues. New Zealand is doing its best to make sure that it does so. [We] will enable the parties to get together…our job is to try and use the informal discussions we had with them to make sure that we get them into the most constructive space possible.
These kind of bromides – “The right thing for us to do was to get the Council together to talk about it, and if necessary give them the firm message that we all need to do a better job on it.” etc etc – came from McCully only a day after Russia had accused the US of refusing to share with the UN Security Council the documents setting out the detail of the Kerry/Lavrov ceasefire deal. This was the same deal McCully was still telling RNZ should be regarded as “very positive news” even though this process being shot to pieces by a coalition-led airstrike was also, he conceded, “significantly worse news. ” But hey, McCully babbled on: talking about Syria was the right thing to do, and the fact the breakdown “made it much more challenging made it that much more right” to keep on talking about it. Even in the admitted absence of “positive momentum, and no positive direction on Syria.”
In other words, McCully delivered a classic defence of the UN as an impotent talking shop. Maybe – besides arranging the chairs and ensuring the water glasses are full – Key and McCully could have done some real punching, and demanded that the US co-operate and release the relevant documents on Syria to the Security Council meetings we are chairing, so that the UN would at least know what it was talking about.:
Russia said on Friday that a U.N. Security Council endorsement of a Syria ceasefire deal between Moscow and Washington appeared unlikely because the United States does not want to share the documents detailing the agreement with the 15-member body.
Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin and U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power had been due to brief the council behind closed-doors on Friday but that was cancelled at the last minute. “The main problem … which in my mind makes it impossible to produce any resolution, is that they are refusing to give those documents to members of the Security Council or even to read those documents to the members of the Security Council,” Churkin told reporters.
“We believe that we cannot ask them (council members) to support documents which they haven’t seen,” said Churkin….
Not that the Kerry/Lavrov ceasefire still exists, or matters much anymore. The US conducted air strikes that killed between 60 and 80 Syrian soldiers also killed any chance of the Assad regime’s co-operation with the truce.
“If [the US airstrike was the result of a targeting error,” Russian major general Igor Konashenkov said in a statement, “it is a direct consequence of the US side’s stubborn unwillingness to coordinate its action against terrorist groups on Syrian territory with Russia.”
In a tit for tat response, either Russia – or more likely, the Assad regime’s air force – then bombed a humanitarian aid convoy and killed 20 aid workers. The report on the aid convoy bombing is here.
As the chair of the UN Security Council debate on Syria, does New Zealand have even a glimmer of a solution to put on the table – short term, medium term or long term – that might conceivably help to resolve the Syrian conflict? Of course it doesn’t. The Key style is all about the pretence of governance, not its essence. Thus, this week’s events at the UN is this week are just a pageant in which John Key gets to talk about Very Important Things in Very Important Places to Very Important People. Lookit. We’re punching above our weight. Again.
Talk, Talk, Talk
Is your mouth moving too fast, and your brain moving too slow? Run-DMC were always willing to call out people who fill their lives with empty talk, as on this classic video…
And there’s more, along the same lines. Joe Jones is one of those names you normally associate with jazz drummers – Philly Joe Jones in the Miles Davis classic quintet and Jo Jones in the Count Basie band come immediately to mind. However, this Joe Jones was an r&b singer whose main gift to posterity was that he discovered the Dixie Cups, of “Chapel of Love” and Iko Iko” fame. (Jones later fraudulently claimed to have written “Iko Iko” and several other New Orleans staples, until court action found otherwise.) On his solitary hit in 1960, Jones said what most of us feel about the UN, and politicians in general.